Ed at Gin and Tacos asks a question to which most of the answers are depressing in the extreme. And virtually none of our true failures will even be discussed in run-up to the 2016 coronation. Or after it. Been down so long it looks like up to us.
What exactly are we good at anymore? At least during the Cold War we were able to prop up right-wing dictators or interfere with the internal politics of tinpot countries enough to ensure that the right strongman was “elected.” Now we can’t even do that right. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (where all efforts at Nation Building / winning Hearts and Minds have been abandoned and ground forces are now exclusively interdicting terrorists) have proven definitively that our conventional military power — honestly the only thing we have as a nation at this point that we can claim is Number One and not be fooling ourselves — is of limited use in the modern world. We’re great at it. We can blow up your tanks, shoot down your planes, sink your ships, and bomb your cities into oblivion better than anyone else.
The question is, so what? What good is that anymore? If we have to fight a conventional World War III with Russia or China — doubtful at best — we’ll do quite well. With that and a bus pass, as my grandfather loved to say, you can get a ride on the bus.
We’ve ceded our strengths in manufacturing, education, and non-frivolous technology to the rest of the world. Our welfare state is an embarrassment. Our law enforcement and justice system are a case study in corruption. Our Congress and state legislatures are cautionary tales of what not to do. Other industrialized nations laugh at our health care system. Our standard of living is declining, wages have stagnated for three decades, and the rising cost of living is slowly making 99% of us poorer as we work longer hours with no mandated vacation or personal leave. Is the U.S. still a better place to live than the majority of the countries on Earth? Of course.
But we’re not comparing the U.S. to Chad. Compared to our peer group, it’s hard to figure out what our strengths are anymore other than consuming energy, maintaining a giant stockpile of nuclear weapons, and having a big, powerful, expensive conventional military. Oh, and I guess we’re pretty good at spying on everyone’s telecommunications, although if I had to place a wager I’d bet the Israelis, Russians, or Swiss are even better at it.
The failure of the Iraq War creates some eerie similarities between the modern U.S. and the final years of the USSR. After wrecking its economy and standard of living with profligate military spending for thirty years, the Soviets found themselves pulling out of Afghanistan in defeat (and the government they installed had collapsed by 1991, too). The rest of the world, including the U.S., looked on and asked, “If you’re spending that much on the military and you can’t even win a war against a Stone Age country, what CAN you do?”
It was a valid question. It is a valid question to ask ourselves as well. We’ve bled ourselves dry paying for two wars since 2002 and massive annual defense budgets every year for more than a half-century now. What do we have to show for it? Shouldn’t we at least be able to do Military Stuff right? If we can’t, what exactly do we have going for us?
You’ve got to be incredibly delusional to come up with a policy that puts Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky on the same side of an issue. But Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has managed to pull it off. Read this by Kevin Zeese in Mint Press News. Excerpt:
The views of Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky on this conflict are quite similar, though it’s difficult to find two more polar opposites regarding U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, Chomsky has been a long-time critic of Kissinger for the bombings in Southeast Asia and the various coups against democratic leaders that occurred during his tenure. Chomsky has said that in a just world, Kissinger certainly would have been prosecuted for these actions. (These were the war crimes that CODEPINK recently protested before the Senate Finance Committee.)
Yet when it comes to Ukraine, Chomsky and Kissinger essentially agree with each other. They disagree with the more hawkish Obama administration and the even more extreme Sen. John McCain — who are both escalating the conflict in their own ways.
The original sin in this whole terrifying mess was our decision to act like a bunch of drunken Patriot fans when Gorbachev decided to end the Cold War in 1989. It wasn’t enough to win the game. We had to tear down the goal posts and beat up Seahawk fans in the parking lot. Which is to say we set out immediately to expand NATO and the European Union right up to Russia’s borders. A quarter century later we are still doing it, which is why Obama touched off the present conflagration by overthrowing Ukraine’s elected president and installing a US/NATO stooge. You could look it up.
Peter Friedrich sends this email: Interesting article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today. “America, You Got it Worse — a situation report in 45 paragraphs.” Sounds as sad to me as it sounds true.
Which sent me on my first visit to Google Translate, where I found these paragraphs among the 45. Sounds to me as if Peter is right.
7 . In contrast to France, which, if it really came in the past in a dead end, has an immediate given several times a new constitution, is in the excessively tradition-conscious — and verfassungshistorisierenden — United States unthinkable such modernization of the political structures.
8. This means that virtually no chance to introduce a parliamentary democracy. Despite all the difficulties, it provides a “dictatorship period” during which an elected party (or coalition) can enforce that for which they fought in the campaign. The American-style presidential considered inappropriate for the age of globalization, since no one, particularly apparent in spite of positive political decision-making power has. America is in danger of turning into a huge Belgium.
11. The occupation with which the Supreme Court consistently anti-modern as a legal Tea Party, can operate based on three sources: first, the choice of (predominantly conservative for the foreseeable future) constitutional judges for life; secondly, the possibility of free-floating creation of law, in the context of a casuistic oriented legal thought; and thirdly, ideally things that did not exist at that time so as facts to declare on the ideological default, to orient on the spirit of the founding fathers and unconstitutional.
12. In general, the judiciary is primarily due to the holes ever expanding comprehensive selection of judges, including the principle of public campaign financing by industry interests, if not undermined in their democratic legitimacy…
20. Even if one thinks the phenomenon Silicon Valley would really be repeatable: Were the basic conditions of the then IT revolution really comparable to the conditions of the environmental and energy revolution of tomorrow? At that time it was enough to come forward with new ideas. The financing of Internet startups is known to be relatively cheap (“Seven people in a garage”...).
21. In the environmental revolution, however, the amortization of projects over much longer investment periods is required. Is American politics at all today in a position to stake periods of thirty years reliable? In Congress, the renewed tax rebates for research and development spending by companies at best in two-year periods? And what help because investors who want to take along everything and risk-free quickly and with a high “return”, but when possible?
25. This is all the more so as the same policy interests — is downright noisy — because of private campaign financing. A Kremlin strategist once said that Putin’s United Russia is modeled after the American party system. He leaned in trust to his American interlocutors over and whispered promising: “We both know that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin, right?”
26. The American media are more dependent on advertising revenue than elsewhere, both in terms of what newspapers as well as what television. A simple test question: Which industries were on average for most advertising revenue of the media? Automobile manufacturers, construction, financial services and pharmaceutical manufacturers. And which industries collapsed a few years ago? Cars, construction and banks, while the pharmaceutical companies (including other health care providers) so far managed to prevent a cost-saving reform.
27. Because the American media for material self-preservation interests do not bite, they contribute almost nothing to the timely combat efficiency and apparent lack of modernization. Hindsight is of course closely involved with it, to make an equally intense and stylistically brilliant analysis, to reap in the hope that after it’s too late at least a Pulitzer Prize for groundbreaking reporting. Overall social responsibility is different.
37. Can a modern industrial and service economy ever get back on their feet, when used as “bureaucrats” describes government officials and members of the public service exception (the favorite formula of Republicans)? Not that there were no irregularities in the management, but they are no worse than in Europe. What it says on the inner peacefulness of a society, when the entire public service is described in the same hatred perspective, as for the term “communist” was the case at the time of the Soviet Union?
44. Will the United States until then modern, though the country, not only in the births “majority minority”, but if minorities make up the majority of the electorate? If women in politics and in professional life more dominant? A wise observer of American politics, said the day of the confirmation of George W. Bush’s election by the Supreme Court, that a decade ago, now begin the last great gasp of “white Anglo-Saxon man.” There are many indications that she was right.
Here’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott:
Abbott refused to put a time frame on Australia’s involvement in Iraq.
“I want to stress that only Iraq can defeat ISIL, but Iraq shouldn’t be alone and as far as Australia and our allies are concerned, Iraq won’t be alone,” he said. “I have to warn that this deployment to Iraq could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks.”
“I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be,” the prime minister said.
Know what’s really short, Tony, and perfectly possible? Zero.
Is it willful blindness or just plain blindness? David Brooks, in his April 29 NY Times column “Saving the System,” has hit a new low, and has invited company along as well. He begins, “All around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying.”
Stunned silence, but from a reflexive conservative and low-octane expert on everything under the sun, that is hardly noteworthy. Most educated people anywhere would agree that the international “fabric” is undergoing a number of significant changes: religious discord in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East; an aggressive China that doesn’t seem to know its place; Russian unruliness along its own borders; and more. There’s always something popping up because, as everyone outside the American Heartland realized following the profound international disruption set off by the Second World War, the world is changing, big time.
But Brooks goes on to quote an analysis of “grand strategic history” (whew!) from Charles Hill, a “legendary” State Department officer who, according to Wikipedia, advised Reagan, Kissinger (“Satire died the day Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize”), and fellow geopolitical grand strategist Rudy Giuliani…
For Brooks, Hill, who teaches at Yale, grandly proposes in part that “when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation.” Hill then observes that “when the wolves of the world” sense this flabbiness, they pounce to exploit the opportunities that open.
The wolves, for him, are the current boat-rockers: Russia (aka Putin), China, and all sorts of undifferentiated folks in the Middle East. Then comes this gem from Hill – which constitutes the essence of Brooks’s piece: “The old order, once known [by American commentators] as ‘the American Century,’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”
Yikes! So pronounces an American spokesman for the American Century, anyway. (And by the way, whatever can Hill mean by “will not be modern”? Back to the Dark Ages for us all? A new brand of postmodernism? And not nice for everyone in the world, or just for — Americans?)
Enter the eminent authority on world history née pop sociologist David Brooks to riff on this astonishing shard of “grand strategic” misdirection. “Throughout recorded history … powerful people have generally tried to impose their version of the Truth [so capitalized in the original] on less powerful people. But, over these centuries, civilized [yes, he actually wrote “civilized”] leaders have banded together to restrain these vices … Dominant powers [since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia] have tried to establish procedures and norms to secure national borders and protect diversity. [Hey, David, the European powers of the Thirty Years War didn’t give a shit about “diversity” — a term that would have been alien to them anyway, but Brooks needs it here to make us think, oh, yeah: Ukraine.] Hegemons like the Nazis or the Communists tried to challenge this system, but the other powers fought back.” But David, wasn’t the United States another “hegemon”? And still is? This may be a bit more complicated than you think.
After referring to some nonsense about a new “containment” from another right-wing apologist, Yale’s John Gaddis, Brooks asks a good question: “How do you get the electorate to support the constant burden of defending the liberal system?”
How, indeed, when the machinery that powers his putative liberal system — our only defense against slipping into medieval darkness — is rather mysteriously leaving a huge swath of that same electorate desperately in the lurch. Then comes the inevitable Brooksian turn from geopolitical blue-skying to our hackneyed neo-conservative domestic Manichaeism: “The Republicans seem to have given up global agreements that form the fabric of that system [what can that clause possibly mean?], while Democrats are slashing the defense budget that undergirds it.”
At last, it is out in the open: world historian Brooks’s “civilized” leaders, plural, turn out to be a leader, singular: America — and our gargantuan military is what sustains the “fabric.” So much for the power of the shining beacon of American exceptionalism, our freedoms and our ideals.
After lamenting that “it is harder to get people to die for a set of pluralistic procedures to protect faraway places” — he has in mind primarily Ukraine and Islamic nations, but maybe also some islands in the South China Sea — our Grand Strategic Historian ends his piece, next, with a somber warning.
(By the way, as a veteran I can’t help smiling ruefully, as they say, at Brooks’s unhappiness about people’s unwillingness to die for those pluralistic “procedures.” Not his unwillingness, or Hill’s, or Lindsay Graham’s, of course, as they are seemingly ready to parachute into Syria or the Crimea or Iran, Bowie knives clenched in teeth. Speaking for myself and I think maybe for the families of the dead and wounded service men and women who died or were mangled in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, if I had to be a casualty in battle, I would not want it to be for a “procedure.”)
Turning all contemporary international relations into something out of an American eighth-grade civics textbook, Brooks proceeds to give us the Polonius-worthy assessment that “The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing.” Duh. But the final sentence, about what he sees as requirements for preserving that “hard-earned ecosystem” (really, David, ecosystem?), one being financial enforcement, alias U.S. multinational corporation money and our captive IMF and World Bank pushing other peoples around, ends with this prescription: “… and hard power enforcement.”
So we see, we finally see: the ultimate task of the column is to prod the electorate to support the “constant” burden of defending the liberal system with a massive and ultra-expensive armamentarium of guns and bombs at the ready to be deployed by hundreds of thousands of uniformed young Americans against any “wolves” that would threaten the reigning hegemon’s maintenance of its self-ordained international “fabric.” We being that hegemon, of course.
You have to wonder what an educated and aware person in Egypt, say, or Finland, or Japan, or Chile, or France, or Iraq, or Belgium, or Mexico would think about all this crude and transparent America-centric self-dealing? That educated non-American person might well be overcome by lots of questions.
Exactly whose fabric of peace and order? Whose liberal pluralistic system, costing whom and benefiting whom? Just which powerful people have or haven’t gone about attempting to impose their version of the Truth? And who besides Russia (Soviet or otherwise), Germany, and Japan — in the eyes of the Egyptian or Mexican or French or Iraqi person, let alone a Chinese or Iranian person — has often acted as a wolf of the world? (Hints: We had 662 bases in 38 sovereign foreign countries in 2011, according to a Pentagon report; no nation — zero — had a base in the United States.
Also: the U.S. is at a minimum acknowledged to have bombed sovereign foreign nations or put military or paramilitary boots on the ground 54 times since 1945, exclusive of CIA and some special ops; sovereign foreign nations have bombed the U.S. or put hostile military boots on American soil … zero times.)
But here’s the most depressing item in the column: Brooks — who made his bones with his jejune book on a supposed new American class of bourgeois bohemians — helps teach a grand strategy course at Yale. Yes, that Yale.
From a Time story on Chelsea Manning, serving a barbarous 35-year sentence for committing the truth in a public place:
For starters, the Department of Defense was known as the Department of War until 1947, when the newly-created (and named) Air Force, along with the Army, gathered under the same roof for the first time with the Navy (the new outfit was known as the National Military Establishment until 1949).It would have been immediately clear to George Orwell (who was to publish 1984 two years later) that the United States was about to embark on a series of wars that would continue, almost unbroken, for the rest of the century and well into the next one.
War has always had, not to put to fine a point on it, a specific and violent meaning. With the end of World War II — and the beginning of the Cold War — the U.S. government found itself needing a standing Army for the first time in its history. Replacing War with Defense made the change more palatable.
Last time I wrote on foreign policy here, it turned into a rant about our ridiculous excuse for a political system, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, I wanted to set out some basic ideas about the underlying values that, in an ideal world, should govern the relationships of nations.
First and most important is that people are the most important players in foreign policy, not nation-states, not resource control, not economic concerns. Every nation should have the right to determine its own destiny and its own political and economic system without the interference of others. Given that so many nations are creations of imperialism, the borders of those states often do not reflect the wishes of the inhabitants and there should be no qualms about allowing the people of such artificial nations to divide themselves into multiple nations. The key right here is that the people should make that choice without coercion or interference from foreign powers.
Second is the matter of human rights. The best and most widely accepted statement of those rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it should be used as the guide. Obviously this can sometimes conflict with our first value since left to their own devices, some people will use their right of self-determination to abrogate the rights of others — women, gays, religious minorities, etc. That cannot be tolerated and raises the issue of how it might be possible to enforce human rights across international borders.
The third important goal or value that must be at the center of any foreign policy is the protection of the earth on which we all live. All nations need to curtail fossil fuel use and those who have benefited for so long from burning those fuels should be helping the developed nations, especially those most threatened by climate change. For many nations, no doubt including our own, we need to work to alter the food system from one dominated by large corporations, factory farming, centralized distribution, and heavy use of insecticides and fertilizers (many of which are petroleum-based) to one that emphasizes local crops, local markets, small family farms, and organic and traditional methods. We need to de-emphasize export crops and the use of foods for fuel if we are going to keep climate change damage at a minimum.
So how would these ideas play out in practice? Let’s take a current example, the crisis in Ukraine…
First of all, it would mean that the U.S. and Russia would butt out. The U.S. should not be “supporting democracy” in the Ukraine or anywhere else since we obviously don’t have a democracy at home and have a long history of opposing democracy elsewhere in the world. The Russians shouldn’t be interfering either, but it isn’t up to the United States to stop them. Leave that to other players in the region who have more at stake or to international institutions.
Second, the rights of the people of the Ukraine are paramount including the right to determine their own government. Since the Ukraine has a very brief history as a nation-state and a much longer history as an occupied region, it’s quite possible that populations in different parts of the region have different ideas about how they should be governed. That said, given the chaos that has resulted from the overthrow of Yanukovych, they should be permitted to make a choice. Again, it is not the role of the U.S. or the Russian Federation to interfere to attempt to influence that choice. It should be the role of international institutions to see that referenda are conducted in a fair and free manner wherever they are appropriate.
Given the rise of neo-fascist elements in Ukraine, there is a credible threat to ethnic minorities in some parts of the region. All parties should make it clear that the rights of these groups must be protected whether they are Russians in western Ukraine or Tatars in Crimea. Again, neither the U.S. nor Russia has the right or the moral standing to interfere inside Ukraine to enforce the protection of these groups. That is also a job for international institutions.
Lastly, no progress can be made for the people of Ukraine until the fighting stops and there are stable and democratically chosen governments in the region. That is the most important short-term goal of any moral policy.
You will probably notice I used the term “international institutions” many times. What are these institutions? Regrettably there aren’t any good options available at this time. The only institution that has some capability and legally justifiable mandate to become involved is the United Nations, and it has become a tool of the United States and the Western powers to a great extent. Any moral and responsible foreign policy has to deal early on with the weaknesses of the UN as an institution, and help it gain standing as an independent arbiter of international law. That’s a subject for another day.
Meanwhile, as I heard Dr. Stephen Zunes say recently, the first rule must echo the Hippocratic Oath — do no harm. Arm the Ukrainian government? No. Send Russian troops in to protect people in Eastern Ukraine? No. Send CIA Director and international war criminal John Brennan to “advise” the ruling junta? No. Send an Assistant Secretary of State to hand out cookies to protestors trying to overthrow a government? No.
Meet with Putin and mutually agree to keep hands off Ukraine, and while we’re at it, let’s dissolve NATO or at the very least withdraw it from nations bordering the Russian Federation. The Cold War is allegedly over and we ought to work to keep it that way instead of trying to revive it or heat it up.
Thomas Polgar, the last CIA station chief in Vietnam, died in March at the age of 92. His obit is in today’s New York Times. And here’s Polgar himself, remembering the fall of Saigon. As well as, in this brief aside, the war criminal Henry Kissinger.
One day I had an opportunity to ask Mr. Kissinger what he thought of our intelligence. Not speaking of Vietnam, but generally. He was getting this big flow of intelligence from CIA world wide at the time. What did he think of the value of it? And he thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, when it supports my policy, it’s very useful.” And I think we are here at the heart of the problem. It is that American policy is not formulated in response to what the intelligence shows. We first formulate the policy and then we try to find the intelligence to support it.
It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if Truman had decided to let the country continue to bumble along, as it had somehow since 1776, without any “intelligence” agency at all. No Shah of Iran, hence no hostage crisis and no Ronald Reagan. No U2, hence no refreezing of the Cold War. No Bay of Pigs, hence no Cuban Missile Crisis. No arming of the Taliban, to teach those Russians a lesson. No Weapons of Mass Destruction, hence no… The list goes on and on. The CIA stands in relation to the White House as the drug dealer stands to the addict.
The National Endowment for Democracy tells us on their own web site that during 2012 alone they gave $3,355,834 to various groups in the Ukraine. That was not the only year and there is no reason to believe NED was the only organization sending United States taxpayer funds to opposition groups in Ukraine.
Can you imagine the outcry if another nation was spending millions in the U.S. funding groups that opposed our government? Now imagine that a rival power, say Russia or China, was not only spending millions to support “opposition” groups in our country but was also involved in every country in our hemisphere?
NED proudly tells us that they are not only involved in Ukraine and in Russia itself, but in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Mongolia, and Moldova. A quick glance at the map will show you that this group is allegedly promoting democracy in nations that almost completely encircle the Russian Federation.
As the organization proudly states, they are funded largely by the U. S. Congress (that’s you and me). They claim status as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), making it seem that they are independent of the State Department, which of course is not the case. They speak not just for the US government, but for a particular subset of the government, the neo-conservative globalists who retain power regardless of which party is allegedly in power in Washington.
The Board members include Elliott Abrams who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in the Iran-Contra affair to avoid felony prosecution; Francis Fukuyama, one of the chief figures in the rise of Neo-Conservatism; Zalmay Khalilzad, George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq; former Senator Norm Coleman, an outspoken advocate for the war in Iraq and for another war in Iran; and Robert Zoellick, former Managing Director of Goldman Sachs and national security advisor to the Romney Campaign. The current head of the NED is former Texas Congressman Martin Frost, a co-author of the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act leading inexorably to the financial crash of 2008.
The peculiar form of “democracy” that NED supports has a heck of lot more to do with so-called free-market capitalism, or to be more precise, with insuring the dominance of U.S. corporations on the international scene than it does with the legitimate democratic aspirations of people around the world.
NED is little more than a front organization for the Washington plutocracy funded almost entirely by U.S. taxpayers. I would suggest that any nation that has an organization within its borders receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy should declare that organization as a representative of a foreign power and either shut it down or force it to register as a foreign agent. The Congress should cut off funding immediately for this organization since it is fomenting chaos and disorder all around the world.
It has been plain to me for a long time that the biggest foreign threats to the security of United State do not come from such usual suspects as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and North Korea.
They come from inside our tent, not from out: from Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I’ll address Israel and Pakistan some other day, if I ever get around to it. For now Gary Brecher has done a pretty good job on Saudi Arabia at PandoDaily. Here’s an excerpt, but read it all here.
And of all their many skills, the one the Saudis have mastered most thoroughly is disruption. Not the cute tech-geek kind of disruption, but the real, ugly thing-in-itself. They don’t just “turn a blind eye” to young Saudi men going off to do jihad — they cheer them on. It’s a brilliant strategy that kills two very dangerous birds with one plane ticket. By exporting their dangerous young men, the Saudis rid themselves of a potential troublemaker while creating a huge amount of pain for the people who live wherever those men end up.
Saudis have shipped money, sermons, and volunteers to Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Russia’s North Caucasus just as they’re doing now in Syria. It’s a package deal — to get the money, you have to accept the Wahhabism and the volunteers. And it works. The Saudi package is usually resented at first, like it was by the Afghans who were outraged to be told they were “bad Muslims” by Saudi volunteers.
From Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes:
The ambassador [Henry Cabot Lodge] resented the agency’s exalted status in Saigon. “CIA has more money; bigger houses than diplomats; bigger salaries; more weapons; more modern equipment.” He was jealous of the powers held by [CIA station chief] John Richardson, and he scoffed at the caution the station chief displayed about Conein’s central role in the coup plotting. Lodge decided he wanted a new station chief.
So he burned Richardson — “exposed him and gave his name publicly to the newspapers,” as Bobby Kennedy said in a classified oral history eight months later — by feeding a coldly calculated leak to a journeyman reporter passing through Saigon. The story was a hot scoop. Identifying Richardson by name — an unprecedented breach of security — it said he had “frustrated a plan of action Mr. Lodge had brought with him from Washington, because the agency disagreed with it…one high official here, a man who has devoted most of his life in the service of democracy, likened the CIA’s growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure that even the White House could control it.” The New York Times and the Washington Post picked up the story. Richardson, his career ruined, left Saigon four days later; after a decent interval, Ambassador Lodge moved into his house.
I share the general outrage at the breadth and depth of federal government spying on every aspect of our observable behavior. But I do not share the surprise. The NSA has long been hoovering up every bit of data it could get and maneuvering lawmakers into legalizing whatever happens, or at least leaving holes big enough to drive the largest agency in the so-called intelligence community right through. In 1995 I was reading about the Clipper Chip, which was a design for a computer encryption chip with a built-in back door called, appropriately, the Law Enforcement Exploitation Field. Open discussion of such a solution to the problem of balancing public and private needs at the time led to the demise of the design, which is why such designs were never done openly again.
During that time I began a letter to my representatives in Congress and the Senate outlining my objections to Clipper. These could not be stated reasonably without giving a brief history of the NSA, information that was not widely distributed at the time. The letter turned into a brief essay on that topic, bringing together information that was publicly available but at the time considered fringy because it did not fit the dominant narrative. It’s funny how often facts fail to conform to our narratives. Now that I think of it, that in a nutshell is what psychotherapy is about, or should be. In any case, what once was fringy is now common knowledge. So if you know someone who was talking about Echelon spying on them in the last several years, they may have been right.
One thing I want to emphasize about the current round of revelations is the tiny cost of the PRISM program. All the corporations named in the slide have vigorously denied participation in very carefully worded statements. But think of it this way. What can the federal government get in terms of super-secret personnel and equipment for $20 million a year? Not enough to gather and process all the information the program reportedly gets. So who pays the rest?
Below the fold is the argument I made in my essay in outline form. The links are to the original essay, which I should move here but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’ve also appended the text of the first three sections.
“No statute establishes the NSA or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities,” complained Senator Frank Church. The National Security Agency was established by President Truman in a still classified Executive order Oct. 24, 1952. Its direction is apparently supplied by the classified document currently known as National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) No. 6 (formerly No.9), originating on July 1, 1948.
As of 1982, the NSA was still without a statutory charter, the first recommendation of the Church committee. Oversight by the intelligence community in the form of the National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB, formerly USIB) is effectively meaningless. The board rarely if ever turns down NSA proposals; day-to-day contact between the agency and its customers in the intelligence community prevents a periodic oversight board from examining much more than NSA's stated policy.
Budgetary authority apparently comes from the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. This act provides the basis for the secret spending program known as the Black Budget by allowing any arm of the government to transfer money to the CIA “without regard to any provisions of law,” and allowing the CIA to spend its funds as it sees fit, with no need to account for them. Congress passed the C.I.A. Act despite the fact that only the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees knew anything about its contents; the remaining members of Congress were told that open discussion, or even clear explanation, of the bill would be counterproductive. There were complaints about the secrecy; but in the end the House passed the bill 348–4, and the Senate took a voice vote.
The NSA’s estimated $10 billion annual allocation (as of 1990) is funded entirely through the black budget. Thus Congress appropriates funds for the NSA not only without information on the agency’s plans, but without even a clear idea of the amount it appropriates; and it receives no accounting of the uses to which the funds were put. This naturally precludes any debate about the direction or management of such agencies, effectively avoiding public oversight while spending public funds. (Weiner notes the analogy to “Taxation without representation.”)
The NSA has also spent a great deal of time and money spying on American citizens. For twenty-one years after its inception it tracked every telegram and telex in and out of the United States, and monitored the telephone conversations of the politically suspect.” (Weiner, Blank Check)
Due to its unique ability to monitor communications within the U.S. without a warrant, which FBI and CIA cannot legally do, NSA becomes the center of attempts to spy on U.S. citizens. Nominally this involves only communications in which at least one terminal is outside the U.S., but in practice target lists have often grown to include communications between U.S. citizens within the country.
And political considerations have sometimes become important.
During the Nixon administration, for example, various agencies (e.g., FBI, CIA, Secret Service) requested that the NSA provide all information it encountered showing that foreign governments were attempting to influence or control activities of U.S. anti-war groups, as well as information on civil rights groups, draft resistance/evasion support groups, radical-related media activities, and so on, “where such individuals have some foreign connection,” probably not that uncommon given the reception such groups usually receive at home. Clearly it would have been illegal for those agencies to gather such information themselves without warrants, but they presumably believed that the NSA was not similarly restricted when they included on their watch lists such Nixonian bugaboos as Eldridge Cleaver, Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda. Joan Baez, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Presumably the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was removed from the watchlist the year Nixon was elected; certainly it was a targeted name before that time.
[The remainder of the essay is here.]
One thing about living in a country with amnesia is that the old becomes new over and over again, as we repeat our forgotten idiocies. Here is a post I put up on Bad Attitudes on September 12, 2002, still fresh as a daisy:
Looking up something else in the files I just came across a four-year-old article from the New York Times, written as the Taliban were about to take over Afghanistan.
It’s easy to forget, and most of us conveniently have, that the Taliban was Made in the USA. What if, for just that once, we had managed to mind our own business?
From the Times of August 13, 1998, speaking of the likelihood that the mullahs would soon seize power:
“If so, the outcome is full of tragic irony for a nation that seemed set on a completely opposite course in 1973, when King Zahir Shah, the last representative of the Durrani Dynasty that had ruled the country for 250 years, was ousted in a coup mounted by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.
“As President, Mohammed Daoud proclaimed himself a modernizer but lasted barely five years before he was killed in April 1978 in a coup staged by the Soviet-backed Communist Party, which proclaimed a still more radical modernization program.
“The Communists’ program aimed at uprooting the pervasive influence of Muslim clerics, whose support of the Durranis had consigned Afghanistan to a social and economic backwardness.
“Within hours of seizing the Arg Palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Communists vowed to emancipate Afghan women, achieve universal literacy, and move the country beyond its bullock-cart economy.
“But the bid to force compliance with the Communist program, especially in the arch-conservative world of the Afghan village, triggered a civil war that drew in Soviet forces in December 1979.
“This in turn prompted President Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan to commit the United States to backing the Afghan Mujahedeen, the self-styled Muslim holy warriors who drove out the Russians in February 1989.”
To put the matter clearly, the Russians were the nearest thing there was to good guys in the Afghanistan of the late seventies. The nearest thing to bad guys, then and now, were the ignorant village clerics…
As so often happened during the Cold War, we jumped eagerly into bed with the worst guys in sight. Even worse than the Russian alternative? Well, figure it out. Our exciting fling with the primitive, lawless Mujahedeen created the conditions for the Taliban takeover that the Russians had feared. And the takeover created the kind of country an Osama Bin Laden could get comfortable in.
Well, okay, but still.. We couldn’t very well have left this tiny land in the terrible claws of godless Russia, could we? Of course we could. We did it all the time, before and during the Cold War. And in this case, so what? Three and a half years later the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, giving everybody a get-out-of-jail card.
But wasn’t that collapse precisely because we had armed and financed those brave Afghan freedom fighters? Pretty doubtful. The Soviet Union had been a basket case for decades. It might have stayed on its feet for a year or two longer if Cold War cowboys like Zbigniew Brzezinski and William J. Casey hadn’t been gnawing at its crutches in Afghanistan, that’s true. But the aging invalid was about to topple in any case..
Suppose those few years had been spent under the Russians rather than the warlords and the Taliban? A number of things would have happened, all of them good. Afghanistan wouldn’t have been devastated in a pointless civil war, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Afghans would still be alive, and the country would be independent today just like the other ’Stans in the neighborhood. No better off, but no worse either.
And yesterday — September 11th of 2002 — could have been just another lovely day in early autumn.
The late Al Weisel, blogging as Jon Swift, used to run a best blog posts of the year feature, selected by the bloggers themselves. Below is mine for 2007, as I am reminded by Vagabond Scholar. I had completely forgotten the post but it seems to me to hold up, and so I reprint it in an excess of immodesty. And as a demonstration of Plus ça change… And to prove I am smarter than Muammar Qaddafi, who would be alive today if he had listened to me:
In the current Newsweek Evan Thomas has an unusually vapid review of a book by Andrew Roberts which may or may not be equally vapid, depending on how accurately Thomas has described it. The review is in a section called “Ideas,” and here is Thomas’s: People who speak English are really, really special, and the rest of you owe us a really, really lot.
This idea is hardly worth engaging, and so let’s pass on to one which is worth engaging — although only because it has invaded the national brain like some ghastly tumor threatening the very values that Thomas supposes us to possess:
The English-speaking peoples have been seriously threatened by force four times: twice by German aggression, once by Soviet totalitarianism, and most recently by Islamic fanaticism. The forces of freedom and democracy reeled after the first blows—at Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor in World War II and at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. “The English-speaking peoples rarely win the first battle,” writes Roberts, “but they equally rarely lose the subsequent war.”
All right, everybody. Let’s relax for a minute here.
The English-speaking peoples are not seriously threatened by force from Islamic fanaticism. The only major war subsequent to 9/11 was one we sought in Iraq, and it lasted only a few weeks. Everything after that was a badly botched occupation.
The 9/11 attacks and World War II are no more parallel than longitude and latitude are parallel, no matter how badly George W. Bush wants to be Winston Churchill. (I might mention here that I myself would very much like to be Dame Judi Dench, although the odds are against it.)
The only human force that can seriously threaten the existence of the United States, let alone the English-speaking peoples, would be a full-scale military attack from a combination of opponents. A coalition of Russia, Japan and China might pull it off.
But in the real world this will not happen, because the United States, Russia and China all have atomic weapons and Japan could have them by next Tuesday.
This is why North Korea and Iran are in such a scramble to get nuclear weapons: not to attack us, but to make sure we don’t attack them. The strategy works very well, as may be seen in the case of North Korea. Next thing we know, Bush will visit Pyongyang, nation-building.
Returning to the real world, the war on terror is not a war. Osama attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with stolen airliners and kamikaze pilots because, lacking an air force, he was incapable of war. One engages in terrorism not because one is powerful, but precisely because one is weak.
Terrorism is almost always about real estate, as in Ireland, Chechnya, Spain, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the globe. If the United States had remained neutral in the land dispute between the Israel and its Arab neighbors, there would have been no 9/11.
And if we were now to become neutral in that dispute, there would be no more 9/11s. That is the only way to end Islamic terrorism in this country. Every informed American with a double-digit I.Q. knows that; the only meaningful question left is whether our continued blind support of Israel is somehow worth whatever it costs in future terror attacks.
We have been misled to believe that we are mired in an apocalyptic clash between the forces of Islamic darkness and the forces of English-speaking light. But it only seems that way because Bush responded to an act of terror with an act of war against an evil but in this case innocent bystander.
Nor are the Iraqis reacting to Bush’s occupation with some fiendish and unfair new form of combat called “asymmetrical warfare” in which they cunningly “adapt to the enemy” in new and hitherto unimaginable ways. No, the Iraqis are reacting to occupation by a more powerful enemy in the same way that resistance fighters reacted to Hitler’s storm troopers. They are improvising against an occupying army the best they can.
Nor should we be surprised if the neighbors lend a hand. They do so for the same reasons that the Soviets supported Tito and British agents aided guerrillas all over Europe. The neighbors don’t want to be the next ones occupied.
Fortunately even if Bush turns Iran into his very own Cambodia, we will eventually be forced to withdraw from the Middle East just as Nixon did from Southeast Asia.
In both misbegotten struggles, our opponents were clear in what they wanted — our absence — and we were unclear about what we wanted. Our presence? Did we really want to stay? For how long? Forever? Why?
Was such a dubious prize worth the life of even one George Walker Bush or Richard Bruce Cheney? Like millions of other Americans neither of them thought so. But that, of course, was then.
Many years ago, watching TV, I realized that we had turned some sort of a corner. The host had announced a guest, who came on stage to wild applause. The guest joined in, clapping enthusiastically for herself. If this catches on, I thought, we are doomed. It caught on.
And so this, by Michael Haederle at Pacific Standard, comes as no surprise.
Of note: many of the men classified as psychopaths in Blackwood’s study would not have met the criteria for psychopathy in the United States, he says. Psychopathy is diagnosed with a standard checklist that scores various traits on a scale of 40. In Europe, a score of 25 qualifies someone as a psychopath, he says, while the threshold in the U.S. is 30. The average score in the British study was 28, he says.
“I’m always slightly careful about this with American audiences,” Blackwood says in trying to explain the differing thresholds. “It’s something to do with a different approach to the self in America. There is a degree of narcissism that is more culturally appropriate in America than it is in England.”
In A People’s History of the United States, 1492 - Present Howard Zinn excerpts an article I wrote for the New York Times in 1973. I always figured these few paragraphs would turn out to be my only durable literary legacy, and in an odd way this seems to be coming true.
Chasing down my old op-ed piece earlier today on Google, I discovered that Zinn’s brief excerpts have gone viral in the flourishing world of ghost-written student essays. The following paragraphs are the ones being heisted from Zinn’s book, repackaged, repurposed, and resold to student plagiarists as nuggets of original research. For whatever further service I may be to scholars, a pdf of the full text is here. The map below (you can steal that too; I did) shows where our bombs fell on Laos between 1965 and 1975.
The Pentagon’s most recent lies about bombing Cambodia bring back a question that often occurred to me when I was press attache at the American Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.
Why did we bother to lie? When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: “At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.”
This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. The International Control Commission knew it was a lie. Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie....
After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us.
Thanks to Chris Floyd for passing this along. Our nation, horribly enough, is being rotted from the inside:
[In a new book, historian Timothy Parsons] wonders whether America’s empire is really an empire as the Americans don’t seem to get any extractive benefits from it. After eight years of war and attempted occupation of Iraq, all Washington has for its efforts is several trillion dollars of additional debt and no Iraqi oil. After ten years of trillion dollar struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Washington has nothing to show for it except possibly some part of the drug trade that can be used to fund covert CIA operations.
America’s wars are very expensive. Bush and Obama have doubled the national debt, and the American people have no benefits from it. No riches, no bread and circuses flow to Americans from Washington’s wars. So what is it all about?
The answer is that Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America … The US Constitution has been extracted in the interests of the Security State, and Americans’ incomes have been redirected to the pockets of the 1 percent. ...
In the New Empire success at war no longer matters. The extraction takes place by being at war. Huge sums of American taxpayers’ money have flowed into the American armaments industries and huge amounts of power into Homeland Security. The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty.
We may or may not wind up acting with our customary insanity in reaction to Israel’s current cries for war. Barack Obama and Joe Biden rather than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in charge, and so this time our strutting chickenhawks might not get their way. Which would spare us another descent into Macbeth’s dilemma:
I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.
In recent months, talk of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has fueled the Republican presidential campaign, served as the backdrop for this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and earned a pledge from Obama on Sunday that the United States would resort to military means if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
Israeli officials acknowledge that the widespread acceptance in the West that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon isn’t based just on the findings of Israeli intelligence operatives, but relies in no small part on a steady media campaign that the Israelis have undertaken to persuade the world that Iran is bent on building a nuclear warhead…
His point was driven home in February, when Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, said that Iran is developing a missile that could strike targets more than 6,000 miles away — such as the East Coast of the United States.
The missile project is “aimed at America, not Israel,” said Yaalon, a well-known hawk who advocates a military strike on Iran by Israel and its allies.
“Israel has everyone so worked up that the thought is, let’s temper what they do, rather than, let’s stop or control what they do,” said one European diplomat based in Jerusalem, who like many diplomats declined to be identified further because of the sensitivity of the subject…
“…I’ve been talking about this since 2005, and nearly every year has been the ‘Iran year,’” Javedanfar said. “I think the level of hysteria has dropped... If Iran gets a bomb it is not something I would like to see, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end. It’s a mistake to use words like ‘existential threat.’”
The first date-specific prediction of when Iran would have a nuclear weapon was made in 1998, by the then head of military intelligence, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, who warned that Iran could have the bomb by 2008…
Not that the predictions have been consistent. In 2009, Israel’s then-spymaster, Meir Dagan, estimated that Iran would have a weapon by 2014. That same year, Yossi Baidetz, the head of Israel’s military intelligence research division, said that Iran had all the nuclear know-how it needed. In 2010, Israeli officials shortened their estimates to 2012.
Get off my lawn, you damned kids, and take your bracelets with you. From the New York Times:
The male shopper, who pretty much was missing at the onset of the recession, is buying again. And to the delight of retailers, he is not just stocking up on suits and dress shirts, but also doing something women have been doing for years: binging on accessories.
Bracelets. Bags. Hats. Umbrellas. Men are buying so many accessories that some forecasters predict sales growth for men’s clothing and accessories during the first three months of this year will set a 20-year high…
“Bracelets are on fire right now,” said Tim Bess, who analyzes men’s fashions for the Doneger Group, a trend forecaster. “I’d say it’s the No. 1 look for the young man.”
Two things here. First the Orwellian splendor of “build-down.” Second, Mr. Adams is unquestionably right. We don’t need a military capable of fighting two wars or 1.5 wars or even one war. We haven’t been invaded since 1812, unless you consider the question from the point of view of a Native American. Our bloated military has become the economic equivalent of a WPA in reverse, blowing things up so it can rebuild them. It would make more sense to fold the Navy into the Coast Guard, the rest of the Army into the Corps of Engineers, and the Air Force into American Airlines.
“Even at a trillion dollars, this is a shallower build-down than any of the last three we’ve done,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “It would still be the world’s most dominant military. We would be in an arms race with ourselves.”
I can’t let this one slide. Here’s Thomas Friedman — sort of, kind of — calling Baby Bush the father of the Arab Spring. Even putting Shock and Awe into the same paragraph with Tahrir Square is an obscenity.
So no matter the original reasons for the war, in the end, it came down to this: Were America and its Iraqi allies going to defeat Al Qaeda and its allies in the heart of the Arab world or were Al Qaeda and its allies going to defeat them? Thanks to the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq, and the surge, America and its allies defeated them and laid the groundwork for the most important product of the Iraq war: the first ever voluntary social contract between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites for how to share power and resources in an Arab country and to govern themselves in a democratic fashion. America helped to midwife that contract in Iraq, and now every other Arab democracy movement is trying to replicate it — without an American midwife. You see how hard it is.
Chris Jones, at Esquire’s Politics Blog, has the first sensible take I’ve seen on the handling of small bits of war casualties at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary. If you go into the killing business on an industrial scale there’s going to be loss and spillage along the way. All the faux rage now being directed at the men on the clean-up crews should be aimed instead at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and all the other suits up in the executive suite. And at all the voters who put them in office. This would include, I suspect, most of the loudest protesters in this whole sorry business. Their outrage comes ten years too late.
A sample from Jones’s essay:
There are no flawless factories. And despite the impossible work of many good people, despite the care that might have been taken however many steps along the way, despite the heavy symbolism and solemn salutes, Dover remains a factory. That might be a hard thing for people to accept, especially for the families of the men and women who have passed through there, but maybe it's time we stopped measuring our words about these things. War leaves people dead, and it kills them in terrible ways, so that their bodies are hanging from trees or burned virtually to dust, and it's a minor miracle that more mistakes have not been made in bringing them home. This story is just another reminder of how terrible this whole awful business is.
Charles P. Pierce writes:
Empires make me nervous. Imperial policies — even the gentler ones, even the purely commercial ones, even by proxy, and even when they result in the death of one of the few indisputable madmen on the modern scene — make my skin itch. (It’s the Irish in me.)
As to the blessings of globalization in Africa, well, that continent has been globalized out of most of its wealth and more than a few of its people since long before people invented the hedge fund. Will they do better under Goldman Sachs than they did under the Belgians? (The Nigerian precedent is not encouraging.) Free trade is not democracy, and the latter is in no way an inevitable consequence of the former. I don’t see the arrival of consumer goods and/or the modern financial markets as doing much for the average Ugandan.…
Iraq and Afghanistan aside, we fight our wars by automation, hurling thunderbolts from beyond the horizon, like Jove. There’s something scarifying about that, especially when it’s aimed at an American citizen, and it kills his teenage son, and the people who threw the thunderbolts don’t even try to show us why these people had to die. For a long time, we had people who said that the reason we were sending the Army all over the world was because there wasn’t any draft. One of the most apt criticisms of the “war on terror” was that it was being conducted without engaging the entire country in the effort. Now, not only is the combat removed from the citizenry, it’s increasingly removed from soldiers. Some guy at a console in Kansas City is making war on Pakistan. That makes me nervous.
Here, from Tom Engelhardt, is our text for this Fourth of July:
These days [President Obama] can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.
Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps…
The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course. As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.” He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination... and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach... we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”
I know, I know. You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over. But hang in there, because that’s just a start. For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective. They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.” They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.” (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?) And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from…”
Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.”
The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.
Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.” Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back... God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”
As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.
In the excerpt above, Engelhardt expands on a point made long ago by the late George Carlin — that America is a nation of “cop lovers and soldier sniffers.”
But Engelhardt goes on to argue, inarguably, that President Obama is leading us into a mess in Afghanistan from which we will never extricate ourselves without further dishonor and defeat. Thus he follows with precision the political strategy of Johnson and Nixon, both of whom also pursued reelection by keeping alive a murderous war that they knew to be pointless and unwinnable.
Please read not just the passages I’ve posted, but Engelhardt’s whole essay.
CNN World, May 29, 2011:
An investigation was underway Sunday into allegations that a coalition airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed a dozen children and two women, Afghan and NATO officials said…
“We do know about the allegations,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Flesvig, an ISAF spokesman, told CNN. There was no mention of possible civilian casualties on ISAF’s daily operational update posted daily on its website…
Residents, according to Ahamadi, said an ISAF helicopter conducted the airstrike, which hit two houses where women and children were staying.
New York Times, September 7, 2002:
The United States Central Command acknowledged tonight that scores of civilians were killed or injured in an American airstrike on a string of Afghan villages in July, but blamed Taliban fighters for placing women and children near valid miitary targets…
“The ground location of the source of the fire was identified and fires were directed to that area,” the summary said. “Just as the weapon itself is not seen, it is also not possible to determine if the fires from the AC-130 gunship have damaged or destroyed the weapon. Consequently, personnel at the weapon’s location were the primary targets. Unfortunately, it is also not possible to distinguish men from women or adults from children.”
From the Associated Press:
“A smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.” — Defense Secretary Robert Gates warning that shrinking defense budgets will mean a smaller military and a diminished American role in the world.
In my morning email was this, from Merry: “I really want to read your take on the ‘killing Bin-Laden’ story.’” Naturally I was excited, since no one had previously given a rat’s fundamental orifice about my take on anything. So here:
I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction was to wonder what effect the assassination would have on the 2012 election. This was narrow, parochial, and in all respects unworthy, but I’m still counting the news cycles till the Republicans start asking the president what took him so long. Maybe because Obama rhymes with Osama? Hmm?
My second reaction was to wonder how much we will wind up paying Pakistan for selling Bin Laden to us. After all, the Saudi millionaire wasn’t hiding in some remote frontier wilderness where the writ of law runneth not. He was in Abbottabad, which turns out to be as far from Islamabad as Manassas is from the White House.
Furthermore, many of Abbottabad’s residents are army personnel and all of them must be blind. (For this and the following details, go here.) The elusive 6' 5" terrorist lived in a million-dollar mansion built five years ago, apparently to hide him. It had 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire and was “roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.” None of this seems to have come to the attention of all those army personnel, or of the Pakistan intelligence service.
A suspicious person might reach a tentative conclusion that Bin Laden had been held in a sort of country club jail until the price was right, and then ratted out to Pakistan’s hated enemy, the United States, for a price that will never be disclosed.
Once again we play the battered wife, submissive and forgiving. Our abusive husband this time is Pakistan. Next time it will be Israel or Saudi Arabia. We cannot bring ourselves to admit that it is these three countries which pose the greatest actual threats to America’s actual security. Unhappily this pathology is bipartisan. There it lies at the heart of our national security policy, unuttered and unutterable.
I’ve mentioned before that it’s never a good idea to take on people who would rather die than ______ (fill in blank). The latest evidence for this proposition just came in a few minutes ago from CNN News:
Five troops killed in a suicide bombing this weekend at a military base in eastern Afghanistan were members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday…
On Saturday, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan military uniform struck, killing the five, at a military base, Forward Operating Base Gamberi, in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province. The attack came during a meeting between Afghan soldiers and their ISAF mentors…
Let’s start by all agreeing that terrorism is a bad thing, okay? But let’s also agree to the indisputable: that it will not and cannot destroy the United States. Here is a very partial list of states that have been visited by terrorism in recent memory: England, France, Spain, Ireland, Canada, India, Pakistan, Bolivia, Nicaragua. On and on. All of them remain in existence. None has assumed the fetal position, whimpering in fear and laying down unaimed fire in every direction. This is to say that only in the United States have the terrorists won.
More on this point from Daniel Larison at Eunomia.
The latest round of interventionist foreign policy over the last ten to thirteen years has focused heavily, though not exclusively, on countering the threat from jihadist terrorism, and everyone would acknowledge that many of the major policy decisions of the last ten years were made politically viable by the 9/11 attacks. Arguments for all of the policies connected to the “war on terror” lean heavily on the idea that terrorism, and specifically jihadist terrorism, represents a major or even an “existential” threat. Any reasonable assessment of the threat shows this to be absurd, and along with those overblown claims goes a large part of the rationale for pretty much every “war on terror” policy.
It seems to me that non-interventionists and realists make blowback arguments to focus on the consequences of current policy, and to point out the flaw in a national security and warfare state that actively makes America less secure by creating enemies where none should exist and provoking attacks that need not happen. It is also a rhetorical move to appeal to public concerns about security without endorsing standard authoritarian and jingoist responses to threats.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but what non-interventionists and realists should be trying to do is to channel the public’s appropriate moral outrage over terrorist atrocities towards reforming the policies that create these unintended, avoidable consequences. To that end, there doesn’t need to be any exaggeration of the nature of the threat or the power of jihadism, but there should be a steady stream of arguments that the threat can be significantly reduced or possibly eliminated by reforming U.S. policies so that they actually minimize the risks to the nation rather than generate new dangers. The threat from terrorism isn’t all that great, but it could be greatly reduced. All that it will cost us is our undesirable pursuit of hegemony.
David Rhode is a paramedic in Middleton, Wis. He works 56 hours a week, mostly in 24-hour shifts, frequently carrying wheezy patients up and down flights of stairs. He said he earns about $43,000 a year.
HuffPost asked Rhode, 36, how it feels to be overpaid. His eyebrows went up.
"I drove my Ford Focus here," he said. "I live in a 950-square-foot condominium!"
Luckily, this question is easily answered: Anyone who makes under $250,000 a year is overpaid. Anyone who make over $250,000 is underpaid.
Please make a note of it. It is, after all, one of the base assumptions of our current national discourse.
Anyone around who still imagines that ours is a peace-loving country should read The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War (pdf), from which this excerpt comes. The author, Franklin Spinney, is not a peacenik or a pacifist. He spent most of his long career as high-ranking Pentagon analyst.
One source of the pressure for more defense spending is that our two relatively small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both much smaller than the Korean or Vietnam war, have stretched our military to the breaking point. These wars are small in terms of scale and tempo of operations. Bear in mind that the Korean and Vietnam wars took place against a backdrop of cold war commitments. Today, the United States is spending more than it did in 1969, when we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam.
But the cold war meant that we also maintained hundreds of thousands of troops in Western Europe and East Asia, a huge rotation base at home to support these forward deployments, a large Navy fleet of 679 ships (compared with 287 today) to control the seas, and thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert in airborne bombers, missile silos, and submarines. Nevertheless, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, the cumulative costs of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the response to September 11 the second-most-expensive war, adjusted for inflation, in U.S. history, exceeded only by World War II…
In 1981, the Reagan administration was so intent on throwing money at the Defense Department that it rushed through an amendment to President Jimmy Carter’s budget. Without any systematic review — and not having the time to type up a new budget — Reagan’s political appointees directed the department merely to hand-write changes adding billions of dollars to hundreds of line items. Much of this largesse was immediately converted into cost growth in existing programs…
If we actually want to expand and consolidate our influence abroad, the way to do it is not to bankrupt ourselves by sending in the cavalry. For instance, take our 30-year Southeast Asian War Games. Please. For another instance, look at Obama’s fundamentally insane attempt to colonize Afghanistan with drones.
And for a somewhat different approach, consider this:
China has announced plans to build a high-speed railway linking the southern Chinese Guangxi Zhaung autonomous region with Singapore via Vietnam, according to China Daily…
“We will invest 15.6 billion yuan (US$3.05 billion) to build the railway linking Nanning and Singapore via Vietnam,” said Long Li, director of the region’s transportation department. “This is extremely important for the construction of the Nanning - Singapore Economic Corridor.”
The corridor refers to the economic link between China and ASEAN nations, starting at Nanning in Guangxi and passing through Hanoi in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on its way to Singapore. China Daily referred to Guangxi as the country’s main foreign-trade center, with ASEAN being its largest bloc trading partner.
Of course everything has its downside, as we see in this email from an old colleague who stayed in Thailand after our own efforts to impose a Southeast Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had so disastrously failed. So you pays your money and you takes your choice, but the Chinese approach seems to involve lower body counts. At least in the short run.
Lemme tell you, man, it’s really bad. The Chinese squatters are the worst of the worst, obnoxious ass holes who simply buy off local officials and do as they please. I can cite numerous examples from personal experience, e.g., the market vendors in Nam Tha and Phonsavan who know NO Lao and could care less.
In March, I got up to the Bolavens plateau where I spent a year in ’63–’64. A joint Chinese/Australian mining concern has a concession to strip away 1,400 km2 of the plateau for bauxite and send it to Yunnan for an aluminum plant. 1,400 square kilometers! Essentially the entire southern half of the plateau. And the fuckers’ office is in the old IVS house we built in Houei Kong. [Ed. note: The International Voluntary Service in Laos was the rough equivalent of the Peace Corps.]
This is happening on top of Korean and other foreign hydroprojects that have displaced villages and destroyed indigenous cultures. And unrestrained logging everywhere, which destroys the habitat that indigenous groups have preserved for hundreds of years and on which they depend to sustain their way of life.
…whoever they are. From the New York Times:
In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves…
“There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,” a senior administration official said Wednesday…
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was last in Afghanistan in September, said the 2014 date made sense, because the Afghan Army and the police were scheduled to increase their numbers to 350,000, their goal, by 2013.
“It is far enough away to allow lots to happen, yet it is still close enough to debunk the myth of an indefinite foreign occupation of the country,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.
But Mr. Gates has said that the United States will nonetheless be in Afghanistan for many more years to come.
More good sense from Daniel Larison. Worth reading in its entirety:
As much as we can appreciate and honor the support our NATO allies have provided, we shouldn’t drag them into conflicts that have never really been their concern. “Out-of-area” missions will just keep happening again and again as the alliance looks for new conflicts to enter to provide a rationale for its existence. European nations are clearly tired of it, and at present they can’t afford it, either. The need for fiscal retrenchment has been forcing European governments, even the new coalition government in Britain, to make deep cuts in their military budgets.
Making NATO into a political club of democracies in good standing is also no solution to the Alliance’s obsolescence. As we saw in the war in Georgia two years ago, proposed expansion of NATO has been more of a threat to European peace and security than dissolving it. Once again, this is something that most European governments understood at the time, and which Washington refused to see. Without the belief that Georgia was eligible for membership and would eventually be allowed to join, it is unlikely that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would have escalated a conflict over its separatist regions and plunged his country into war with Russia. That conflict was a good sign that the Alliance had outlived its usefulness. If it isn’t disbanded, it may start to become a menace to the very things it was supposed to keep safe.
America doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to perpetuate an outdated alliance. The creation of NATO was an imaginative solution designed to respond to the security conditions of the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it was an enormous success. But it is time for Americans to begin thinking anew about the world. A first step in doing that is letting go of an alliance neither America nor Europe needs…
Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times today:
There’s a sound political rationale for this, of course. Reducing spending is always difficult, and a Republican Party coasting toward a midterm victory has little incentive to stake out controversial positions. And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress — save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — is particularly eager to touch…
Step right along, folks, nothing to see here. Or so goes the Conventional Wisdom, taken totally for granted by the political and the media establishments in our whole debate over taxes and the deficit.
And yet what’s that huge corpse lying beside the road, bloated and stinking in the sun for all to see? Why doesn’t “everybody know” that cutting War Department spending is also a way of balancing the budget, and one that has the added advantage of being sane?
Presidents Johnson and Carter both tried to impose a discipline called zero-based budgeting on the government, with barely visible success. It involved assuming that your department’s budget had just been reduced to zero, and then restoring functions one by one until you reached a prescribed limit.
Let’s try that with the War Department. Overnight it’s all gone, every bit of it. No more soldiers or sailors, tanks, bombs, planes, guns, submarines, aircraft carriers, drones, generals or admirals. Nothing left. The end of our known world. We stand here naked in a hostile world, shivering and defenseless like Costa Rica — which actually does lack an army.
What will become of poor us? Surely we will be crushed by our enemies, all three hundred million of us from sea to shining sea. Our cities burned, our fields sowed with salt, our women raped, our children sent to madrasas, our surviving men reduced to serfdom.
Just like Costa Rica, except that in the real world none of those things ever seems to happen to Costa Rica.
Nor would they happen to us. We, too, have no military enemies — and therefore no rational reason to maintain much more than a token army. After all America hasn’t been invaded since 1812, and then we pretty much asked for it.
We have wars because we have a War Department, simple as that. No department, no wars. Then we might be forced to think for a living instead of priming the pump of our economy with bombs, bullets and blood. Sure it would be tough, but we can handle tough. We’re Americans.
…speak Truth to Power, which does not care.
But Washington is providing only a trickle of help, and even that grudgingly. We must place priority on reducing the deficit, say Republicans and “centrist” Democrats. And then, virtually in the next breath, they declare that we must preserve tax cuts for the very affluent, at a budget cost of $700 billion over the next decade.
In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter…
The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.
So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.
From Ricardo Garcia Vilanova of The Wall Street Journal:
Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghanab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood.
President Nixon figured out that you could sell only sell permanent warfare to the suckers if you stopped drafting their sons and raised military salaries just enough to make a soldier suit look like a better deal than a McDonald’s uniform.
The trouble was, however, that soldiers weren’t like the rest of the military-industrial complex. They didn’t have lobbyists you could get political donations from. The payday lenders were cleaning up, but that was about it. The whole situation was an affront to free market principles.
Time to privatize, offshore, contract out, spin off all but the Pentagon’s core competency — procurement. Remember when mercenaries used to be ethically dubious guns for hire, like the Hessians? Well, we’re not in Valley Forge anymore, Toto.
The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate did a lot of the heavy lifting, but now President Obama is showing us how a real privateer does it:
The Obama administration is infinitely worse in Afghanistan in terms of its employment of mercenaries and other private contractors than the Bush administration. Right now in Afghanistan there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors alongside 68,000 U.S. troops.
There is almost a 2-to-1 ratio of private-sector for-profit forces that are on the U.S. government payroll versus the active-duty or actual military forces in the country. And that is not taking into account the fact that the State Department has 14,000 contractors in Afghanistan.
“Within a matter of months, and certainly within a year, the United States will have upwards of 220,000 to 250,000 U.S. government-funded personnel occupying Afghanistan, a far cry from the 70,000 U.S. soldiers that those Americans who pay attention understand the United States has in Afghanistan,” Scahill said.
“This is a country where the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives who have no ability to strike at the United States. That was the stated rationale and reasoning for being in Afghanistan. It was to hunt down those responsible for 9/11.”
Here’s a little quiz for the “armchair generals” among us who may have become a tad disillusioned by the way that our US military appears to be conducting itself over this first decade of The Long War. Here we go, but before you get started here’s a tip: Because this is war we’re talking about, there are no right, wrong or good answers — just questions.
1. It is easy to identify enemy insurgents in Afghanistan. If you see the following behaviors chances are you’ve spotted an insurgent: (a) anyone who acts nervous at checkpoints; (b) anyone digging a hole; (c) anyone who doesn’t instantly follow orders screamed in English; (d) anyone carrying something large, roughly the size and shape of an AK-47 or grenade launcher e.g, camera equipment; (e) people who grab their guns when you break down their door in the middle of the night.
2. The best intelligence sources on where insurgents can be found include: (a) any Afghan willing to talk to you; (b) air-surveillance spotting of people with trucks/vans; (c) local drug lords; (d) little kids.
3. The best way to minimize collateral damage is: (a) stop killing people; (b) clean up the evidence when victims are obviously civilians; (c) deny it — the Taliban human shield defense works well; (d) if all else fails — lie; say the bodies had already been murdered by someone local e.g., honor killings (if victims are female) or “tribal justice” if victims are male.
4. The best ways to win “hearts and minds” are: (a) leave the country; (b) run around shirtless with a “mock” headdress and shades like a Medal of Honor avatar; (c) build things like cutting edge water treatment plants that are too complex for the locals to operate; (d) burn your high-tech trash in open fires to leave your mark on future generations.
5. The best in-country partners for a counterinsurgency are: (a) local CIA assets; (b) ex-cons; (c) local arms smugglers; (d) popular, clueless charlatans.
Well. That’s enough for now, you get the idea…
Whatever the doctrine or mission or strategy that landed US forces in Afghanistan it’s increasingly hard to come up with a good rationale for staying, let alone surging … perhaps it’s battle fatigue; or the growing effect of an influx of Black Water-y commandos and their 21st Century Art of Warfare program; or maybe it’s just plain old ignorance, bungling and mismanagement — more than likely it’s a combination of the three. Whatever the cause, there are legions of dead Iraqis and Afghanis to attest to the fact that “shit happens” in War and a no-win situation only gets more dismal when you throw more resources at it.
Back in the beginning of the century, I don’t think that anyone, no less anyone in the Bush administration, could have foreseen the absolute travesty and international humiliation that these wars would wreak on participant nations. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to be awakening and tiring of their supporting role quicker than we’d like. After all, it’s one thing to be Emperor and quite another to be a “friend of the Empire,” at the end of the day.
Also, unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly evident that perhaps the American collective consciousness doesn’t really have the stomach or the inherent ruthlessness to be global conquistadors. It’s difficult to shape a population reared on a public image of honesty, integrity and generosity into a lean, mean permanent war machine.
I’m not saying it can’t be done — just that it takes longer and more concerted effort to root out the innate common decency that has no place in a global domination program. In my opinion that’s why we’re doing such a crappy job of it and why it’s become necessary to contract so much of the job out to sociopathic gunslingers that cause more problems than they solve.
Here in the Northeastern United States Spring has arrived, bringing with it the primal derangements and high spirits historically associated with the season — unmufflered motorcycles, chest-beating, spontaneous Tarzan cries and stuff like that there.
Evidently, roughly the same phenom is occurring in far-off Afghanistan, as well; witness the recent admission, by Gen. McChrystal, to the murder of “way too many” innocent civilians and President Karzai’s recent rant about “meddling foreigners” (I’m expecting another Karzai-Ahmadinejad pow-wow any moment now).
Karzai was most likely reacting to President Obama’s unexpected drop-in last week. Obama was “special-opped” into Bagram, in the dead of night, ostensibly to rally the troops for more murder and mayhem in Kandahar but also, according to reports, to deliver a good old American ass-chewing to “our man in Kabul.” Evidently, Obama is underwhelmed by Karzai’s efforts to clean up his corner of the world in preparation for its long awaited democracy transplant. As all good Americans know, Democracy cannot flourish in a corrupt environment — right?
Rationally, that would put Karzai on the line for one of the most epic turnarounds in human history, to include the public execution of many of his relatives and members of parliament. Karzai is 50, so chances are slim he’ll accomplish that mission in his lifetime; nevertheless, Obama would like to see him making more of an effort…
For his part, I expect that Karzai’s primary focus is on “stayin’ alive.” Since the beginning of his U.S. sponsorship, Karzai has been the subject of five newsworthy assassination attempts and probably numerous less spectacular attempts. Those attempts were not your lone sniper events, either; most involved rocket attacks, grenades and various other measures designed to take out a city block.
Karzai has always been reluctant to fly solo in his current position. When Obama stated his desire to get out of Afghanistan by 2011, Karzai countered that Obama’s timeline was off by about 15 years. Karzai knows better than anyone that if Coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban will re-establish their government tout de suite.
A year later (or closer to withdrawal, if you believe in that sort of thing), with that sword hanging over his head, Karzai has decided he better start talkin’ some trash against the U.S .or he’s going to wind up the subject of some serious insurgent fatwa. To that end, Karzai took to the airwaves, this week, to express his concern over foreign meddling — a popular topic among Middle East purists, these days.
Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of wanting a “puppet government” and of seeking to make him “psychologically smaller and smaller.”
“They want me to be an illegitimate president,” he announced. “And they want the parliament to be illegitimate.”
He also blamed others for election fraud that, by all accounts, was orchestrated by his regime: “No doubt there was massive fraud. That was not done by the Afghans. The foreigners did that.”
In diplomatic circles this is known as ‘playing both sides against the middle.’ Whereas the U.S. should know better, by now, about the various pitfalls of installing and propping up such worthless puppets, Karzai, himself, might do well to read up on what happens when the puppet-masters lose patience. Or, better yet, what the local population is capable of doing to rid themselves of such buffoons.
Of course, Robert Gibbs sallied forth to express the administration’s “dismay” over Karzai’s accusations, calling Karzai’s words “genuinely troubling.” In addition, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, quickly met with Karzai “to clarify what he meant by these remarks.” Could it be that the Obama Administration was caught off guard, here; and Obama, like Kennedy before him, is out of sync with national security state powers-that-be who are busily conducting their own “foreign policy?”
Right now, Karzai, (if he’s smart) will figure out a way to make his personal U.S. network ties indispensable to the Taliban, which will surely take back the government in Kabul at their earliest convenience. Upon their return, however, they will now receive US backing in return for their promise to shun al Qaeda — which explains the burgeoning local interest in capturing ex-pat Taliban members to ensure a place at the settlement table — à la Pakistan’s detention of Baradar and their refusal to extradite him to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Americans are swallowing their daily dose of foreign policy propaganda so that they don’t lose patience, too soon, with our latest experiment in regime change. Most Americans have already bought into the notion that Afghan governmental stability = enhanced U.S .National Security = victory over al Qaeda. As Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, so succinctly put it:
The uncomfortable truth is that without indefinite foreign protection, the Government of Afghanistan would probably fall to the Afghan Taliban. But Americans should not equate the fall of that regime with “losing” to al Qaeda. Violent, Islamist extremist groups indigenous to this region threaten the Afghan government, not the American government. Because these radical groups lack the ambition — let alone the capacity — to threaten the sovereignty or physical security of the United States, they do not merit the strategic obsession that they currently receive.
Washington’s continued fixation on groups that threaten Afghanistan, rather than America, presents a bigger threat to genuine American interests than those groups themselves can pose, especially since there is little assurance that 100,000 foreign troops can capture and kill more insurgents than their presence helps to recruit.
Rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should focus on countering the al Qaeda threat still clinging to life in this region. Technological advances over the past decade allow us to monitor places without having 100,000 boots on the ground. Furthermore, the blueprint for an effective counterterrorism approach is the initial U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when small Special Forces teams, working in conjunction with local militias, assembled quickly and struck effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.
In short, Americans should reject the misguided belief that terrorists can only flourish in failed states like Afghanistan. After all, India, a major U.S. ally far more stable than Afghanistan, is fighting several internal insurgencies. Likewise, the very al Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 not only found sanctuary in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, but also in politically free and economically prosperous countries like Germany, Spain, and the United States.
America has a long and tawdry history of justifying its foreign adventures with a full array of fairly irrational strategic, economic, and ideological considerations. Strategically, we must not allow geographically important regions from falling under the sway of regimes that are either anti-US, or simply entirely self-interested. Otherwise, a shift in the balance of global military power could jeopardize American security.
Economically, the US likes to maintain access to vital supplies of raw materials and keep markets open for American products and investments — the Free Market demands it. Finally, the United States must thwart
communist terrorist expansion in the Third World Middle East to ensure that America and its democratic allies do not become islands in a global sea of hostile, totalitarian Islamist dictatorships.
These arguments can be (and have been) easily dressed up in American jingoism to rubber stamp some very dubious U.S. foreign policy undertakings. Who hasn’t heard a particular regime described as a “keystone” or “force for stability” or “key to vital US strategic interests” in the region: think Shah of Iran in the Persian Gulf, Mobutu Sese Seko in Central Africa, and any number of South American despots. Reading the history, one would have to surmise that, actually, the entire globe (and parts of the Solar System) are of vital US strategic interest.
In actual fact, US “strategic interests” usually zero in on good sites for bases or forward staging areas for the American military. For example, the Reagan administration defended support of the Marcos dictatorship to protect its installations at Clark Field and Subic Bay, complicating the defense of other Far Eastern allies.
Do we really have strategic interests, vital or otherwise, in squalid little spots thousands of miles from the U.S? Does a firmly ensconced Karzai government in Kabul really somehow enhance our own security? How is it that we’ve come to believe that a handful of small, militarily insignificant nations — like Iraq and Afghanistan — governed by unpopular and unstable regimes, somehow keep Americans safe against the threat of terrorism.
Actually, it is more rational to believe that such foreign adventures seriously compromise our national security by draining U.S. financial resources, stretching defense forces dangerously thin and psychologically boosting recruitment to the very terrorist groups that we are fighting. Whatever — our approach might stink as foreign policy but it keeps the military-industrial business booming.
As Noam Chomsky pointed out in his article “Dictators R Us,” Thomas Jefferson was not fooled by Napoleon’s antics: “We believe no more in Bonaparte’s fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain’s fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations.”
Wonder what Jefferson would make of our current foreign policy …?
Just this one more little cigarette and then I promise I’ll quit for good….
From the New York Times:
…But it seems there has been a genuine shift in Somali policy, too, and the Americans have absorbed a Somali truth that eluded them for nearly 20 years: If Somalia is going to be stabilized, it is going to take Somalis.
“This is not an American offensive,” said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa. “The U.S. military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.”
He added, “There are limits to outside engagement, and there has to be an enormous amount of local buy-in for this work.”
Most of the American military assistance to the Somali government has been focused on training, or has been channeled through African Union peacekeepers. But that could change. An American official in Washington, who said he was not authorized to speak publicly, predicted that American covert forces would get involved if the offensive, which could begin in a few weeks, dislodged Qaeda terrorists.
“What you’re likely to see is airstrikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out,” the official said.
Excellent piece at Lenin’s Tomb on the Soviet Union’s 1979 military (the Soviets were already present in many other respects) invasion of Afghanistan. The parallels to our own Afghan idiocy just keep on piling up…
Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:
The perception of a growing gulf between the American military and the White House stirs echoes of the 1964 movie, Seven Days in May, a what-if about a conspiracy to unseat a President led by the head of the Joint Chiefs who considers him too soft on America’s enemies…
What we face in the Middle East is a slow-motion Seven Days in May, an undermining of the elected Commander-in-Chief that was dramatized as unthinkable in the last century. It shouldn’t be thinkable now.
We are asked to believe the following proposition: The United States can’t provide for its citizens what every Western country offers as a matter of common policy, national health insurance.
On the other hand, we’re told, the United States can achieve what no other country has ever done before: win a war in Afghanistan.
Go to the board and write it two-hundred times, children.
It calls to mind a passage from Through The Looking Glass:
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
From Stephen Talbot’s letter to the editor in the current issue of The Nation:
I interviewed both men in 2001 for a PBS documentary, The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation. McNamara told me that he’d come to realize the war was a tragedy that could have been avoided…
But Kissinger was unreconstructed, unapologetic. “If you are going to ask whether I feel guilty about Vietnam, the interview is over,” Kissinger said before I asked my first question. “I’ll walk out.”
I told him I had just interviewed McNamara. That got his attention. And then he did something I’ll never forget: he began to cry. Actually, he pretended to cry.
“Boohoo, boohoo,” Kissinger blubbered, rubbing his eyes. “He’s still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.” He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.
It was one of those moments, before the camera rolls, when you get a rare glimpse into someone’s character and it’s even darker than you ever dreamed.
George F. Will, the elite conservative commentator, will call in his next column for U.S. ground troops to leave Afghanistan, according to publishing sources.
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters,” Will writes in the column, scheduled for publication later this week.
One wonder why this sage policy guidance never occurred to the tweety-bird of the right while George W. Bush was wandering around Afghanistan’s plains for all those years.
Alas, a lack, one supposes, of balls. One didn’t want to lose one’s access to the very best soirées, did one? But now that the albatross is around the other guy’s neck, Will’s equation has changed.
Pulling out of Afghanistan begins to look like a win-win proposition for the Party of No. It would give the chickenhawk patriots of the GOP a chance to holler surrender monkey at Obama in 2012 — an act akin to handing Jascha Heifetz a Stradivarius.
And not pulling out would be even more certain to defeat Obama’s reelection bid, since he would be hip-deep in his very own Big Muddy by 2012. And Mitt Romney could win just as Eisenhower did against Stevenson, on a promise to get us out of Afghanistan.
Whether Romney actually kept his word once in office would depend on whether he’d rather be remembered as Eisenhower or Nixon.
From today’s New York Times:
PHUKET, Thailand — Stiffening the American line against Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that the United States would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if the country continued to defy international demands that it halt work that could lead to nuclear weapons.
Defense umbrella, huh? Way to go, Hillary, about time for a little rebranding. Power for peace, manifest destiny, pénétration paisible, mission civilisatrice, lebensraum, Pax Romana, white man’s burden, etc. (here insert your own favorite euphemism), have all gotten a little old.
Chalmers Johnson has been telling us about blowback from our foreign adventuring for a long time; he basically predicted something like 9/11 would happen a year beforehand. His Blowback trilogy provides extensive detail, and talks a lot about how much our overseas bases cost us. The costs are by no means simply financial; for example, Okinawans would be glad to be rid of the two rapes a month that are committed, on average, by American servicemen against Japanese women.
On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.
I suspect this development will not go unnoticed in other countries where Americans are also unpopular occupiers.
Such countries can be found. Probably you’re not surprised.
…I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.
This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.
One of the most fascinating (and underreported) stories of the millenium has been the outbreak of democracy all over Latin America despite the best efforts of George W. Bush.
And a good way for the uninformed (such as I) to keep up with these developments is to visit BoRev.Net, which offers flip but deadly serious “dispatches from the Bolivarian revolution.”
An excerpt from today’s dispatch:
Special Rapporteur Philip Alston just wrapped up a 10-day United Nations investigation into the hundreds (thousands?) of innocent Colombians murdered by the military to meet government kill quotas. The report is out, and it’s devastating. The Uribe administration naturally still claims that most of the dead were a real live guerilla rebels, but duh they’re just lying:‘The evidence that shows victims wearing newly ironed camouflage garments or wearing field boots four sizes bigger than their feet, or left-handed individuals holding a pistol in their right hand … negate even more the suggestion that they were guerrillas killed in combat.’’
The U.N. found that the murders were “more or less systematic,” not the actions of a few bad apples, and that the government has pretty much refused to punish the culprits, choosing instead to harass human rights workers who talk about it publically…
Until coming across this in the New York Review of Books, I knew essentially nothing about the tiny island in the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. I should have. We all should have.
After our squalid land grab and ethnic cleansing some 40 years ago, the tropical island has been purposely kept under wraps and out of bounds. Most recently it has served as a base for bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, as a way station on Bush’s rendition network and, despite our denials, as a “black site” for the imprisonment and torture of suspected terrorists. As you will see below.
Go here to read Jonathan Freedland’s entire review of David Vines’ Island of Shame.
Drained by World War II and rapidly retreating from empire, [London] could no longer afford to police the Indian Ocean the way it had since the Napoleonic Wars. Better to hand the island over to its richer, stronger ally and retain at least some involvement than to pull out altogether and watch the Communist enemy step in.
To sweeten the pill still further, Washington took $14 million off the bill Britain owed the US for its supposedly independent nuclear weapon, the Polaris missile. For that money, Britain was expected to leave the islands in the condition the US wanted to find them: pristinely empty of human habitation.
On this point Washington could not have been more explicit: a British official note of talks with US counterparts stated that the United States wanted the islands under its “exclusive control (without local inhabitants).” Later, in 1971, the US chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, responded to a memo on the people of Diego Garcia with three clear words: “Absolutely must go.”
The British were told that they were to be responsible for the expulsion — thereby handing Washington an albeit thin form of deniability and the chance to avoid any unpleasant questions from the United Nations, then animated by postcolonial notions of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination…
So it was that, too far away to be noticed, the people of the Chagos Islands saw their birthright sold. The Americans paid the British, who in turn paid the government-in-waiting of soon-to-be-independent Mauritius. The latter was given a choice: accept a $3 million bribe and the loss of the Chagos Islands — or there will be no independence. It took the money.
With the UK, Mauritius, and the US Congress all lined up, the path was now clear for building to begin. Vine describes how in March 1971 a tank landing ship and five others “descended on Diego with at least 820 soldiers … The Seabees brought in heavy equipment, setting up a rock crusher and a concrete block factory. They used Caterpillar bulldozers and chains to rip coconut trees from the ground. They blasted Diego’s reef with explosives to excavate coral rock for the runway. Diesel fuel sludge began fouling the water.”
Wasting no time, the British began ridding Chagos of its people. First those luckless enough to be away from home were told they could not return: their islands were now closed. Those still on the archipelago were then informed that it was a criminal offense to be living in Chagos —a place that most of them had never left — without a permit.
Next they were, in effect, starved out, as British officials deliberately ran down supplies of food and medicine. Salvage crews came to dismantle the plantations: there would be no work and no rations. Then, in a demonstration of US and UK resolve, the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory, as it was now renamed, gave the order for the islanders’ pet dogs to be killed; after US soldiers armed with M16 rifles failed to shoot them all, the animals were gassed as their owners looked on.
Read this from Juan Cole. If Obama is playing a deep game in Afghanistan, it must be very deep indeed. Those of us who saw our Southeast Asia stupidity from the inside are living now in a perpetual state of déjà vu. Afghanistan, meet Cambodia.
My old paper the Washington Post, since fully evolved into Fox lite, today ran this wonderfully wacky paragraph about the election of leftist populist Mauricio Funes as President of El Salvador:
If Mr. Funes as well as the election’s losers now respect the rule of law, the result could be the consolidation of the political system the United States was aiming for when it intervened in El Salvador’s civil war during the 1980s. At the time, the goal of a successful Salvadoran democracy was dismissed as a mission impossible, just as some now say democracy is unattainable in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the right-wing ARENA party, whose leaders were linked to death squads in the 1980s, proved during the last few years that it could embrace democratic practices. Its presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, acknowledged his defeat on election night.
For those very few of you who don’t follow the news from Central America that closely, I provide this link to BoRev, who does. His Onion-worthy headline: Reagan's Dream of A Leftist El Salvador Finally Realized. The post also has great art work, which I would steal if I knew how to do it.
Actions, as usual, are having consequences. Here are some of those consequences, halfway around the world from Bush’s actions. For the context, go to Jim Fallows’ blog from Beijing.
If once upon a time western media coverage, which affects the opinion of western politicians and citizens, mattered to the Chinese people, this is no longer the case.
In the political realm, the Chinese people no longer have to believe in the rhetoric of freedom, liberty, democracy, sovereignty and human rights. The war in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison, the Guantanamo camp, hurricane Katrina and other misconduct took care of all that. Why would the Chinese people be interested in what American president George W. Bush have to preach to them about freedom, liberty, democracy, sovereignty and human rights? When the western media invoke those terms, the reaction from the Chinese people is: “Look within yourselves and fix your own problems first!”
In the economic realm, the financial tsunami of 2008 took care of any credibility in the Washington consensus. In its place was an as-yet-undefined Beijing consensus which has less specifics than the general idea of self-determination. Why would the Chinese people be interested in what Alan Greenspan and Henry Paulson have to tell them about how to run their economy when they have failure on their hands?
If true, this is very, very disturbing news. Of all Bush’s many idiot moves, his efforts to restart the Cold War may in the long run turn out to be the most perilous to the world. Our best hope is that Obama was mistranslated, or that Kaczynski is a liar.
US President-elect Barack Obama will go ahead with plans to build part of a controversial missile defence system on Polish soil, Poland has announced.
President Lech Kaczynski’s office said the pledge was made during a telephone conversation between the two men.
Russia opposes the US plans, and early this week said it planned to deploy missiles on Poland’s border and electronically jam the US system.
This is the first signal that Mr Obama plans to continue George Bush’s policy.