Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (12-29-09)
To govern, is to choose
This was the famous and ironic motto of French diplomats of the 17th and 18th centuries. As they saw it, in an anarchical international world, choosing priorities is tough. The rulers of national states, even those who appear strong and privileged, often find themselves forced to make hard choices. It may be better, then, to consider at an early stage how much one can take on. An incoming prince, or new head of a parliamentary government, might be advised not to undertake too many reforms on the home front, while also committing to hunting foreign demons abroad. A decision to withdraw from, or at least significantly reduce, an inherited policy could actually strengthen the leadership, by giving more space and energy to push through other ambitious plans. Pick your battles, and your terrain.
This general and cautious principle of not fighting on too many fronts at the same time has been much in my mind during the first year of the Obama administration. Does the president really believe he can achieve major reforms in healthcare, education, climate change, national finances and taxes, and win in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time? What if the division of Washington’s energies leads to the sad result of being strong nowhere and weak – or compromised, or only half-achieving, or even failing – everywhere?
To this unpleasant general thought about the risks of striving everywhere and achieving nowhere should be added a more specific concern, relating to Barack Obama’s military “surge” in Afghanistan. There are good military, moral and strategic reasons why the new administration feels it has both to shore up the rickety Afghan government, and to put pressure on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, by increased operations in this region. It is clear that Mr Obama has consulted widely about this policy of escalation, and personally thought long and hard about such an unpleasant decision. But even that impressively intelligent man has not asked a further, most important question, which a person trained in military history and grand strategy would automatically be inclined to ask.
The question is this: are there military operations that Great Powers, even the greatest of the Great Powers at any given time, should not undertake? Are there campaigns that are just not worth fighting, because the terrain makes conquest impossible – or commitment of so many troops to handle such a treacherous operation would weaken obligations elsewhere? Does the number one power have to man every boundary, to be strong everywhere? Are there no limits?
History offers us a rich sample, of the more pragmatic of the Great Powers on certain occasions admitting they know their limits, whereas the intransigent and ideologically-driven kept declaring: “Never give up”. A “never give up” stance makes sense if a vicious enemy is bearing down on you with the intent of killing or imprisoning all your people. The Soviets had to fight a total war against Nazi Germany after the brutal invasion of June 1941; it was life and death. But the matter becomes more nuanced if it is about your commitment to a fight in foreign lands. Is the campaign really worth pursuing?
The Spain of Philip II and his successors sought for an extraordinary 80 years to suppress the protestant rebels of Holland and Zeeland, despite the fact that the waterways of the lower Scheldt made a land-based victory so dubious. The British abandoned their efforts to control America because the sheer distances and topography of the Hudson Valley and Appalachia made imperial control impossible by 1781-1783, at least at a price that London (then at war with France, Spain and the Netherlands) was willing to pay. After three successive Afghan wars, the British gave up any attempt to control that impossible terrain. The mighty Imperial Japanese Army’s efforts to conquer China between 1937 and 1945 foundered on the rocks of distance, climate, and logistics. China’s own many attempts over the centuries to punish the Vietnamese render a dismal record. Sometimes, it ain’t worth it. Sometimes, even, it cannot be done.
Smart, long-standing empires, such as that of the Romans, recognised their limits and rarely went beyond them. After losing three entire legions in the dense German forests, Augustus and his successors decided to establish a boundary along the western side of the Rhine. Similarly, the Danube became the barrier against the tribes of Dacia; the hairy barbarians could have the great Hungarian plain. Wales was unattractive and Scotland unprofitable, so the legions rarely went there. The north African coastal plains were rich in resources, but the Sahara to the south was an impassable barrier. Eastwards of Palestine was precarious, and the Persian Empire too big to pick a fight with – unless one took all one’s legions to the Euphrates and Oxus, like Alexander. The Romans were smarter than that. Thus were the limits of its influence set: by the Romans themselves. To stay strong overall, they were incredibly ruthless about where they would stay and fight, and where they would never again rush in. That, along with a few other things, helped the Roman Empire last for 500 years.
What does this sketchy historical record suggest for today’s number one power?..
Posted on: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 12:27
SOURCE: Private Papers (12-26-09)
How does that work out? Without qualification (remember we are in a new age of transparency and ethical reform) votes are bought with hundred-million-dollar earmarks; the attorney general predicates judicial action on the political ramifications of indicting or not indicting; federal bureaucracies (watch the EPA if cap-and-trade stalls) are devoted to the new Caesar rather than the letter of the law.
Such a strange scenario we have found ourselves in — a clear majority of Americans is opposed to almost everything Obama has to offer; congressional representatives know they are acting against the will of the people, but know too that they are offered all sorts of borrowed money for their districts to compensate for their unpopular actions. And a charismatic commander in chief believes that he can charm even the angriest of critics, and that anything he promises (Iran’s deadlines, closing of Guantanamo, new transparency, no more lobbyists, etc) means zilch and can be contextualized by another “let me be perfectly clear” speech spiced with a couple of the usual “it would have been impossible for someone as unlikely as me to have become President just (fill in the blanks) years ago.”
No, I would not count Obama out. So what drives his agenda? What are its origins?
The Three Most Prominent Catalysts
1. Equality of Result
What Barack Obama advocates is as old as Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, the agenda of the classical dêmos and Roman turba.
It is why the French Revolution emphasized égalité and fraternité, while the Founding Fathers instead championed the freedom of the individual from the despotism of the state. In short, equality of result doctrine ignores the role of markets, of skills, of tragedy itself that renders some of us ill, others in perfect health, some born gifted, others less so, some evil by nature, others good, and instead promises that the state can even us all out through its power of material redistribution. Give us all the same amount of money and perks at the end of the day, and then utopia reigns under the benevolent watch of Ivy-League professors and organizers.
It is a given that what we make is not our own, but predicated on the liberality of society. Thus, for those who were too greedy, too conniving, or even too lucky, the state must step in to ensure that we end up the same.
In its most benign form, we know this as progressivism or communitarianism, a big government, high tax philosophy that co-exists within democracy. Its more pernicious strains are socialist, in which the state ensures, through bureaucratic fiat and a labyrinth of laws that curb free expression, that redistribution is institutionalized. And the virulent form (thankfully with the fall of the Soviet Union and the transformation of China not so global-threatening any more) is, of course, a murderous communism, in which any means necessary are justified to ensure the desired ends and the rule of anointed apparat. Remember, history’s greatest killers (Stalin and Mao) do it all “for the people.”
But there is another element to Barack Obama besides progressive statism. A number of contemporary –isms and –ologies (multiculturalism, moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, post-modernism) also help to explain Obamism, especially in cultural terms. Our universities subscribe to race/class/gender theory of exploitation, in which much of the unhappiness of today’s women, of today’s nonwhite, and of today’s poor originates with the privileges of the white Christian Western male that are predicated on oppression.
It works like this: The ghetto resident, the denizen of the barrio, the abandoned and divorced waitress with three young children, can all chart their poverty and unhappiness not to accident, fate, bad luck, bad decisions, poor judgment, illegality or drug use, or simple tragedy, but rather exclusively to a system that is rigged to ensure oppression on the basis of race, class, and gender—often insidious and unfathomable except to the sensitive and gifted academic or community organizer.
So Obama combines the age-old belief that the state is there to level the playing field (rather than protect the rights of the individual and secure the safety of the people from foreign threats), with the postmodern notion that government must recompensate those by fiat on the basis of their race or class or gender. Remember all that, and everything from the Professor Gates incident, to the dutiful attendance at the foot of Rev. Wright to Van Jones become logical rather than aberrant. Michelle Obama could make $300,000 and she will always be more a victim than the Appalachian coal miner who earns $30,000, by virtue of her race and gender.
3. The Chicago Way
A third and final ingredient to Obamism is the Chicago way. Here we see an interesting updated version of the old big-city, Daley thuggery. Rahm Emanuel threatens recalcitrant congressmen with reminders of the long Obama memory. The Axelrod/Jarrett clique ensures that the government channels stimuli to blue-states, that key Congress people are bought off with tens of millions of government largess, that every campaign promise — from no lobbyists and airing on C-Span healthcare debates to posting impending legislation on the Internet for set durations and “reaching across the aisle” — is simply cynical fluff that no sane person would take seriously.
In short, we have a traditional statist bent on redistribution (Obama’s words, not mine), updated with the postmodern belief that race/class/gender oppressions require government affirmative reactions (which also abroad explains why we reach out to enemies and shun allies), all energized by an ends justify the means Chicago bare-knuckles apparat.
These true believers, then, don’t really care that the Blue Dogs (if such really exist) bite the dust in 2010, if Harry Reid goes up in smoke, or indeed, if Barack Obama is reelected. Instead, they will institutionalize an agenda that will affect America for generations, move it sharply to the left, and earn a spot in the academic pantheon of American heroes.
Asking why would Obama & Co. be so self-destructive to push through an array of proposals that have no more than 45% of the public’s support is like asking whether the English Prof who teaches incomprehensible Foucauldian theory worries whether he has only 2 students, or whether the well-off union boss is all that upset that membership has sunk to 30% of the workforce, or multimillion-dollar-earning, Sarah Palin-interviewing Katie Couric is worried about her sinking ratings, or whether the New York Times columnists are upset that their mother paper is broke with subscription and readership down, and laying off thousands of blue-collar employees.
Instead, for the true believer, it is all about the self, and the sense of the self — and damn all other considerations. (We saw that with Jimmy Carter as well; that he destroyed liberal Democrat politics for a generation meant nothing; that he won prizes and jet-setted the world for thirty years meant everything. For these people, it is always about them — all the time. Let us eat cake as they end up liberal icons for the duration).
What Are We Left With?
The most blatant cynicism in recent American political history — a man who ran as a bipartisan who is the most partisan we’ve seen, a healer whose even flippant comments are designed to offend, a statist who assumes that the sheared sheep cannot stampede somewhere else, a reformer who trusts his honey-laced rhetoric can disguise Daley style-corruption.
On that Happy Note
Everything, as my dear late mother lectured me, happens for a reason, or at least presents a sort of logic — irony, paradox, karma, and nemesis being the best ways of interpreting our unfathomable existences. It took messianic narcissistic Barack Obama to expose the full extent of the mess that a once noble tradition of 19th-century liberalism had devolved into. Only he could have rammed it down the throats of the American people, and when he is done, we will suffer, but also sicken of it for quite a while.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 09:08
SOURCE: Informed Comment (12-29-09)
9. That Iraq is still far from stable was demonstrated by two major bombing campaigns by the Sunni Arab resistance, in mid-August and in late October. Both blasts damaged government ministries, killed experienced diplomats and managers, and showed the vulnerability of the new government to concerted attack.
8. Yemen fell apart, facing a Shiite Huthi rebellion in Saada, in which Saudi Arabia is now intervening, as well as tribal/ fundamentalist opposition and the reemergence of a vital al-Qaeda movement in Maarib. Conflict over water and other rural resources drives this descent into a failed state. This one spilled over on Detroit when al-Qaeda in Yemen responded to US and Yemeni army attacks on Maarib by targeting a Northwest Airliner on Christmas day.
7. Pakistan's conflict in the rural, Pashtun Federally Administered Tribal Areas with militant Taliban spilled over into the more populous, urban, and religiously more open Punjab.
6. Afghan President Hamid Karzai stole the presidential election of August, 2009, destroying the credibility of his government. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan grew in strength, to the point of forming a shadow government.
5. A creeping coup by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran led to the stealing of the June presidential election by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The resulting combination of the most rightwing government seen in Iran since the 1980s and popular resistance threw the country into turmoil.
4. Israel elected its most rightwing government in history, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, widely considered a racialist nationalist and loose canon, which promptly obstructed President Obama's renewed peace process
3. Mahmoud Abbas, moderate president of the Palestine Authority, announced his intention to resign because there was no progress on peace negotiations with Israel, which refuses to cease colonizing Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
2. Israel's Gaza War failed and discredited it, leading to the issuance of Goldstone report to the UN on Israeli war crimes. The outcome is major roadblock in the face of further peace negotiations.
1. Meantime, Gazans live under Israeli blockade, lacking enough food, electricity and other services for a decent life, and there is no end in sight. A major recent Oxfam report [pdf] concludes that the world has failed Gaza and that a year later, Gaza's deliberately-destroyed infrastructure and buildings are mostly still in rubble and innocent Gazans continue to suffer. An international aid convoy is being blocked from entering Gaza by Israel, and Egypt insists it must come in through El Areesh. The Muslim world seethes at the news of Palestinian suffering in Gaza every night as the West ignores its plight.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 - 12:01
SOURCE: Danielpipes.org (12-1-09)
Can there be a truly moderate Islam compatible with liberal-democratic notions of human rights and democracy? Is "radical Islam" a modern phenomenon or is Islam itself inherently radical?
Mr. Pipes began by emphasizing that he and Ms. Sultan are allies, fighting the same opponents, namely, the Islamists. They agree on the past and present of Islam but disagree about the future. Ms. Sultan argues it cannot change while he believes it can. The idea that Islam cannot change is an essentialist view that ignores how much Islam has changed over history, an aspect that he, as a student of Islamic history for forty years, appreciates. He stressed that many of the requirements of the Shari'a, or Muslim sacred law, are impractical to implement, resulting in what Mr. Pipes has coined as the "medieval synthesis," whereby loopholes are devised to get around impractical tenets, such as the prohibition against usury.
In the 1800s, with the onslaught of Western influence, the medieval synthesis collapsed, replaced by secular, reformist, and fundamentalist strains. The last of these is the totalitarian mentality that Mr. Pipes describes as "Islamism," which transformed the religion into a political movement. And while Islamism dominates today, there are even at this bleak moment signs that Islam itself can change. For example, jurists in Turkey recently ruled that women can pray next to men in mosques, a small but important step for women's rights.
Ms. Sultan began her argument by quoting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who says that there is no "moderate or immoderate Islam. There is Islam; that is it." She contends that terms like "radical Islam" conceal the true nature of Islam itself—a political ideology. She adds that the aim of Islam is to subdue the entire world under Shari'a. To prove her position, she quoted from the Qur'an; she also argued that the true nature of Islam can be seen in the Sira, or biography, of Muhammad, which, she says, has come to define Islam itself. For instance, Ms. Sultan claims that Muhammad's actions—such as marrying a 9-year-old and taking many women as concubines —means that there can be no equality for women under Shari'a.
During the question and answer session, Mr. Pipes pointed out that those who argue that Islam itself is the problem leave the West with no solutions, adding that, to truly reform Islam, Western governments must begin to empower genuine moderates. Asked what policies she would adopt toward the Muslim world, Ms. Sultan asserted that Islam can be reformed, and recommended Western pressure on the Saudi king as the surest way.
Mr. Pipes and Ms. Sultan agreed on some specifics, for instance, that Western governments must not welcome non-violent Islamism and should monitor the hate being taught in Muslim schools in the West. Overall, however, Mr. Pipes, while not denying what Islam has been or is, insists that Islam, like other religions, can and will change, whereas Ms. Sultan was more pessimistic.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 - 10:26
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (12-27-09)
I am trying to remember now where it was, and when it was, that it hit me. Was it during my first walk along the Bund in Shanghai in 2005? Was it amid the smog and dust of Chonqing, listening to a local Communist party official describe a vast mound of rubble as the future financial centre of south-west China? That was last year, and somehow it impressed me more than all the synchronised razzamatazz of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. Or was it at Carnegie Hall only last month, as I sat mesmerised by the music of Angel Lam, the dazzlingly gifted young Chinese composer who personifies the Orientalisation of classical music? I think maybe it was only then that I really got the point about this decade, just as it was drawing to a close: that we are living through the end of 500 years of western ascendancy.
“Western Ascendancy”: that was the grandiose title of the course I taught at Harvard this past term. The subtitle was even more bombastic: “Mainsprings of Global Power”. The question I wanted to pose was not especially original, but increasingly it seems to be the most interesting question a historian of the modern era can address. Just why, beginning in around 1500, did the less populous and apparently backward west of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world, including the more populous and more sophisticated societies of eastern Eurasia?
My subsidiary question was this: If we can come up with a good explanation for the west’s past ascendancy, can we then offer a prognosis for its future?
Put differently, are we living through the end of the domination of the world by the civilisation that arose in western Europe in the wake of the Renaissance and Reformation – the civilisation that, propelled by the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, spread across the Atlantic and as far as the Antipodes, finally reaching its apogee in the age of industry and empire?
The very fact that I wanted to pose those questions to my students says something about the past 10 years. I first began to teach in the US because an eminent benefactor of New York University’s Stern school of business, Wall Street veteran Henry Kaufman, had asked me why someone interested in the history of money and power did not come to where the money and power actually were. And where else could that be but downtown Manhattan?
As the new millennium dawned, the New York Stock Exchange was self-evidently the nodal point of a vast global economic network that was American in design and largely American in ownership.
The dotcom boom was ending, to be sure, and a nasty little recession ensured that the Democrats lost the White House just as their pledge to pay off the national debt began to seem almost plausible.
But within just eight months of becoming President, George W. Bush was confronted by an event that emphatically underlined the centrality of Manhattan to the western-dominated world. The destruction of the World Trade Center by al-Qaeda terrorists paid New York a hideous compliment: for anyone serious about challenging the American global order, this was target number one.
The subsequent events were exhilarating. The Taliban overthrown in Afghanistan. An “axis of evil” branded ripe for “regime change”. Saddam Hussein ousted in Iraq. The Toxic Texan riding high in the polls, on track for re-election. The US economy bouncing back thanks to tax cuts. “Old Europe” – not to mention liberal America – fuming impotently.
If Napoleon had been, in Hegel’s phrase, ‘the Zeitgeist on horseback”, then Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action-hero turned governator of California, was the Zeitgeist behind the wheel of a Hummer. Fascinated, I found myself focusing on empire, in particular the lessons of Britain’s empire for America’s.
As I reflected on the rise, and probable fall, of America’s empire, it became clear to me that there were three fatal deficits at the heart of American power: a manpower deficit (not enough boots on the ground in Iraq), an attention deficit (not enough public enthusiasm for long-term occupations of conquered countries) and above all a financial deficit (not enough savings relative to investment and not enough taxation relative to public expenditure).
Back in 2004 I warned that the US had imperceptibly come to rely on east Asian capital to stabilise its unbalanced current and fiscal accounts. The decline and fall of America’s undeclared empire might therefore be due not to terrorists at the gates nor to the rogue regimes that sponsor them, but to a fiscal crisis at home.
The realisation that the yawning US current account deficit was increasingly being financed by Asian central banks, with the Chinese moving into pole position, was, for me at least, the eureka moment of the decade.
When, in late 2006, Moritz Schularick and I coined the word “Chimerica” to describe what we saw as the dangerously unsustainable relationship between parsimonious China and profligate America, we had identified one of the keys to the coming global financial crisis.
The illusion of American hyperpuissance was shattered not once but twice in the past decade. Nemesis came first in the backstreets of Sadr City and the valleys of Helmand, which revealed not only the limits of American military might but also, more importantly, the naivety of neoconservative visions of a democratic wave in the greater Middle East. And it struck a second time with the escalation of the subprime crisis of 2007 into the credit crunch of 2008 and finally the “great recession” of 2009. After the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the sham verities of the “Washington Consensus” and the “Great Moderation” were consigned forever to oblivion.
And what remained? By the end of the decade the western world could only look admiringly at the speed with which the Chinese government had responded to the breathtaking collapse in exports caused by the US credit crunch, a collapse which might have been expected to devastate Asia...
Posted on: Monday, December 28, 2009 - 16:51
SOURCE: CNN (12-27-09)
Last month, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a strong defender of the public option for health care, warned: "I don't want four Democratic senators dictating to the other 56 of us and to the country, when the public option has this much support, that it is not going to be in it."
But in the end, those senators won the battle over the public option, as well as several other provisions in the health care bill.
They have emerged as the powerhouses of the Senate.
Before 2009, most Americans never heard of Sens. Ben Nelson, Max Baucus or Kent Conrad. More have heard of the Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman as a result of his Democratic vice presidential bid in 2000.
Yet now they are the movers and shakers in the Senate. Anyone who follows politics knows exactly who they are. It could not be further from 2005 when Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times wrote that "centrist Democrats today struggle with an unfriendly environment."
Throughout the Senate debate over health care, the centrists repeatedly forced the president's hand by insisting on changes to the legislation that made Obama's liberal base furious and which will constrain the impact of this legislation. Health care was the second major victory for centrists this year. They also were able to cut down the size of the economic stimulus bill back in February 2008.
Why is this small group of senators so influential and will this change? The first reason has to do with the nature of the Democratic Party. Democrats have never been as ideologically disciplined as the Republicans, and they have been less successful containing party differences.
Moreover, since 2006, Democratic leaders embraced a campaign strategy of attempting to expand their numbers by encroaching into conservative districts and states: The 50-state strategy.
In 2006 and 2008, the strategy paid off. The cost, however, has been that President Obama needs to maintain support among legislators who come from areas that don't lean Democratic -- or who don't share his policy views.
When some Democrats pushed to punish Lieberman -- who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign -- by stripping him of his committee chairmanship, Obama refused and insisted on keeping him in the Democratic coalition.
The second factor behind the new kings of the hill has to do with the sharpening of the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. The impact of growing party polarization since the 1970s has meant that winning votes from the other party is extraordinarily difficult. Except for rare moments, neither party can count on winning significant blocks of votes from the other side of the aisle.
As a result, it is essential that the majority party remains relatively unified in order to pass legislation. Obama has learned this lesson well. With health care in the Senate, he even failed to win the vote of the moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Because of such partisan intensity, the vote of just a few Democrats becomes that much more important. Nor can he afford to lose the vote of a defiant Independent, Lieberman, who still goes along with Democrats on many votes.
Finally, institutions matter. The U.S. now has a Senate that operates as a supermajority. The Senate now requires 60 votes on any piece of legislation given that senators are willing to use the filibuster on almost any bill. If the majority party needs 60 votes to pass a bill, and it can't win votes from the other side, a handful of moderates wield tremendous power.
[Excerpt - Continue reading on CNN.com]
Posted on: Monday, December 28, 2009 - 10:18
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (12-31-69)
Some Egyptians and Saudis support the idea of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran: In today's Middle Eastern cold war, the Islamic Republic of Iran heads the revolutionary bloc, while the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt head the opposing status-quo bloc. How anxious are the Saudi and Egyptian populations of the Iranian nuclear weapons buildup? Pechter Polls asked two questions for MEF:"Assuming the Iranian government continues its nuclear enrichment program, would you support an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?" and"How about an American strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities?"
In Egypt, 17 percent support an Israeli strike and 25 percent an American one. In Saudi Arabia, the figures, respectively, are 25 and 35 percent. Backing for an Israeli strike is surprisingly strong, for an American one, roughly as I expected. These numbers confirm a just-completed review of polling data by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who found"strikingly high levels of support—especially among Saudis—for tough action against Iran's nuclear program."
These figures suggest that between a sixth and a third of the population in the two most important status-quo countries is agreeable to an Israeli or American attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. Although not a negligible minority, it is small enough to give the Egyptian or Saudi government pause about being associated with a strike on Iran. In particular, giving Israeli forces permission to traverse Saudi airspace would seem to be out of the question.
Israel: The Forum asked,"Islam defines the state of Egypt/Saudi Arabia; under the right circumstances, would you accept a Jewish State of Israel?" In this case, 26 percent of Egyptians and 9 percent of Saudi subjects answered in the affirmative.
As this map showing Arabia in 1923 implies, the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia contains several historically diverse regions. Click for large version
To provide context: About 20 percent of Palestinians since the 1920s have been willing to live with Israel in a state of harmony. The Egyptian response exceeds this slightly, the Saudi one comes in substantially below it. These results are in keeping with the more overtly religious nature of political life in Saudi Arabia than in Egypt. They confirm that the main source of anti-Zionism now is no longer nationalism but Islam.
Drilling down into the survey numbers shows little demographic variation (by age, education, etc.). One difference runs along gender lines, with Egyptian females accepting a Jewish state of Israel more than Egyptian males, but just the reverse in Saudi Arabic, something not readily explainable.
Geographic differences in Saudi Arabia are more consequential. Residents in the western part of the country, that closest to Israel, accept it as a Jewish state much more readily than do residents of the more distant central and eastern regions. Conversely, residents in the eastern and central regions are 50 percent more likely to endorse an American strike on nearby Iran than those of the more remote western region.
The Saudi west (Hijaz, Asir) remains true to its pedigree as the most liberal part of the country, whereas the east (Al-Ahsa) has the most Shi'ites and the most fear of Tehran. These regional variations point to the utility of seeing Saudi Arabia not as a homogenous whole but as an amalgam of regions with historically different identities, and perhaps making policy with these distinctions in mind.
In sum, these polling numbers point to a small but not trivial base of constructive views in countries largely hostile to the West and Israel. If this base has few prospects of driving policy anytime soon, it offers a kernel of common sense that, if given suitable attention, can be built upon to foster long-term improvements.
Posted on: Saturday, December 26, 2009 - 09:55
SOURCE: Guardian (12-23-09)
"Why," I have often been asked, "haven't the Palestinians established a peace movement like the Israeli Peace Now?"
The question itself is problematic, being based on many erroneous assumptions, such as the notion that there is symmetry between the two sides and that Peace Now has been a politically effective movement. Most important, though, is the false supposition that Palestinians have indeed failed to create a pro-peace popular movement.
In September 1967 – three months after the decisive war in which the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied – Palestinian leaders decided to launch a campaign against the introduction of new Israeli textbooks in Palestinian schools. They did not initiate terrorist attacks, as the prevailing narratives about Palestinian opposition would have one believe, but rather the Palestinian dissidents adopted Mahatma Gandhi-style methods and declared a general school strike: teachers did not show up for work, children took to the streets to protest against the occupation and many shopkeepers closed shop.
Israel's response to that first strike was immediate and severe: it issued military orders categorising all forms of resistance as insurgency – including protests and political meetings, raising flags or other national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with political connotations, and even singing or listening to nationalist songs.
Moreover, it quickly deployed security forces to suppress opposition, launching a punitive campaign in Nablus, where the strike's leaders resided. As Major General Shlomo Gazit, the co-ordinator of activities in the occupied territories at the time, points out in his book The Carrot and the Stick, the message Israel wanted to convey was clear: any act of resistance would result in a disproportionate response, which would make the population suffer to such a degree that resistance would appear pointless.
After a few weeks of nightly curfews, cutting off telephone lines, detaining leaders, and increasing the level of harassment, Israel managed to break the strike.
While much water has passed under the bridge since that first attempt to resist using "civil disobedience" tactics, over the past five decades Palestinians have continuously deployed nonviolent forms of opposition to challenge the occupation. Israel, on the other hand, has, used violent measures to undermine all such efforts.
It is often forgotten that even the second intifada, which turned out to be extremely violent, began as a popular nonviolent uprising. Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar revealed several years later that the top Israeli security echelons had decided to "fan the flames" during the uprising's first weeks. He cites Amos Malka, the military general in charge of intelligence at the time, saying that during the second intifada's first month, when it was still mostly characterised by nonviolent popular protests, the military fired 1.3m bullets in the West Bank and Gaza. The idea was to intensify the levels of violence, thinking that this would lead to a swift and decisive military victory and the successful suppression of the rebellion. And indeed the uprising and its suppression turned out to be extremely violent.
(Excerpt - to continue reading, visit the Guardian website)
Posted on: Saturday, December 26, 2009 - 09:51
SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12-24-09)
Once upon a time, in the good old days, Americans celebrated Christmas in their public schools. They sang hymns, hung stockings and decorated trees. And nobody complained.
Then along came the big, bad American Civil Liberties Union and other left-leaning fellow travelers, who bludgeoned educational officials into restricting or even removing the holiday from our schools. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There’s just one problem with this bleak winter’s tale: It’s not true. Despite what you might hear about our contemporary “War on Christmas,” holiday celebrations have sparked dissent in American public schools for more than a century. And by pretending otherwise, we miss a real opportunity to teach our children something important about America itself.
Ground zero for this year’s controversy is Waterbury, Conn., where one principal barred Christmas symbols — including Santa Claus — from his elementary school. The story made it all the way to a television spot on “Fox and Friends,” where an angry local school board member joined the Rev. Rick Warren in condemning the decision.
Meanwhile, the blogosphere lit up with righteous holiday indignation.
“To all you liberal, p.c. global warming nut jobs, you disgust me!” one post blared. “This nation was founded on Christian values — it’s sad we have moved away from those values.” Back in the day, another post added, “no one protest[ed] against these holidays as they do now.”
So let’s go back to 1906, more than a decade before the ACLU was founded, when Jewish families in New York City staged a one-day boycott of public schools in the city. The reason? You guessed it: Christmas celebrations in the schools.
In particular, a committee of Jewish leaders told the city board of education, they objected to “the singing of denominational hymns” and “the use of the Christmas tree.” Such rituals are “inflicting repugnant religious convictions on the school children,” they argued.
Indeed, a Yiddish newspaper added, school Christmas programs represented “shmad shtick” — that is, an effort to convert Jews. Another paper argued that the New York state Constitution required a separation of church and state; by the same token, Christmas celebrations violated it.
And when the school board turned a deaf ear, Jews turned on their heels. On Dec. 24, the day before Christmas, New York Jews declared a one-day school strike. On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the city’s most densely populated Jewish neighborhood, an estimated 25,000 children stayed home.
“Empty Schools: Tens of Thousands of Jewish Children Shun the Christmas Tree,” a Yiddish paper exulted. “Hurrah for the Jewish Children!”
But thousands of other Jews shunned the strike, reflecting a stark division in the community. One Jewish school official urged Jews to ignore “agitators” and listen to “the more intelligent Jews of this city,” who regarded Christmas rituals as harmless. “I have no objection to Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe and similar decorations,” he added.
The following year, New York barred hymns and other “religious content” from holiday celebrations in the schools. But it continued to allow Christmas symbols, as the New York Times happily reported on Dec. 25, 1907.
“Santa Claus and Christmas trees were very much in evidence everywhere,” the Times declared. “Representatives of the Board of Education, of the Christian ministers, and of the Hebrews admitted that they had no ground for complaint.”
But controversy would continue to hound Christmas. In the late 1940s, Jewish complaints about Christmas rituals in a suburban Boston school prompted threats of a new boycott — against their stores. “If you Jews don’t stop interfering with the Christian Gentile and mind your own business, word will be sent out by ‘United Gentiles’ to withhold all trade from the Jews,” one newspaper warned.
In the 1960s, when the Supreme Court barred school prayer, some districts actually increased the “religious content” of their Christmas celebrations “to compensate for what has been banned explicitly in the daily school routine,” as one Jewish leader worried.
Across the country, Jews faced the same dilemma as always: whether to object, and to whom, and how much.
And Jews weren’t the only dissenters. Take the current dispute in Waterbury, where Jehovah’s Witnesses have objected to holiday decorations. So have members of the city’s Pentecostal community, who view popular icons like Santa Claus as slights upon the true meaning and sanctity of Christmas.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one Pentecostal parent, who has pulled her children out of school during holiday celebrations. “There is a separation of church and state, and this is a public school.”
But Americans disagree about what these words mean, and they always have. That’s why the “War on Christmas” provides an ideal teachable moment, if we have the guts and imagination to seize it. Whether they celebrate the holidays or not, then, let’s hope our schools devote a few minutes to teaching kids about the history of this dispute. They’ll all learn a lot about America, no matter what they think of Santa Claus.
Posted on: Thursday, December 24, 2009 - 12:43
SOURCE: Tomdispatch (12-31-69)
Excuse the gloom in the holiday season, but I feel like we’re all locked inside a malign version of the movie Groundhog Day. You remember, the one in which the characters are forced to relive the same 24 hours endlessly. Put more personally, TomDispatch started in November 2001 as an email to friends in response to the first moments of our latest Afghan War. More than eight years later... well, you know the story.
Worse yet, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that a startling 58% of Americans, otherwise in a mighty gloomy mood, support the president’s latest “surge” in Afghanistan which will extend that war into the dismal future. And worse than that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, from the point of view of official Washington, next year won’t really count for much. The crucial decisions on both wars will evidently leapfrog 2010. So, on that score, we might as well just mark the year off on our calendars now.
2010: pure loss. But before I go into the details, let me try this another way.
In his 1937 short story with an unforgettable title -- “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” -- Delmore Schwartz’s unnamed narrator imagines himself “as if” in a “motion picture theatre.” He’s watching a silent film -- already then a long-gone form -- “an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps.” It’s not any movie, however, but one about his parents’ awkward, uncertain courtship, and there comes a moment when his character suddenly leaps up in the crowded theater of his dream life and shouts at the flickering images of his still undecided (future) parents: “Don’t do it. It’s not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.”
For just an instant, that is, he’s willing to obliterate himself, his very being, in order to stop a nightmare he knows will otherwise occur.
This unnerving fictional moment, which I want you to hold in abeyance for a while, came to my mind recently -- in the context of TomDispatch.
Bombing Afghanistan Back to the Stone Age
Our endless wars are nightmares. Few enough would disagree with that, even, I suspect, among the supportive 58% in that poll or the 54% who “approve of the president’s performance as commander-in-chief.” If only we could wake up.
I was reminded of our strange dream-state recently when I reread the article that sparked the creation of what became TomDispatch. I first stumbled across it in the fall of 2001, after the Towers came down in my hometown, after that acrid smell of burning made its way to my neighborhood and into everything, after I traveled to “Ground Zero” (as it was already being called) to view those vast otherworldly shards of destruction via nearby side streets, after I spent weeks reading the ever narrower, ever more war-oriented news coverage in this country, and after I watched George W. Bush and Company mainlining fear directly into the American bloodstream, selling the eternal terror of terror and the president’s Global War on Terror that so conveniently went with it.
It was obvious that war was on the way, and that the men (and woman) who were leading us into it had expansive dreams and gargantuan plans. Somewhere in that period, probably in late October 2001, a friend sent me a piece by an Afghan-American living in California that spurred me to modest action.
His name was Tamim Ansary and he posted it online on September 16th, just five days after the attacks on New York and Washington, having listened to right-wing talk radio rev up to an instant fever pitch about “bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age.” His piece went viral and finally reached me -- I was hardly online in those days -- by email sometime in October after the Bush administration had begun the bombing campaign in Afghanistan that preceded its invasion-by-proxy of that country.
Ansary wrote “as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden,” and yet his piece was a desperate warning against the American war to come. He wrote with passion and conviction, with knowledge of Afghanistan and a kind of imagery that was otherwise not then part of our American world:
“We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that. New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely.”
It was the image of our bombs only “stirring the rubble” that stunned me. I had been reading the papers for weeks and had seen nothing like it. It seemed to catch the forgotten nightmare of the Afghan past as well as the nightmare to come at a moment when the only nightmare on the American mind was our own. Our own chosen imagery was then playing out in repeated public rites in which we hailed ourselves as the planet’s greatest victims, survivors, and dominators, while leaving no roles for others in our about-to-be-global drama -- except, of course, for greatest Evildoer (which Osama bin Laden filled magnificently). It wasn’t only our foreign policy that was switching onto the “unilateral” track, so was our imagery.
Small wonder, then, that the strangeness of that single image moved me to gather the email addresses of a small group of friends and relatives, copy the piece into an email, add a note above it indicating that it was a must-read, and with that modest gesture, quite unbeknownst to me, launch TomDispatch.com.
Ansary, an Afghan who had been living here for 35 years, wasn’t thinking only of Afghan lives and nightmares, however. He had American lives and nightmares in mind as well. He wrote about Americans dying, about the dangers of Pakistan, and especially about bin Laden’s dream -- to draw this country’s military into the backlands of Islam and start a war of civilizations -- while pleading against an invasion that, even on September 16th, was unstoppable. Of bin Laden, he wrote:
“It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?”
In the Biggest Dreams, the Largest Miscalculations
Well, yes, as it turned out, someone did have the “belly” for just that -- and far more. One thing you can still say about the various characters who made up the Bush administration, including George’s one-percent-doctrine vice president, all those neocons ominously stashed away in the Pentagon, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who, within five hours of the attack on the Pentagon, was already urging aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq): they were thinking geo-strategically. They had the globe, the whole damn thing, in their sights. They were also desperately in love with the U.S. military and complete romantics about what it could do. They believed that the mightiest, most advanced military force on the planet could shock-and-awe anyone into submission, and quite unilaterally at that.
As still unrepentant Cold Warriors, even with the Soviet Union a decade gone, they were still eager to roll back Russia’s borders and influence, especially in oil-rich Central Asia, and so turn that rump empire into a second- or third-rate state of no future importance to the U.S. They were eager to encircle Iran with bases and take down the mullahs. (As the infamous neocon quip of that moment went: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”) With a president and vice president who were former energy company execs and a national security adviser for whom Chevron had named a double-hulled oil tanker, they tended to be riveted by energy flows and how to control them.
They had their minds, that is, on a very big picture -- nothing less than the creation of a future Pax Americana abroad and Pax Republicana at home. And they truly believed that Pax could be established at the tip of a cruise missile. Having been shocked-and-awed themselves on 9/11, they were more than ready to return the favor, to use that “Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century” as an excuse to do their damnedest, including, as they bragged at the time, targeting up to 60 countries, mostly in what they liked to call “the arc of instability” (essentially the oil heartlands of the planet) where terrorists were supposed to operate at will. Nothing, that is, was too grandiose for them.
They clearly saw the chance of a lifetime and grabbed it like the opportunists they were, and at first, it looked like they were right on the mark. Two"victories" were the result, each accomplished in a matter of weeks within less than a year-and-a-half of each other. The Taliban were gone in nanoseconds; bin Laden almost in their grasp and driven underground; Saddam Hussein swept into the dustbin of history. It seemed -- to them above all -- like a miracle of modern military power. Who could now withstand them? The answer was obvious: no one.
The rag-tag oppositional forces left in Afghanistan and Iraq were like so many flies to be swatted away. So they sent their viceroys into Kabul and Baghdad to clean things up, which, especially in the case of Iraq, meant disbanding that country's military, privatizing its economy, and opening up the oil industry of one of the most energy-rich regions on the planet to the mighty transnational (and significantly American) oil giants. In the meantime, the Pentagon would build massive military bases and prepare to garrison both countries till hell froze over. The official documents they wrote for, and sometimes in the name of, the newly “liberated” Iraqis read like fever-dream versions of nineteenth century imperial fantasies.
When reality up and bit them hard, they were already looking to the future. They were going to crush Syria, drive Iran to its knees, make OPEC and the Saudis grovel (with the help of increased Iraqi oil output), bring China to heel, and, oh yes, get the terrorists, too.
What a dream! What a miscalculation! What a nightmare for the rest of us! Hundreds of thousands (or more) now dead, millions of refugees, ongoing war, a region -- those very oil heartlands -- destabilized, and of course the massive draining of American resources in two major wars (and various minor conflicts) on which almost a trillion dollars has already been spent and another trillion could easily go down the drain.
And where are we eight years later? The Chinese, the Russians, the Malaysians, and others have picked up those energy dreams and, in Iraq and elsewhere,translated them into success without spending a cent on war. The Russians are back in Central Asia. The Chinese are now sending Central Asian natural gas China-wards through a newly opened pipeline. Meanwhile, the American oil giants have ended up with few of the spoils. The American Army is a wreck and two minority insurgencies with but tens of thousands of relatively lightly armed guerrillas have made a mockery of that military’s supposed power to shock and awe anybody. The latest laugh-fest being that insurgents have, according to the Wall Street Journal, hacked into the most advanced weaponry the Pentagon has, the video feeds from its latest drone aircraft, with a $26 piece of off-the-shelf Russian software. In other words, while, at the cost of multimillions, Americans were capable of looking at battlefield scenes fit for destruction from distant Langley, Virginia, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, or various secret sites in the Greater Middle East, so were Iraqi, and possibly Afghan, guerrillas and terrorists on their laptops for nada.
Eight years later, the Bush administration’s dreams of a Pax Americana and its domestic twin are in that dustbin of history along with Saddam Hussein. And all the big ideas that went with our two disastrous wars seem to have been sluiced down the drain as well. And yet, in both countries, the giant bases remainlike permanent scars on the land, as do the wars. No dust heap of history for them. Not yet, anyway. Our wars are instead to proceed without rhyme or reason. And among those deciding U.S. policy, military and civilian, none (I have no doubt) have placed a call to Tamim Ansary, wherever he may be. It doesn’t pay to be right in our world.
I don’t want to claim, of course, that no reasons are offered any more in explanation of our wars: There’s Osama bin Laden, for starters, as President Obama reminded us recently. No one in our world knows where he is, or even, at this point, if he is. But if he still exists, he must be dancing a jig. With possibly fewer than 100 operatives in Afghanistan and another few hundred in Pakistan (according to the best calculations of the Obama administration), he’s somehow managed to bog imperial America down in the tribal backlands of Central (and increasingly South) Asia.
Beyond the damage inflicted on 9/11, he’s already helped drain the United States of nearly a trillion dollars in war costs and counting. His"presence" seems to insure that, sometime in the near future, the Obama administration will further compound the folly of the last eight years by attempting to completely destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan with air attacks on its restive province of Baluchistan, where the Taliban leadership is supposedly hiding.
If back in 2002 or 2003 you had presented such a scenario -- a few hundred terrorists tying us up in a trillion-dollar war -- you would have been laughed out of the country; yet it’s safe to say that what’s happening now represents, for bin Laden, triumph on a level that the attacks of 9/11, no matter how televisually spectacular, could never come close to. And here’s the worst of it in this holiday season, peering into the murk of 2010, all I can see is signs of endless war. As for peacemaking or de-escalation next year, fuggedaboutit.
2010: A Year of No Significance
Just to take our wars one at a time:
In Afghanistan, here’s what we know. The president is surging at least 30,000 troops into that country, reportedly accompanied by a surge of up to 56,000 private contractors, and an extra crew of civilian employees of the U.S. government as well. What initially was announced as a six-month surge is now expected to last 11-12 months (if things “line up perfectly,” according to the general in charge). That means the surge itself will probably still be underway next November. Fittingly, then, the Obama administration has made it clear that it won’t even consider beginning what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called a “thorough review of how we're doing” in Afghanistan until December 2010, a process that, based on the last set of presidential deliberations, could last months. Put another way, war in the present escalated form is simply what’s on the books for 2010. Period.
Moreover, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry recently assured Afghans that July 2011, the date the president mentioned for beginning a withdrawal of American forces, is not “a deadline” of any sort. According to Thomas Day of the McClatchy newspapers, he insisted, in fact, “that a strong American military presence will remain in Afghanistan long after July 2011.”
In Iraq, on the other hand, the war is officially ending. In the last months of the Bush administration, the U.S. negotiated an agreement with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw all its “combat troops” by August 2010 and the rest of its troops by the end of 2011. Ever since, on both counts, fudging has been the order of the day. To begin with, all troops are, in a sense, “combat” troops, but it soon became clear that some of those now defined as such might be conveniently relabeled “advisors” or “trainers.” This has left a good deal of flexibility as to just who has to be withdrawn by this coming August. As for “all” the troops, although next to no media attention has been paid, the weaving and bobbing has begun there, too. While visiting Iraq recently, Gates managed to sideline 2010 as a date of significance, while angling for an unending, if smaller scale, occupation of that country. Under the headline, “Gates Expects New Sanctions on Iran,” for instance, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Timesreported this:
“The defense secretary also spoke about America’s involvement in Iraq, saying that the administration expects that some United States forces might remain in an advisory capacity in Iraq after 2011, the deadline for all American troops to withdraw from the country. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continue a “train, equip and advise” role beyond the end of 2011,’ Mr. Gates said. He added, ‘I suspect as we get on through 2010 and begin approaching 2011, the Iraqis themselves will probably have an interest in this.’”
So scratch 2010 when it comes to Washington’s Iraq plans, and for 2012, start imagining thousands, or even tens of thousands of American “advisors” and “mentors” (not, heaven forbid, “combat troops”) on a few of those giant bases the Pentagon built. Keep an eye, in particular, on massive Balad Air Base -- since the U.S. quite consciously never helped the Iraqi military build up a real air force of its own -- and the monster base complex, Camp Victory, on the edge of Baghdad. Only if those are turned over to the Iraqis would an American “withdrawal” seem a plausible reality. (Keep in mind as well that the Bush administration in its planning for the occupation of Iraq in 2003 always expected to withdraw all but perhaps 30,000 American troops who were to be garrisoned on out-of-the-way American-built bases for the long haul.)
And when Gates says such things, it’s no small matter. After all, what’s now being called “Obama’s war” might at least as reasonably be called “Gates’s war,” as might the war in Iraq that Obama is ostensibly ending. In both countries, Washington’s basic policy was set in the last months of the Bush administration when Gates, then as now secretary of defense, was already ascendant. The first 11,000 troops of “Obama’s” surge were, for instance, dispatched by the Bush administration, even if they only left for Afghanistan in the early days of the Obama presidency.
Similarly, the new Pentagon budget -- a Gates-supervised document in its planning stages before Obama arrived -- is larger than the last Bush-era budget, and that’s without the supplemental bill for Afghan surge funding, now estimated at $30-$40 billion (and likely to rise), that will be submitted to Congress sometime next year. The “new” military strategy for fighting our wars, counterinsurgency (or COIN), isn’t an Obama-era creation either. It’s the baby of Bush’s favorite general and Iraq surge commander David Petraeus. Advanced to the post of Centcom commander by Bush, he is now the key military figure who oversees both our wars in the Greater Middle East. In other words, in war policy the continuity between the post-Cheney Bush era and the Obama one is striking, not to say overwhelming, and given the fact that Gates and Petraeus hold such crucial posts, that’s hardly surprising, just depressing as hell.
These are men already preparing for “the next war” and, in that sense, Afghanistan is also our main laboratory for the weaponry and concepts that will animate our future conflicts. Its skies and villages are the testing grounds for endless war, American-style.
Full Drone Ahead
So here’s my fantasy this holiday season. If I could return to the movie theater of those early post-9/11 days, I’d like to stand up in that well-packed place and shout: “Don’t do it. It’s not too late to change your minds. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, impoverishment, death, and a population whose character will be monstrous.”
I’d like, that is, to obliterate TomDispatch -- for without the Afghan invasion and war, the one that, all these years later, only grows wider, my website would never have existed.
And yet, here’s the saddest thing: I know full well that its future is assured as long as I care to do it. Our American way of life is a way of war. War and more war. 2010, a snap. 2011, no problem. 2012, 2013, Ambassador Eikenberry guarantees it. 2018, 2025, 2047? Don’t worry, we already have one nifty bomber (advanced battlefield surveillance system, dogfighting drone) on the drawing boards for you!
Even without the geopolitical thinkers of the Bush administration, even without the necessary set of rationales, war has a force of its own. Especially in our country, it has its own powerful set of interests, its lobbies and enthusiasts, its powerful weapons makers, its law makers, planners, and dreamers. It has its own head of steam. After a while, it seems, it doesn’t need explanations to keep itself going. It’s self-propelled.
None of what’s happening in the world of American war may make much sense any more, not even in terms Washington’s foreign policy power brokers understand, but no matter. They -- and so all of us -- are already in the grip of a nightmare, and nothing, it seems, can wake us. So, for the last days of this year, as for the days that preceded them, as for all the days of next year, it’s full drone ahead and damn the torpedoes. That’s our American world, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.
Perhaps, though, it’s worth keeping one modest thought in mind:
In nightmares, too, begin responsibilities.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 08:38
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog of Juan Cole) (12-22-09)
Here are my picks for the top ten worst things about the wretched period, which, however, will continue to follow us until the economy is re-regulated, anti-trust concerns again pursued, a new, tweaked fairness doctrine is implemented, and we return to a more normal distribution of wealth (surely a quarter of the privately held wealth is enough for the one percent?) It isn't about which party is in power; parties can always be bought. It is about how broadly shared resources are in a society. Egalitarianism is unworkable, but over-concentration of wealth is also impractical. The latter produced a lot of our problems in the past decade, and as long as such massive inequality persists, our politics will be lopsided.
10. Stagnating worker wages and the emergence of a new monied aristocracy. Of all the income growth of the entire country of the United States in the Bush years, the richest 1 percent of the working population, about 1.3 million persons, grabbed up over two-thirds of it. The Reagan and Bush cuts in tax rates on the wealthy have created a dangerous little alien inside our supposedly democratic society, of the super-rich, with their legions of camp followers (sometimes referred to as 'analysts' or 'economists' or 'journalists'). The new lords and ladies are the Dick and Liz Cheneys and the people for whom they shill. They are the Rupert Murdochs and the Richard Mellon Scaifes, and they are guaranteed to own more and more of the country as long as more progressive taxation (i.e. pre-Reagan, not pre-Bush) is not restored. They are the ones who didn't want a public universal health option, did not want the wars abroad to end abruptly, did not want the Copenhagen Climate convention to succeed. They are driven by pure greed and narrow profit-seeking for themselves. They always get their way, and they always will as long as you poor stupid bastards buy the line that when the government raises their taxes, it is taking something away from you. It is the alliance of the Neoliberal super-rich with the new lower middle class populists led by W. and now by Sarah Palin that produces clown politics in the US unmatched in most advanced industrial countries with the possible exception of Italy.
9. Health and food insecurity increased for ordinary Americans. Health care costs skyrocketed. Most Americans in the work force who have health care are covered via their employers. 'From 1999 to 2009 health insurance premiums increased 132%" for the companies paying most of the costs of coverage to their employees. Euromonitor adds, "Average private health insurance premiums for a family of four in 1999 were US$5,485 per annum or 7.2% of household disposable income. 2008 premiums were estimated at US$12,973 per annum or 14.8% of average household disposable income." By Bush's last year in office, food insecurity among American families was at a 14-year high. About 49 million Americans, one in six of us, worried about having enough food to eat at some points in that year, and resorted to soup lines, food stamps, or dietary shortcuts. Some 16 million, according to the NYT, suffered from '“very low food security,” meaning lack of money forced members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year.' Hundreds of thousands of children are going hungry in the richest country in the world. From being a proud, wealthy people, our social superiors reduced us to the estate of third-world peasants, so as to make sure their bonuses were bigger.
8. The environment became more polluted. The Bush administration was the worst on record on environmental issues. Carbon emissions grew unchecked, and the threat of climate change accelerated. In fact, Bush muzzled government climate scientists and had their reports rewritten by lawyers from Big Oil.
7. The imperial presidency was ensconced in ways it will be difficult to pare back. But note that its powers were never used against the oligarchs (unlike the case in Putin's Russia), but rather deployed to ensure the continued destruction of the labor movement and the political bargaining power of workers and the middle class, and to harass and disrupt peace, rights and environmental movements. A part of this process was the abrogation of fourth amendment protections against arbitrary search, seizure and snooping into people's mail and effects, and of other key constitutional rights under vague and unconstitutional rubrics such as 'providing material aid to terrorists,'(rights which seem unlikely ever to be restored).
6. The Katrina flood and the destruction of much of historic African-American New Orleans, and the massive failure of the Bush administration to come to the aid of one of America's great cities. The administration's unconcern about the unsound dam infrastructure, about climate change, and about the fate of the victims are all a wake-up call for what all of us have in store from the small social class that Bush served.
5. The Bush administration's post-2002 mishandling of Afghanistan, where the Taliban had been overthrown successfully in 2001 and were universally despised. The Bush administration's attempt to assert itself with a big troop presence in the Pashtun provinces, its use of search and destroy tactics and missile strikes, its neglect of civilian reconstruction, and its failure to finish off al-Qaeda, allowed an insurgency gradually to grow. It should have been nipped in the bud, but was not. Once an insurgency becomes well established, it is defeated militarily only about 20 percent of the time. Eight years later, the Neoconservative thrust into Central Asia (in search of hydrocarbon leverage, or in a geopolitical pissing match with Russia and China?) of the early years of this decade has bequeathed us yet another war, this time one that could destabilize neighboring Pakistan-- the world's sole Muslim nuclear power.
4. The Iraq War, which the US illegally launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, displaced 4 million (over as million abroad), destroyed entire cities such as Fallujah, set off a Sunni-Shiite civil war, allowed Baghdad to be ethnically cleansed of its Sunnis, practiced systematic and widespread torture before the eyes of the Muslim Middle East and the world, and immeasurably strengthened Iran's hand in the Middle East. All this on false pretexts such as 'weapons of mass destruction' or 'democratization,' for the sake of opening the Iraqi oil markets to US hydrocarbon firms-- a significant faction of the oligarchic class. Cost to the US in American military life: 4,373 dead as of Dec 15 and 31,603 wounded in combat. The true totals of war-related dead and injured are higher, since 30,000 troops who were only diagnosed with brain injuries on their return to the US are not counted in the statistics, according to Michael Munk. The cost of the Iraq War when everything is taken into account will likely be $3 trillion.
3. The great $12 trillion Bank Robberry, in which unscrupulous bankers and financiers were deregulated and given free rein to create worthless derivatives, sell impossible mortgages to uninformed marks who could not understand their complicated terms, and then to roll this garbage up into securities re-sold like the
Cheshire cat, with a big visible smile of asserted value hanging in the air even as their actual worth disappeared into thin air. Having allowed the one-percent oligarchs to capture most of the increase of the country's wealth in recent decades, Bush and Paulsen now initiated the surrender to them of nearly a further entire year's gross domestic product of the US, stealing it from the rest of us by deficit budget financing that will have the effect of deflating our savings and property values and relative value of our currency against other world currencies. That is, we are to be further beggared for sake of the super-rich. And while the banks and bankers are held harmless, the hardworking Americans who have lost and will lose their homes are extended virtually no help. While 500,000 American children will go hungry at least some of the time this year, the Oligarchs at Goldman, Sachs, will get millions in bonuses, on the backs of the ordinary taxpayers. It seems likely to me that the creation of a pool of vast excess liquidity for the super-rich by the Reagan-Cheney tax cuts was what impelled them to develop the derivatives, since they had too much capital for ordinary investment purposes and were restlessly seeking new gaming tables. The conclusion is that until we get our gini coefficient back into some sort of synch, we are likely at risk for further such meltdowns.
2. The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, an organization that stemmed from the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s and which decided that, having defeated one superpower, it could take down the other. Al-Qaeda's largely Arab volunteer fighters had confronted the Soviets over their occupation of a major Muslimm country, Afghanistan. Bin Laden was himself a Neoliberal Oligarch, but he broke with the Gulf consensus of seeking a US security umbrella, thus creating a fissure within his powerful social class. Al-Qaeda viewed the US as only a slightly less objectionable occupier, though they were willing to make an atliance of convenience in the 1980s. But they were increasingly enraged and galvanized to strike, they said, by the post-Gulf-War sanctions on Iraq that killed 500,000 children, the debilitating Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, and the establishment of US bases in the holy Arabian Peninsula (with its oil riches that Bin Laden believed were being looted for pennies by the West, aided by a supine and corrupt Saudi dynasty). Al-Qaeda was a small fringe crackpot group of murderous conspiracy theorists, since most of what they considered an American 'occupation' of Muslims was no such thing. The leasing of Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia was comparable to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? They intended to make themselves look like a world-historical force, and the US new Oligarchs, who no longer had the international Communist conspiracy with which to scare the American public into letting them have their way, were happy to buy in to the hyping of al-Qaeda, as well. But the catastrophe was not only the attacks, deadly and horrific though they were, but the alacrity with which Americans rsurrendered their birthright of yeoman liberties to a Bonapartist regime that ran roughshod over law, the constitution, the Congress, and anyone, such as Ambassador Joe Wilson, who dared oppose it.
1. The constitutional coup of 2000, in which Bush was declared the winner of an election he had lost, with the deployment of the most ugly racial and other low tricks in the ballot counting and the intervention of a partisan and far right-wing Supreme Court (itself drawn from or serving the oligarchs), and which gave us the worst president in the history of the union, who proceeded to drive the country off a cliff for the succeeding 8 years. And that is because he was not our president, but theirs.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 17:14
SOURCE: Japan Focus (12-31-69)
Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor at Australian National University, coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.]
The Japanese government announced on 15 December 2009 that it was postponing indefinitely any decision on the contentious issue of a ”Replacement Facility” for the Futenma Marine base in Okinawa. The announcement to make no decision was low-key and at first glance may seem inconsequential. Its symbolic importance, however, is huge, signalling a possible changing of the tide of history in East Asia, above all in the US-Japan relationship.
It meant that the Hatoyama government had withstood the most sustained barrage of US pressure, intimidation, insult, ultimatum, and threat, and decided, at least for the present, to say: “No.” Hatoyama was telling the Obama government, in effect, that rather than rubber stamp an agreement made by the former ruling party, he would insist on renegotiating the 2005-6 “Reorganization of US Forces in Japan” and the “Guam Treaty” in which that agreement was incorporated. He was serving notice that the “Client State” relationship so carefully cultivated by the former (George W. Bush) administration and its successive LDP partners would be renegotiated and perhaps dismantled. How, was far from clear. But the US-Japan relationship can never be the same again.
The bottom line of the message was clear, even if it could only be read in the invisible ink of a bland announcement: if the Hayoyama administration prevails, no “Futenma Replacement Facility” will be built for the Marines in the waters off Cape Henoko in Northern Okinawa. A Pentagon dream since 1966, it had come close to realization under bilateral agreements in 1996, 2006, and 2009, only to be stalled each time by one of the most remarkable, non-violent political movements in modern Japanese history. Today this most unequal of struggles has reached a decisive moment.
Months of intense pressure (see "The Battle of Okinawa 2009") had brought the Hatoyama government close to capitulation. The bureaucrats in both the Defense and Foreign Ministries insisted that the national interest was at stake and required submission. Moreover, the Futenma Base was a quid pro quo for US plans to withdraw—at Japanese expense—an estimated 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam. US Ambassador Roos (known to be a close personal friend of President Obama) expostulated, red-faced (according to observers) to the Japanese Defense and Foreign Ministers on 4 December that trust between Obama and Hatoyama might be grievously damaged if agreement to construct the Henoko base was not reached before the end of 2009. In Okinawa the following day, Foreign Minister Okada could only beg his audiences of Democratic Party faithful to understand how important this issue was for the US, and therefore for the alliance and for Japan. All previous LDP-led governments had submitted just as Okinawa had been forced to submit to American bases for more than six decades, unbroken by the 1972 “reversion” to Japan. The pressure applied to Hatoyama far exceeded that directed to any previous government of Japan, and many assumed that in due course he, too, would submit. He chose otherwise.
The mid-December decision was due to three factors, one long-term, one short-term, and one personal: the first and overwhelming one is the triumph of the non-violent resistance movement of the people of Okinawa itself, sustained since 1996; the second is the outcome of the 30 August Lower House national elections, which swept the Hatoyama DPJ to power nationally and especially in Okinawa gave them and other opponents of base construction a massive endorsement; the third is the strength of resolve by Prime Minister Hatoyama. He insisted throughout the crisis that he would personally make the key decision, and in the end that is what he has done, at least for the time being.
The decision was not solely shaped by US considerations. Japanese domestic politics played a critical role. Had Hatoyama submitted, however, and ordered work to commence on filling in the seas off Oura bay for the construction of a base, he would have faced the likely collapse of his coalition government (since both minor parties had said they would withdraw), the absolute alienation of the Okinawan people from him and his party (and in a sense from the Japanese national project itself), and the need to resort to martial law measures to enforce works whose legitimacy was accepted by virtually nobody in Okinawa. Submission, in other words, might over time not only have undermined the DPJ but might even have more seriously damaged the US-Japan relationship than resistance.
When Foreign Minister Okada visited Okinawa on 5 December, he was shocked to find nobody at all who would support the base construction project. His pleas to understand the American insistence that it proceed and his calls to recognize the importance of the US-Japan “alliance,” simply roused his DPJ audiences to anger. The Okinawan prefectural assembly is more than 90 percent opposed. Even the “conservative” Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) League has said that it will switch from support to opposition to the base project if a decision is held off beyond the end of this year (as has now happened). Conservative mayors, including the Mayor of Naha, are increasingly lining up in support of the platform of anti-base meetings, while Futenma Mayor Iha, as Tanaka Sakai shows in the following report, has led the way in unmasking the machinations of Tokyo and Washington on the future of the base. The August election of the Hatoyama government has given Okinawan people the sense that at last they have a government that might listen to them.
Options for an alternative “Futenma Replacement Facility” to Henoko have been canvassed in recent months and they will now be submitted to a ruling coalition commission for further investigation. They include Guam (discussed below), Kadena, the US Air Force base close to Futenma, the island of Umage, just 8 square kilometres in area and 12 kilometres west of Tanegashima in Kagoshima prefecture, the island of Io (once known as Iwojima) south of Tokyo, and various unused or much underused airports in mainland Japan itself, from Osaka’s Kansai International (offered for consideration by Osaka’s Governor) to the recently built “white elephant” Shizuoka or Ibaraki airports.
Okinawan sentiments are especially aroused today as the lies and deception they have been fed by LDP governments over the past half-century gradually come to light. The Okinawan “return” to Japan in 1972 is now known to have been a purchase, in which Japan paid huge sums to subsidize the US war effort in Vietnam, opening the path to a system of Japanese war subsidies paid to the Pentagon ever since in the guise of “omoiyari” (consideration or sympathy) payments. The Japanese government, contrary to its proud “three non-nuclear policies”, has long given covert permission to US vessels carrying nuclear weapons to pass through Japanese ports and signalled its readiness to allow them into Okinawa in advance of any renewed war in Korea. The details of the “secret nuclear agreements” are now being exposed by former Japanese government officials who were party to the arrangements. Most explosive is the fact that Okinawans continue to learn more details of the readiness of their government over decades to pay almost any price to keep the US forces in Okinawa while sparing mainland Japanese the inconvenience of having numerous GIs in residence. That sense of grievance cannot easily be assuaged.
One major new factor in the Okinawan equation is the revelation, flowing principally from the office of the Okinawan town mayor of Ginowan City (reluctant host to the Futenma Marine Air station), that the Henoko project itself rests on a massive deception. That revelation is the subject of the Tanaka Sakai text that follows.
The Marine Corps documents that Mayor Iha Yōichi analyses call into question the official Japanese government claim that the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko is necessary to accommodate the Marine helicopter force by showing that the 2006 Guam Integrated Military Development Plan is a design to accommodate those helicopter forces plus battle force, artillery and supply units. If the Futenma Marines are designated under Pentagon plans for relocation to Guam anyway, the Henoko project loses its strategic purpose. And the foundations for Japanese government payments to maintain US forces in Okinawa, still less to pay for their transfer to Guam, are baseless. Even before the Iha revelations, military critics in Japan questioned the rationale behind the Agreement on Reorganization of US Forces in Japan and the Guam Treaty, many viewing them as new forms of coercion and of the secret diplomacy that has long characterized US-Japan dealings on Okinawa. If the Marines are going to Guam anyway, under Pentagon plans, the real design of the Guam Treaty agreements can only be to siphon off further substantial Japanese subsidies to the Pentagon, to provide a foothold for the Marines in an Okinawan resort location, or, perhaps, a fine new facility eventually for Japan’s own Self Defense Forces.
The Government of Japan’s initial response has been to deny Mayor Iha’s claims and the national media has yet to pursue them seriously. They are, however, based on persuasive US documentation and on the evidence of Iha’s investigations in Guam. Certainly, they sharply contradict the official rationale for the Henoko base construction and the official understanding of the Guam transfer. Now that the relocation issue has been returned to the drawing board, the newly established coalition body to study and report on the relocation issue has on the table many interesting and potentially explosive questions to examine.
[Excerpt, continue reading at http://japanfocus.org/-Tanaka-Sakai/3274]
Posted on: Monday, December 21, 2009 - 12:21
SOURCE: National Review Online (12-19-09)
The Cairo Speech
1) The following can be said of Obama’s Islamic mythography: a) Islam did not pave “the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” To the extent Islam was involved at all, it was Greek scholars fleeing Ottoman pressure at Byzantium who sparked the Western Renaissance, while the Enlightenment’s Romantic movements proclaimed a desire to free classical lands from supposed Ottoman backwardness. b) Breakthroughs in navigation, pens, printing, medicine, etc. were largely Western or Chinese innovations. c) “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Córdoba during the Inquisition.” Córdoba had few Muslims when the Inquisition began in 1478, having been reconquered by the Christians well over two centuries earlier. d) Left unsaid was that the great colonizers of the Middle East were not the Europeans, but the Ottoman Muslims, who were far harsher and ruled far longer.
2) “No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” Would that include postwar Japan, Italy, and Germany? Should we not have attempted to impose a system of government in Iraq or Afghanistan?
3) “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.” During the 1860s, more than 600,000 Americans died over slavery in America’s bloodiest war, which resulted in universal citizenship; during the 1960s and 1970s, racial turmoil over matters of racial equality was not nonviolent.
The West Point Speech
1) “Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.” Obama did not cite a single specific request for more troops that was denied by the Pentagon during Bush’s time in office. One might fault the Bush administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the problem was largely a command theory of “light footprint,” which sought not to alienate indigenous populations through a large, obtrusive American presence. So far there is no evidence of a denied troop request between 2001 and 2009.
2) “I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan.” That obvious strategy predated Obama, who inherited from his predecessor everything from Predator drone attacks to carrot-and-stick diplomacy with the Pakistanis.
3) “This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.” This is, of course, true, but leaves out the inconvenient fact that the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were — like most al-Qaeda operatives — Sunni Arabs who came to the borderlands from somewhere else, supported by Gulf private money and energized by radical teaching that emanates from Gulf and Cairo Wahhabi mosques. The epicenter of radical Islam is not Waziristan. Rather, it is found at the nexus between petro-money and radical Islamic teaching in the Arab world.
4) “In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly.” That may be true of the Carter and Reagan administrations, or the Clinton tolerance for a nuclear Pakistan, but it is hard to accept as a description of the Bush administration’s eight years of ongoing massive American military and economic aid, public pressure for democratic reform, and close consultation with India and Pakistan about regional disagreements. The logical corollary should have been praise for the Bush administration’s holistic engagement and rebuke for the Carter-era policy (continued under Reagan) that armed Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviets without much worry over the blowback in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.
5) “As a country, we are not as young — and perhaps not as innocent — as we were when Roosevelt was president.” In fact, American diplomacy is far more transparent than it ever was during the Roosevelt administration, which engaged in all sorts of secret accords affecting millions, including the future of most of Eastern Europe....
Obama feels that reverence for both the facts and spirit of history is not as important as that noble aim. If, for example, Muslims can be assured that the West has been just as culpable as they have been, and if they can be praised by unduly exaggerating their past cultural achievements, then perhaps the Islamic world will see that the United States is a broker of good will.
The alternatives to Obama’s constant historical revisionism would be to be quiet about history’s often disturbing truths — or to admit that the present globalization, in terms of economics, politics, culture, and military affairs, is largely an embrace of Westernization and the result of the unique dynamism and morality of Western culture itself.
To articulate the latter truth abroad would be chauvinistic and impolitic. To be quiet about it would be diplomatic. But to distort it for noble intentions has been nevertheless ignoble.
Posted on: Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 14:35
SOURCE: Informed Comment, Juan Cole's blog (12-12-09)
An agreement was announced by both Polish and U.S. high officials about the types, quantities and locations of advanced missile launchers and projectiles to be stationed in Poland. But they left two lecherously lingering questions about President Obama's global military goals as compared to his predecessor, particularly as to how different or similar they actually are and are likely to be. Campaign rhetoric and first Presidential steps are seemingly turning into a bait and switch. Having inked a SOFA deal with Poland, the Czech republic will be next, according to official sources, with the environmental summit in Copenhagen acting as an inconvenient cover. Romania’s contested elections make for fertile grounds for intervention, if they are not already the result.
[Antony Adolf, author of Peace: A World History (Polity Press, Wiley Distributor) is publisher and host of One World, Many Peace: Current Events Creating the Future, Blog and Podcast.]
The first question is to what extent the missile deployments to Poland contravene Obama's celebrated decision to shut down President George W. Bush's European missile shield earlier this year. The decision to shelve the widely contentious program was welcomed by Russia's premier, the primary opponent to Bush's plan because of its stationing in former Soviet satellites. If saving Russia face is the goal, doing it at the expense of local hosts is too high a cost because of potential “blowback,” the official CIA term for missions that come back to haunt, like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The response of the intended host countries was mixed at best and grudging at worst: there's more than just a bit of money and might involved in hosting U.S. Military bases, setting aside for a moment the equally tremendous costs.
At the time of the announcement, I optimistically heralded Obama's bold move as ushering in a new period of global détente. There certainly could have been if he wasn't proving so keen on taking back door measures to achieve front line military objectives, as with Poland and the Czech republic. Toying with the type, quantity and locations of missile launchers so that they do not constitute a 'shield' is smokescreening of the first order and needs immediate unmasking as such. Whether Patriot missiles, SM-3, here or there: a weapon by any other name is still as deadly, and its supporting staff still as damaging, in this case a missile shield and the U.S. soldiers stationed to man and if need be launch them.
The second major question in regards to Polish military cooperation are the terms of the SOFA itself. Such agreements have generally been the bane of countries that host U.S. military operations because of their blatant and seemingly incontrovertible double standards for U.S. military personnel and locals, even when they come with considerably bounty. All but a few of the 800 or so U.S. Bases worldwide have SOFAs in place, usually considered a prerequisite for the military and its civilian contractor entourage to move in. The latter often have even less accountability than the former, and a large part are employees of Halliburton subsidiaries.
American bases in Okinawa, for example, are among the most longstanding and most visible stain along these lines, as rapes, destruction of private property and environmental and noise pollution (among other crimes) by U.S. personnel have gone unpunished because they are unpunishable according to the SOFA in place. These are, to be polite, blemishes upon the brave and diligent record of American soldiers abroad who work and play by the rules. Thousands of violations like these are reported at U.S. bases yearly, from drunken brawls to prisoner abuse and torture, the last of which Obama also pledged to end as one of his first Presidential acts. If the missiles are a first Presidential take-back, will torture under the SOFA be a second?
Arguably the most astutely critical scholar of SOFAs globally, Chalmers Johnson, may contend that because SOFAs and the bases or installations they cover are inextricably tied to each other as to stipulations of jurisdiction, both should rejected outright. I think that being able to intercept missiles launched by rogue states and terrorists (nuclear or otherwise) is a reasonable and pragmatic proposition, need not be linked to a shield-in-disguise, and can be operated by locals with sufficient training and cooperation. If the U.S. believes it can do something similar on the level of a country (namely, 'train' Iraqi and Afghan police forces and government officials), surely it can in a militarily-secured area of a few square miles.
A foreign U.S. Base operated entirely by locals would bypass the need for a traditional SOFA, preserve Obama's "good guy" image to Bush's "bad" domestically and internationally, and limit the downsides for Eastern Europeans while maximizing the upsides. For better or worse, the world does not yet have a global police system other than the either barbarously zealous or immorally reluctant U.S., depending on who is in charge. I have argued elsewhere that NATO should be put under a reformed U.N. command. But doing so is unlikely to transform SOFAs into comfortable couches armed forces and locals alike can sit on together until the raison d’être of military bases abroad are addressed to the point of disappearance.
Posted on: Friday, December 18, 2009 - 19:20
SOURCE: Truthout (11-12-09)
US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
"Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam",
was published in 2006.]
The talks between the G5 plus 1 and Iran are careening toward a premature
breakdown. If they do fall apart, it will be due in large part to a serious
diplomatic miscalculation by the Obama administration.
Along with its European allies, the Obama administration seized on a plan
that cleverly asked Iran to divest itself of the bulk of its stock of
low-enriched uranium (LEU). It seemed to represent a golden opportunity to
set back Iran's nuclear program, and despite the warning signs that such an
objective is not achievable by the West, it lured the West away from a
serious effort to find a diplomatic compromise with Iran aimed at defusing
the decades-long hostility between Washington and Tehran.
The origins of the immediate diplomatic drama surrounding the proposal lay
in Iran's need to supply fuel for its US-built Tehran research reactor
producing medical radioisotopes. Iran had obtained 23 kilograms of fuel
enriched to 20 percent from Argentina under a cooperation agreement signed
in 1988 that ended in 1993. But that supply is expected to run out in late
2010, and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sent a letter to the
IAEA in June requesting its help in purchasing enough 20 percent enriched
uranium under the agency's supervision so that the medical reactor would
again have a long-term supply.
But that would require a relaxation of the international sanctions against
Iran's nuclear program. And when the Obama administration got wind of the
Iranian request, it created a new diplomatic strategy aimed at forcing Iran
to accept terms that would force it to give up most of its LEU for about a
year. During a visit to Moscow in July, President Barack Obama's White House
adviser on the Iranian nuclear issue, Gary Samore, reportedly approached
Russian officials about a proposal that would require that Iran send its
low-enriched uranium to Russia to be converted into the more highly enriched
fuel rods, thus setting the clock of Iran's already-achieved breakout
capability back for about a year.
That proposal was in line with the diplomatic objective that Samore had
brought to the White House in January 2009. In a paper co-authored with
Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution and published in December 2008,
Samore had suggested that Iran's LEU should be exported to Russia to be
converted into fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor in order take away Iran's
nuclear break-out capability.
Then, just one week after Iran had agreed to participate in talks with the
Group of 5 plus 1, Tehran informed the IAEA that it was constructing a
second uranium enrichment facility near Qom. The United States, Britain and
France denounced the existence of the facility as a nuclear "deception," and
US officials insisted Iran had only revealed the facility because it had
been discovered by Western intelligence.
The circumstantial evidence, however, suggests that the facility had indeed
been started as part of a back-up in the event of a bombing attack on the
primary enrichment plant at Natanz and had been made public to neutralize
the implicit threat of an Israeli attack which Iranian strategists believed
the US hoped to use for diplomatic leverage in the talks. That was not an
entirely unrealistic assumption. Before joining the administration, Samore
had advocated repeatedly the exploitation by US negotiators of the
possibility of an Israeli attack. And in July, Vice President Joe Biden had
ostentatiously flashed an apparent green light for an Israeli strike against
Iranian nuclear facilities should it deem it necessary.
Iran's declaration of the Qom site provided yet another rationale for the
Obama administration to adopt a tough and aggressive approach to Iran in the
meetings starting October 1. The result was a proposal from the G5 Plus 1
that Iran would ship 80 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Russia, which
would then go to France for transformation into fuel rods for the Tehran
reactor. The real point from the US viewpoint was that Iran would divest
itself immediately of the bulk of its LEU, allowing the United States to
claim a diplomatic victory. It would take nine to twelve months for Iran to
build up enough LEU to have a break-out threat once again.
US officials suggested that the proposal would buy time for the two sides to
reach a broader agreement, free of the possibility of an Iranian bomb. But
the logic of that rationale was faulty. The idea that the Obama
administration, having portrayed Iran as bent on acquiring nuclear weapons
and its possession of enough LEU to give it a breakout capability as
unacceptable, would turn around a few months later and offer a deal that
would allow Iran to accumulate more LEU in the future is hardly credible.
Iranian negotiators did not reject the Western proposal presented at the
October 1 meeting. They were under orders to be cooperative, with the
obvious aim of depriving the West of a rationale for breaking off the talks
and proceeding with new economic sanctions against Iran. But Assistant
Secretary of State William Burns, the senior US representative at the
meeting in Geneva, told reporters on background that the secretary of Iran's
Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, had agreed that Iran would
send 1,200 kilograms of its 1,500 kilograms of LEU in exchange to be
exchanged for uranium enriched to 19.75 percent, as Reuters reported.
A senior Iranian official told Reuters on October 16, however, that Iranian
negotiators had not agreed to any Western plan, implying that they had been
willing to discuss a deal involving those elements, but had not agreed to
any detailed arrangements. The same official made it clear that Iranian
negotiators would have no authority to reach agreement on anything at the
second round of talks scheduled for October 19-21 in Vienna.
The second round of talks revolved around a draft agreement by the outgoing
director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed
ElBaradei, specifying the amount of Iranian LEU to be shipped to Russia and
of 20 percent enriched uranium to be returned to Iran. A French diplomat
told The Washington Post that it was "not that far" from the West's ideal
On October 21, the final day of the three-day meeting in Vienna, news media
again reported that Iranian negotiators had agreed to the ElBaradei plan.
Iran's IAEA representative, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, suggested the draft was
"on the right track" but that, "We have to thoroughly study this text."
ElBaradei himself made it clear there had been no agreement on the text,
giving Iran two days for its response to it.
In Tehran, however, public and private discussions of how to respond to the
draft took four or five days. Former nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, now
the speaker of the parliament, and Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the
parliamentary committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, both
insisted that Iran should be buying the higher-enriched uranium rather than
having to trade its LEU stocks for it.
*Iran's LEU as Bargaining Chips*
But there was a more fundamental objection to the ElBaradei proposal.
According to the reformist web site Kaleme, Mir Hossein Mousavi,
Ahmadinejad's electoral rival and the leader of the post-election opposition
movement, said that, if the conditions demanded by the ElBaradei plan were
carried out, "all the efforts of thousands of scientists will go to the
wind." Conservative parliamentarian Hesmatollah Falahatpisheh said any deal
with the West involving the export of Iran's LEU stocks should be
conditioned on ending the economic sanctions on Iran, particularly a lifting
of sanctions on raw uranium imports." And Mohsen Rezai, the conservative
secretary of the Expediency Council, said that Iran should retain 1,100
kilograms of the roughly 1,500 kilograms of LEU in its stockpile, rather
than sending 1,200 kilograms abroad as called for in the ElBaradei plan.
Those objections to the plan all reflected recognition that the ElBaradei
draft would deprive Iran of the bargaining leverage they have so painfully
accumulated in the form of its LEU stocks. Senior Iranian national security
officials had acknowledged in informal conversations that their main purpose
in accumulating low-enriched uranium was to compel the United States to sit
down and bargain seriously with Iran. They had observed that, in the past,
before the enrichment program began, the United States exhibited no interest
in negotiations. From that strategic perspective, Iran is now in a position
to negotiate with the United States in a way that it was not under
Rafsanjani and Khatami, thanks to its LEU stocks.
The remarks of Larijani and Boroujerdi about the deal have been widely
misinterpreted as evidence of a deep split in the Iranian political elite on
how to respond to the ElBaradei plan. The New York Times published two
articles in the same week suggesting that the Obama had achieved a major
political objective in bringing to light deep fissures in the Iranian
leadership over the issue.
But that analysis was based on the assumption that the president had already
embraced the Western proposal, whereas he had carefully guarded his
political-diplomatic flexibility on the issue. In fact, there is reason to
believe that, behind the scenes, a new consensus was being forged between
the government and opposition critics of the ElBaradei plan. Mousavi's
denunciation of the Western plan came on October 29 - the same day Iran's
counterproposal was described in the state media.
And when Boroujerdi, the parliamentary committee chairman, called on October
26 for a plan to send Iran's LEU to Russia in several phases and to demand
"necessary guarantees" against being tricked, he was describing what would
become the Iranian counterproposal to ElBaradei's draft on October 29.
Although no official statement was made, the state news agency IRNA
indicated that the Iranian proposal called for the LEU shipments to be made
in batches rather than in one single shipment and insisted that the receipt
of the uranium for Tehran's medical reactor would have to come before a
second batch went out. IRNA called the "simultaneous exchange" feature of
the proposal a "red line" in Iran's negotiating position. Another feature of
the proposal was the insistence that part of the demand for uranium for the
medical reactor be met through straight purchase arrangements.
Although the Iranian counterproposal eliminates everything about the
ElBaradei draft that made it attractive to the Obama administration and its
allies, the official Iranian response carefully avoided outright rejection
of the draft. In fact, it reportedly expressed a "positive attitude" and a
willingness to hold further talks on it. That was another obvious effort to
avoid handing the G5 plus 1 an opportunity to declare and end to the
negotiations on the grounds that Iran had refused to negotiate seriously.
When that counterproposal was ignored by Iran's negotiating partners,
Ahmadinejad advanced yet another proposal to put roughly a quarter of its
LEU under seal by the IAEA on Iranian soil until the uranium for its medical
reactor is delivered, rather than sending it abroad. But Obama warned
November 15, "We are now running out of time" for negotiations on the
It now seems certain that the G5 plus 1 will declare an end to the
negotiations before the end of December and move to the next phase of
sanctions. Thus, the talks with Iran will have ended without having
attempted to explore the possibility of a larger bargain with Iran. That
would have involved an end to overtly hostile US policies and a symbolic
recognition of Iran's legitimate interests and status in Middle Eastern
politics. That the Obama administration did not even try, despite Obama's
commitment to diplomatic engagement, is partly due to the desire of Samore
and other advisers to try to impose a diplomatic solution on Iran that could
be portrayed as a diplomatic victory over Iran, even if only in the
But Samore, who crafted the ElBaradei proposal, had also believed the
administration should try offering Iran involving bigger Iranian political
and economic interests. The administration embraced a proposal that made it
virtually impossible to retreat to negotiations with Iran based on give and
take. It's attraction to the quick-fix approach certainly reflected a
domestic political climate heavily influenced by the right-wing Israeli
lobby. The result was to close the door to a potential settlement with Iran
and head down a long, dark corridor called confrontation.
Posted on: Friday, December 18, 2009 - 08:48
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (12-31-69)
In fact, you didn’t have to look far that week to see signs of trouble in the military. It’s true that Major Nadil Malik Hasan, the psychiatrist who murdered 12 military personnel and one civilian, while wounding 29, at Fort Hood, Texas, had at least briefly faded from the news. In Grant County, Oregon, however, a judge sentenced 27-year-old Jessie Bratcher, an Iraq veteran, to a state psychiatric hospital in a murder case in which he had shot an unarmed civilian during what was claimed to be a post-traumatic stress disorder-induced “war flashback.”
Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, George Nickel Jr., another Iraq War veteran, armed with a handgun and wearing “a tactical vest with as many as 90 rounds of ammunition,” and “accused of shooting into two locked apartments before getting into an armed confrontation with Boise police officers this summer,” pleaded guilty to “the unlawful discharge of a firearm into an occupied dwelling.” Nickel, whose year in Iraq was spent disarming IEDs, “suffered a broken leg and shrapnel in his face in a roadside bomb explosion that killed three Idaho soldiers.” He is “diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.” He faces up to 15 years in prison.
Last week, across the continent, 20-year old Joshua Hunter, a military policeman accused of stabbing “his two Army buddies” to death in the apartment they shared near Fort Drum in New York state, was arraigned on second-degree murder charges. All three men had served in Iraq. Hunter’s last message at MySpace included this: "I will not be stopped until I get my revenge." According to the Associated Press, Hunter's wife said “that her husband was outgoing before he went to war, but when he returned stateside, he was an emotional wreck. ‘He wasn't in any good mental shape at all… I tried to get him to go to therapy. They prescribed him medicine and stuff, but it just wasn't enough.’"
Unlike the week when Hasan struck at Ft. Hood and media attention was overwhelming, stories like these are small-scale and generally local in nature, yet they have now become a regular feature of the American landscape. Most of us may only half-notice, and yet something is happening here, even if we don’t know what it is, Mr. Jones. Certainly, William Astore, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular, has a strong sense of where it may lead. Tom
The Price of Pushing Our Troops Too Far
By William Astore
When I was on active duty in the military, an Army friend used to remind me: “Any day you’re not being shot at is a good Army day.” Today’s troops, especially if they’re “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t have enough good Army days. Many of them are on their fourth or fifth deployments to a combat zone. They’re stressed out and tired; they miss their spouses and families. And often they’ve seen things they wish they’d never seen.
But you’d hardly have known this listening to the debate over President Obama’s decision to escalate yet again in Afghanistan. Its tone was remarkably antiseptic. I can’t help recalling old wargames I played as a kid in which deploying infantry brigades to faraway places was as simple as picking up a few cardboard counters, tossing the dice, and pinning my troops to a new spot on the map. No gore splattered on my face when I rolled snake eyes after pushing my grunts too far into the Fulda Gap while playing MechWar ‘77.
As we roll the dice again in Central Asia, it’s clear that we’re pushing our Army and Marines too far. Naturally, our troops, notably the brass, will deny this. For them, it’s “Army Strong” or “Semper Fi”; only losers whine or bellyache. Well, we Americans need to recognize the limits on our troops, even if they refuse to do so.
So let me be blunt: We’re wearing them out.
Our “Wasted” Troops
Quietly, almost imperceptibly, our Army is hollowing out. Such is the predictable result of eight years of ceaseless deployments in support of ill-advised wars. Remarkably, the Army has, so far, managed to maintain its combat effectiveness, in part by its recourse to a “Stop Loss” policy -- essentially a backdoor draft (only recently curtailed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) that involuntarily extended the enlistments of 60,000 troops. It has also relied heavily on the use and reuse of the Reserves and the National Guard. Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania noted last month on Meet the Press that “our troops are tired and worn out. [With respect to the] Pennsylvania National Guard, most of our guardsmen have been to either Iraq [or] Afghanistan, over 85 percent, and many of them have gone three or four times and they’re wasted.”
Signs of severe strain, of being “wasted,” are often not visible to the American public. Nevertheless, they are ominous and growing. Suicides have hit record highs in the Army. Cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, having reached an alarming 300,000 in 2008, according to Invisible Wounds of War, a RAND study, continue to escalate, constituting a mental health crisis for the Army. Traumatic brain injuries from IEDs and other explosive shocks in our war zones, difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat, may already exceed 300,000, another health crisis exacerbated by a lack of treatment available to veterans. Divorce rates among active duty troops continue to climb. An epidemic of domestic violence and crime has been linked to returning veterans and to the difficulty of readjusting to “normal” life after months, or years, in combat zones. These are just five of the better documented signs of an Army that’s struggling to cope with wars of unprecedented length and still uncertain outcomes.
To maintain its force structure, given these kinds of symptomatic pressures, the Army has taken several questionable steps. It has boosted the maximum age of enlistment from age 35 to age 42 at a time when its operational tempo is burning out far younger men and women. It has authorized enlistment bonuses of up to $40,000 for new soldiers, and reenlistment bonuses to select soldiers, also for up to $40,000. As the Army attempts to entice enlistees with big-money bonuses and benefits, it’s also accepting more recruits who lack high school diplomas; the rate of new recruits with high school diplomas declined to 71% in 2008, a 25-year low. Counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns -- the sort of wars promoted by Centcom commander General David Petraeus and Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal -- theoretically demand restraint, tact, and flexibility exercised at the squad level by so-called strategic corporals. What’s the likelihood that enough of today’s recruits will develop the sophistication, the so-called “soft” yet decidedly hard-won “people skills” they need to succeed as strategic corporals?
Within the officer ranks, the Army has been boosting the success rate of those promoted to major (a point at which weaker officers are typically winnowed out) to better than 95%. In the past, it hovered around 80%. As Colonel Paul Aswell, chief of the Army’s Officer Personnel Policy Division notes, “Every [Army promotion] board is going to select every officer that they can to [the rank of] major for as far as I can see right now.”
Because so many seasoned but stressed-out captains are choosing to leave the Army after their initial service commitment is up, the selection rate for major will likely remain above 90% for years to come. “[W]e really don’t think that’s healthy,” concludes Aswell. Plans to add 65,000 new recruits to the Army over the next few years only exacerbate the problem; an expanded Army necessitates even more field-grade billets. Many of these new billets are likely to remain vacant, since it takes 10 years to develop the “Iron Majors,”who, along with mid-level NCOs, form the core of the Army.
Instead of a stable pyramid, then, think of an expanded yet still exhausted service taking on a more unstable, hourglass shape: heavy at the top with long-serving colonels and generals, heavy at the bottom with “green” privates and lieutenants, but corseted at its essential core due to shortages of experienced platoon sergeants and battle-hardened company and battalion commanders.
In the military, leaders are supposed to be promoted based on demonstrated potential to fulfill the expanded responsibilities inherent in a higher grade, but here the Army is trapped in a Catch-22 situation: It has to promote virtually every eligible captain to major (and quickly) precisely because so many captains are leaving the military.
Whether at the company or field-grade level, the simple fact is that the Army is bleeding experienced officers. Ever larger numbers of promising lieutenant colonels, for instance, are now taking earlier-than-expected retirements, opening further “must-fill” rungs on the promotion ladder. I know of two highly qualified Army lieutenant colonels who, as outstanding battalion commanders, could easily have reached colonel and might perhaps even have ended up with a general’s star. Tired of repeat deployments, constant stress, and extraordinary burdens placed on their spouses and children, they chose instead to retire from active duty.
As we bleed experienced officers and promote marginally qualified ones almost automatically, it’s sobering to consider another modern drain on the military -- the vast pay disparities that exist between those serving in the All Volunteer Army and civilian contractors often operating beside them in the same combat zone. Whereas an unmarried Army sergeant makes roughly $85 a day and a married captain roughly double that, a “protective security specialist” employed by Blackwater (now Xe) makes 14 times the pay of our sergeant. Of course, no one joins the Army to get rich, but such dramatic inequities are hardly conducive either to high morale or to retaining experienced military specialists who know they can sell their skills at top value elsewhere.
Indeed, the Army (and so the American taxpayer) is being forced to compete with Xe, Triple Canopy, DynCorp International, and similar private security outfits for the services of experienced non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Even a reenlistment bonus of $40,000 for a staff sergeant with interpreter/translator experience may be unpersuasive when such an NCO could double or triple his take-home pay -- and perhaps decrease his stress level as well -- by hiring on with a paramilitary contractor.
So what, you may ask? Well, despite what Napoleon said, an Army doesn’t march on its stomach. It marches because experienced NCOs boot it in the butt and get it moving in the right direction. NCOs are the backbone of any effective army. Lose too many and you’re done for.
“Decades More” of Dread and Death
It’s this under-compensated, over-stressed Army that we’re sending into Afghanistan to accomplish what could only be termed a herculean task. It’s not only supposed to defeat the Taliban insurgency by force of arms -- something its troops are, at least, trained for -- but build a nation by negotiating a complex “human terrain.” That’s Army jargon for the reality that roughly 80% of so-called nation-building operations basically add up to armed social work. Simultaneously, our troops are being tasked with training an Afghan army that, despite years of effort, exists more on paper than in the field.
And if that’s an overly imposing task, no less imposing are the literal mountains of Afghanistan. One can hardly overstate the mind-numbing fatigue suffered by troops fighting at high altitude. Our soldiers typically carry nearly 100 pounds of equipment, including body armor, weaponry, helmet, ammunition, water, radio, extra batteries, night vision goggles, GPS receiver -- the list goes on. Now, think of hauling yourself and 100 pounds of gear up goat paths at altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet. Think about fighting a lightly-armed, lightly dressed, fleet-footed enemy with better knowledge of the harsh terrain, and with physiologies acclimated to the thinner, drier air.
I asked an Army battalion commander to put the plight of our troops and the challenge of COIN in terms the average American could understand. His reply was sobering:
“Dread is the term most soldiers apply to their emotions in the six months leading to deployment. Not dread of the enemy, but dread of the prison-like conditions of their service [overseas]. There are no leave breaks in Paris or at the canteen. Even coming home for mid-tour leave is stressful as hell.
“Then of course you add the mental grind of constant exposure to [the] lethal threat of roadside bombs and sniper fire and hotter engagements. Or the converse that many times absolutely nothing happens for these soldiers other than traveling to, securing, and returning from endless marginally productive meetings with local leaders. [Add to that] the separation from family, the enforced celibacy and enforced sobriety and uncorrectable disruption of social lives.
“Imagine working without a break in your current job with no weekends… no social events, no wife, no bars, no permanent buildings, no funding. That’s what the grind is… Putting up with those conditions and heading out the gate every day… and grinding away at those armed social-working tasks is the new criterion of valor.
“The cost of winning an insurgency is staying at it for years, decades. In a fundamentally flawed operating environment like Afghanistan, we could be there at or above our current level of commitment for decades more.”
Decades more: So much for an 18-month timeline for our latest Afghan surge and withdrawal.
The Horrifying Legacies of War
By sending up to 35,000 more troops to Afghanistan, we’re further stressing a military that, if not entirely “wasted,” is nevertheless showing serious signs of strain. This shouldn’t be surprising. Our Army, after all, isn’t made up of rootless, robotic “universal soldiers,” but men and women who are deeply rooted within our communities. Indeed, that very rootedness may help explain their remarkable staying power over the last eight years. Sooner or later, however, such roots will be cut if we continue to send them on lost causes.
Consider our latest “surge”: What will happen to our Army if its augmented presence only alienates Afghans further? What if it ends up strengthening Taliban recruitment efforts and prolonging the war instead of shortening it? What if our enemies simply choose to wait us out? Are we truly prepared to stay for a decade, or even decades, more?
Prolonging a stalemated war will, in fact, only mean more hurt for both Afghans and Americans. The hurt to Afghans will undoubtedly be worse, for their homes are the battlefield, but our own hurt shouldn’t be underestimated. More broken bodies and shattered minds. More echoes of the horrifying violence that accompanies war.
To paraphrase William Faulkner on history’s relationship to the past: Even when war is officially declared over, it’s not dead. It’s not even past. The horrors of war endure in the hearts and minds of the people who experience them, and they dwell, to some degree, in the collective consciousness of us all.
Are we willing, then, to sit and watch as our military strives to endure what may ultimately prove unendurable? Do we really want to risk returning to the hollow army of the mid-1970s, reeling from defeat in Vietnam, that judged the American public numb to its service and sacrifices?
What if, upon returning to the American “homeland,” whether in 2012 or 2052, an exhausted, embittered, and demoralized army again judges us and finds us even more wanting? What if, as in the 1970s, some alienated soldiers come to see the public as treacherous backstabbers, with all the potential dangers that entails?
As we embrace policies and strategies that erode our army, we risk more than a weakened military; we risk breeding resentments and recriminations that could lead to a future domestic surge of militant nationalism of our very own, conceivably imperiling the foundations of our democracy.
And that’s a peril -- and a price -- too terrible to contemplate.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught cadets at the Air Force Academy, officers at the Naval Postgraduate School, and applauded thousands of troops as they crossed the stage to graduate from the Defense Language Institute. A TomDispatch regular, he currently teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - 21:24
SOURCE: Obsidian Wings (12-31-69)
Today, The Times (UK) posted a story about a "Secret Document [that] Exposes Iran's Nuclear Trigger" that detailed what is supposedly "a final key component" of a nuclear weapon. The article is located at "Secret Document Exposes Iran's Nuclear Trigger."
Ok, I'm not a nuclear physicist. I've never taken a class in physics. I'm not a Farsi linguist or have lived in Tehran for 30 years. What I do know is how the global intelligence community works, at least from an insiders view. It basically has one rule.
Secrets Stay Secret IF YOU WANT THEM TO.
In 1916-1917, Britain was on the verge of losing the Great War. The French were rocked by mutinies, the bloodbath of the Somme and Ypres had drained Great Britain of men, materials and morale. Literally the only real hope the Allies had was American entry into the war. Yet even the sinking of the SS Lusitania in 1915 and the deaths of American citizens, along with the glowing propaganda of American volunteers with the Allies, did little to move the American people toward war. No, that came when the British released a decoded intercept between the German Ambassador to Mexico and his government outlining a proposed Mexican-German alliance if the US joined the war. However, the telegram was not released to the American government--it was released to the American press on March 1, 1917. On April 6, Congress voted for war.
The British had a secret. And they released it to cause the most impact on their main target--the American people.
I am not saying that the same situation exists with this release of information. In fact, the Iranians may be happily building nuclear weapons as I type, in order to wipe out "Zionism" and bring on the 12th Imam. I don't know. But what I do know is that a secret was released, and released at a time when negotiations are being conducted to find a peaceful solution.
Who would release such a secret, which could only be gathered from an agent in Iran? Why risk the life of the agent? Why?
Nations have agreements, as do their intelligence agencies. The US shares information with the UK, the UK with France, France with Italy and so on. And many of these countries share information with Israel, Turkey and other nations in the region.
Was this a Mossad plant? Perhaps. Perhaps it was a plant by Syria or Turkey or Egypt, for their own purposes. Or perhaps it was released disinformation by the Iranians to deter an attack on themselves (shades of Saddam's failed miscalculation in telling the world he had CBNR weapons...). No one knows. In the dark world of intelligence, information is a commodity, to be bought, sold and traded.
A healthy skepticism is what is needed. Raw intelligence is rarely 100% accurate, and when a nation has a lot to gain by leaking secrets, even more care should be taken.
The Zimmerman Telegram was a piece of factual information. Just because something is factual does not mean that it is the whole story, or that the truth, like lies, can be used to shape opinions and lead nations to war.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - 21:16
SOURCE: Asia-Pacific Journal (12-31-69)
The international community is increasingly aware that cooperative diplomacy is the most productive way to tackle the multiple, interconnected global challenges facing humanity, not least of which is the increasing proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Korea and Northeast Asia are instances where risks of nuclear proliferation and actual nuclear use arguably have increased in recent years. This negative trend is a product of continued US nuclear threat projection against the DPRK as part of a general program of coercive diplomacy in this region, North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, the breakdown in the Chinese-hosted Six Party Talks towards the end of the Bush Administration, regional concerns over China’s increasing military power, and concerns within some quarters in regional states (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) about whether US extended deterrence (“nuclear umbrella”) afforded under bilateral security treaties can be relied upon for protection.
The consequences of failing to address the proliferation threat posed by the North Korea developments, and related political and economic issues, are serious, not only for the Northeast Asian region but for the whole international community.
At worst, there is the possibility of nuclear attack1, whether by intention, miscalculation, or merely accident, leading to the resumption of Korean War hostilities. On the Korean Peninsula itself, key population centres are well within short or medium range missiles. The whole of Japan is likely to come within North Korean missile range. Pyongyang has a population of over 2 million, Seoul (close to the North Korean border) 11 million, and Tokyo over 20 million. Even a limited nuclear exchange would result in a holocaust of unprecedented proportions.
But the catastrophe within the region would not be the only outcome. New research indicates that even a limited nuclear war in the region would rearrange our global climate far more quickly than global warming. Westberg draws attention to new studies modelling the effects of even a limited nuclear exchange involving approximately 100 Hiroshima-sized 15 kt bombs2 (by comparison it should be noted that the United States currently deploys warheads in the range 100 to 477 kt, that is, individual warheads equivalent in yield to a range of 6 to 32 Hiroshimas).The studies indicate that the soot from the fires produced would lead to a decrease in global temperature by 1.25 degrees Celsius for a period of 6-8 years.3 In Westberg’s view:
That is not global winter, but the nuclear darkness will cause a deeper drop in temperature than at any time during the last 1000 years. The temperature over the continents would decrease substantially more than the global average. A decrease in rainfall over the continents would also follow…The period of nuclear darkness will cause much greater decrease in grain production than 5% and it will continue for many years...hundreds of millions of people will die from hunger…To make matters even worse, such amounts of smoke injected into the stratosphere would cause a huge reduction in the Earth’s protective ozone.4
These, of course, are not the only consequences. Reactors might also be targeted, causing further mayhem and downwind radiation effects, superimposed on a smoking, radiating ruin left by nuclear next-use. Millions of refugees would flee the affected regions. The direct impacts, and the follow-on impacts on the global economy via ecological and food insecurity, could make the present global financial crisis pale by comparison. How the great powers, especially the nuclear weapons states respond to such a crisis, and in particular, whether nuclear weapons are used in response to nuclear first-use, could make or break the global non proliferation and disarmament regimes. There could be many unanticipated impacts on regional and global security relationships5, with subsequent nuclear breakout and geopolitical turbulence, including possible loss-of-control over fissile material or warheads in the chaos of nuclear war, and aftermath chain-reaction affects involving other potential proliferant states. The Korean nuclear proliferation issue is not just a regional threat but a global one that warrants priority consideration from the international community.
North Korea is currently believed to have sufficient plutonium stocks to produce up to 12 nuclear weapons.6 If and when it is successful in implementing a uranium enrichment program - having announced publicly that it is experimenting with enrichment technology on September 4, 20097 in a communication with the UN Security Council - it would likely acquire the capacity to produce over 100 such weapons. Although some may dismiss Korean Peninsula proliferation risks on the assumption that the North Korean regime will implode as a result of its own economic problems, food problems, and treatment of its own populace, there is little to suggest that this is imminent. If this were to happen, there would be the risk of nuclear weapons falling into hands of non-state actors in the disorder and chaos that would ensue. Even without the outbreak of nuclear hostilities on the Korean Peninsula in either the near or longer term, North Korea has every financial incentive under current economic sanctions and the needs of its military command economy to export its nuclear and missile technologies to other states. Indeed, it has already been doing this for some time. The Proliferation Security Initiative may conceivably prove effective in intercepting ship-borne nuclear exports, but it is by no means clear how air-transported materials could similarly be intercepted.
Given the high stakes involved, North Korean proliferation, if unaddressed and unreversed, has the potential to destabilize the whole East Asian region and beyond. Even if a nuclear exchange does not occur in the short term, the acute sense of nuclear threat that has been experienced for over five decades by North Koreans as a result of US strategic deterrence is now likely to be keenly felt by fellow Koreans south of the 38th Parallel and Japanese across the waters of the Sea of Japan. China, too, must surely feel itself to be at risk from North Korean nuclear weapons, or from escalation that might ensue from next-use in the Korean Peninsula resulting not only in the environmental consequences noted above, but in regime collapse and massive refugee flows. South Korea and Japan appear willing to rely on their respective bilateral security pacts with the United States to deter North Korean nuclear attack for the time being. However, should South Korea and/or Japan acquire nuclear weapons, the outcome would be destabilizing, especially if this resulted from rupture of their alliance relationships with the United States. Both have the technical capability to do so very rapidly. South Korea has previously engaged in nuclear weapons research but desisted after US pressure. Japan still proclaims its adherence to the three Non-Nuclear Principles although recent confirmation that the United States routinely transited nuclear weapons through Japan and retains the right of emergency reintroduction of nuclear weapons has tarnished Japan’s non-nuclear image. Moreover, it has large stockpiles of plutonium that could rapidly be used to produce nuclear warheads. Such responses, already advocated by conservative and nationalist groups within South Korea and Japan, could trigger a regional nuclear arms race involving the Koreas, Japan, Taiwan, and China, with incalculable wider consequences for Southeast Asia, South Asia and the whole Pacific and beyond. These developments would spell the demise of the current global non-proliferation regime as underpinned by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Failure to reverse the DPRK’s nuclear breakout is also an important factor driving a general malaise in the exercise of American power which one of the authors has characterized elsewhere as “the end of American nuclear hegemony.”8
The advent of the Obama Administration in Washington, and the new Hatoyama Government in Japan, both with declaratory policies of pursuing progress towards nuclear disarmament and placing greater emphasis on diplomatic approaches to regional issues, might open a new window of opportunity for addressing Korean and Northeast Asian nuclear and security dilemmas, including consideration of new approaches to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and the wider Northeast region (Japan, the two Koreas, Taiwan and Mongolia).
In the above context, this paper examines the applicability of nuclear weapon free zones to the Korean Peninsula. Such zones represent a form of state-based cooperation that aims to denuclearize a geographic area.9
We note at the outset that the logic of a NWFZ requires major policy shifts by all the parties. As one reviewer of this paper wrote:
The US needs to jettison extended deterrence and nuclear missions of the Pacific Command. South Korea and Japan need to accept extended non-nuclear deterrence and reject the nuclear option. North Korea needs to forego its only bargaining chip and minimum deterrent to US attack. And China, depending on how much of it is included in the zone, will likewise need to make exceptional sacrifices. Particularly important will be the domestic political obstacles to acceptance of a zone in place of weapons and nuclear protection—the bureaucratic, military service, and other institutional interests that are wedded to nukes.
Obviously, these are severe limiting conditions that unless overcome, would make it difficult to create a full-fledged NWFZ in Northeast Asia or even in the Korean Peninsula. However, we argue below that a zone delimited to only the Peninsula can avoid many of these limitations, and over time, the other obstacles can be worn down and eventually overcome.[The rest of the article can be found by following the link to the Asia-Pacific Journal]
Posted on: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - 09:18
SOURCE: Private Papers (website of Victor Davis Hanson) (11-12-09)
But the problem is that the commander-in-chief was clearly pained by the decision — sometimes fobbing off his dilemma on the prior administration, at other times trying to contextualize the war as a complex socio-legal problem rather than a struggle to force our enemy to accept our own political aims (i.e., a consensual government in Kabul that is inhospitable, rather than welcoming, to global terrorists).
And when a war leader visibly regrets the situation he has found himself in — rather than being determined to prevail in the struggle at hand — that hesitancy inevitably ripples through the ranks. Think of the British or French war effort between September 1939 and May 1940, or America in Vietnam between 1964 and 1969. Chamberlain was no Churchill, and LBJ, like it or not, was not a Nixon, at least when it came to trying to win in Vietnam.
In contrast, with the ascension of the "Tiger," Georges Clemenceau, as prime minister in 1917, his will to win ("la guerre jusqu'au bout") filtered throughout the French ranks and soon made an enormous difference in the trenches. Take away a win-at-all-costs Lincoln in the dark days of spring and summer 1864, and the Army of the Potomac, Grant or no Grant, would have lost its soul. During the Cold War, American forces, down to the level of private, were more enthused with a "tear down this wall" president than an earlier "free of that inordinate fear of communism" commander-in-chief.
So, yes, in the short term, troops will be sent. Two brilliant generals will have leeway. And we will have a year and a half at the new troop levels. But no nation can — or should try to — win a war when the heart of the man at the top is not in the struggle.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - 09:17
SOURCE: Tabsir.net (11-12-09)
As the season has arrived in which “Peace on Earth” fills the airwaves and resonates from church choirs, the recent choice of President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize becomes ironic as well as iconic. The icon is obvious, as no president since John F. Kennedy has elicited such fanfare at his entry into office. As the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, introduced President Obama, it was clear that in part the real choice was the man who pledged to reverse the isolationist and publicly entrenched private sectoring of George W. Bush. Had our previous president not been the bearer of two made-for-Hollywood wars in the guise of a nebulous “War on Terror,” Obama would have had to wait his turn. The irony is manifold. American dissatisfaction with the costly war in Iraq led to a political surge for the Democrats for a change; the man who pledged to end the war mongering is still saddled with the two wars he did not start. On the home front, the financial tsunami he inherited now tarnishes virtually every attempt to pull the economy out of its cross-the-boards harm from the combustable engine of Wall Street to the reckless drivers on Main Street.
The liberals and centrists who voted to give hope a chance have all too soon decided not to give it much of a chance. Those who actually prefer to call themselves liberals no doubt hoped that Obama was just politicking when he touted centrist positions to secure some of those Red State votes. But the man from Illinois, who kicked off his run with the symbolic capital of an earlier president-to-be from Illinois, is decidedly centrist, the mad ravings of vanity pouting Glenn Beck and publicity whoring Sarah Palin notwithstanding. If you want to probe the postmodern meaning of irony, just listen to what President Obama said about war in being honored as a man of peace:
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
The irony is not that Obama has changed his political philosophy, but that many of those who elected him want him to be something else. It is easy to forget that while individual may choose to turn the other cheek, even at the risk of being killed, leaders of nations must look at danger full face. That is what Abe Lincoln did when the civil war threatened to split our country less than a century into its history. Had Lincoln not, men and women with the color of Obama’s skin might still be picking cotton down south. No one should doubt Obama’s resolve to change the way the United States interacts with the rest of the world. The “my-way-or-the-low-way” of GWB (and I do not mean the levels of the George Washington Bridge in New York) has been replaced by eloquence with substance and superseded with a moral stance that deserves the kind of recognition the Nobel Committee provided.
In today’s New York Times editorial, which praises the change in tone, there is an interesting line worth thinking about:
We’ll leave it to the philosophers to debate what is and what is not a just war. But we agree that this war is a very difficult but necessary one.
While I enjoy reading philosophy from all periods (well perhaps mostly from the past as some of the more recent pondering knocks me on my Derridaire with its linguistic twists), I think that we should not leave this question to the philosophers. If “they” had a practical solution, then philosophers would be kings. Look at the surviving kings and read about the ancient ones and that notion will quickly be extinguished. War is a life and death issue that often gets reduced to lofty moral debates without replacing the life blood spilled. Our current wars are political forays that stick to our skin like tar. The more you try to rub it off, the more it sticks.
In a decision that I imagine was one of the most difficult he will make as president, a man who wanted to bring people together had little choice but to add fuel to an existing fire. Some 30,000 additional U.S. military, plus a much smaller number of men and women from allies, will soon be arriving in Afghanistan. Is this a “just” war? It is certainly not just a war, but part of a perceived axis of evil that no longer singles out foreign rulers but rather the loud mouth terror mongers who slip in and out of remote enclaves and bomb their way into the news. The original intent of bringing to justice the terrorists who masterminded the 9/11 attack has mushroomed into an “us vs. them” witch hunt that has only increased rather than mitigated threats of terrorism. To be sure, the chance of major terrorist attacks in the United States have been greatly diminished, but Iraq today is far less stable and safe for its citizens than it was under the dictator Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan remains as corrupt and uncontrollable as it was during the spate of regimes that led to the Soviet occupation and anarchic aftermath.
The problem is that the presence of American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan is thought to be patriotically “just” for us because our citizens are not being bombed at home. Yet, at the same time it is “unjust” in that those soldiers who are dying tend to be from the more marginalized classes in our society. Just as born-again hawks George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did not serve in Vietnam, the sacrifice in these current foreign wars is unequal and morally unjust. For the people of Iraq and Afghanistan it might best be said that the horrors of war fall on the just as well as the unjust. As President Obama noted in his speech, most of the victims of our current wars and the violence associated with our actions are civilians. When members of your family are blown to pieces just for buying vegetables in a market or praying in a mosque or standing in line to get a job, then none of these conflicts can “just” be a war. One hardly needs a philosopher to tell you that. One does need a conscience, and that is precisely what President Obama calls for in his closing remarks:
Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he’s outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school — because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child’s dreams.
Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that’s the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Daniel Martin Varisco
Posted on: Friday, December 11, 2009 - 15:39