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Posts Tagged ‘glenn greenwald

Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Russian Journalists Pay For Their Craft in Blood

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Clifford J. Levy, The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, has provided us excellent reporting over the years, and he really hit it out of the park today with an in-depth look at the violence and lawlessness muckraking reporters in Russia must contend with. We had heard for some time that Russia was a dangerous place in which to practice journalism (Reporters Without Borders just topped their list of worst media predators with Russia and China), and of course we knew the sad case of Anna Politkovskaya, a courageous reporter whom the Putin regime murdered in 2006 for her reports on Chechnya, but Mr. Levy’s report lays bare the pervasion of violence against reporters in Russia:

“Last spring, I called for the resignation of the city’s leadership,” Mr. Beketov said in one of his final editorials. “A few days later, my automobile was blown up. What is next for me?”

Not long after, he was savagely beaten outside his home and left to bleed in the snow. His fingers were bashed, and three later had to be amputated, as if his assailants had sought to make sure that he would never write another word. He lost a leg. Now 52, he is in a wheelchair, his brain so damaged that he cannot utter a simple sentence.

And:

To the north on the M-10 highway from Khimki is a city called Solnechnogorsk, where a newspaper, Solnechnogorsk Forum, was publishing exposés about how local politicians were seeking to do away with elections to maintain power.

The newspaper’s editor, Yuri Grachev, is 73. In February 2009, several men assaulted him as he left his home, putting him in intensive care for a month with a severe concussion, a broken nose and other wounds.

Police officials first said he was drunk and fell down. Then they said he had been the victim of a random robbery, though all that was taken was a folder with material for the newspaper’s next issue. The muggers have not been found, and politicians from the governing party, United Russia, said the attack had nothing to do with Mr. Grachev’s work.

These are not isolated instances, and they serve as a grim reminder of the relative liberty journalists enjoy in America. Our media may be choked with propaganda, our reporters systemically lied to, our independent media ruthlessly crowded out of existence by the news-manufacturing combines, but to my knowledge, journalists in America, even decidedly inconvenient ones such as Glenn Greenwald or Naomi Klein, do not have to contend with car bombs and assassination attempts. This is something which I think we take for granted, and which I only think we will miss, if we do at all, once it has been taken away from us.

Written by pavanvan

May 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Flip-Flops and Assassinations

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Is anyone even remotely surprised that President Obama reserves the right to assassinate US citizens for any reason (or no reason at all)? Should you be so unfortunate as to incur Mr. Obama’s displeasure, you may wake up one morning to find yourself on the business end of an M-16 assault rifle and a grimly determined marine dispatched to “take out the threat” (i.e. you). You need not be on a battlefield  or even have committed any crime – Mr. Obama merely has to label you an “enemy combatant”. You can gain this unfortunate moniker for such acts as speaking out against the American occupation of your country, consorting with “unknown elements”, or, indeed, no reason at all.

It is clear, as Mr. Greenwald repeatedly points out, that such extra-judicial presidential murders are unconstitutional and a dangerous new investment of power into the Executive Branch. One recalls the massive powers President Bush gave himself as a “war president” to craft legislation (via “signing statements), unilaterally declare war, imprison “enemy combatants” without trial or habeas corpus, interrogate by torture, and send CIA hit squads all around the globe. One wonders, however, if even Mr. Bush would have assumed the right to kill American citizens wherever, whenever, and however he wished.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama naturally spoke out against the vast powers accumulated under the Bush Administration. Mr. Bush was terribly unpopular, after all, and Mr. Obama had to distance himself from him as best he could. Let’s take a look at what he said then:

Regarding warrantless wiretapping and Telecom immunity:

1/28/2008, Campaign statement: “I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill. Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.”

Mr. Obama voted for the FISA bill (which he “strongly opposed”), only six months later.

Regarding separation of powers:

10/2/2007, Speech at DePaul University: “We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely. But we’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power. The Constitution is treated like a nuisance. Matters of war and peace are used as political tools to bludgeon the other side.”

We continue to pay that “heavy price”, as Mr. Obama has taken for himself powers which even Mr. Bush would have blushed to demand.

Regarding indefinite detention:

Q: Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

A: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

Boston Globe Questionaire, December, 2007

Well, apparently he didn’t like that answer, because almost immediately after his inaguaration, he redacted it. Now, not only does he think the Constitution allows detention without charges, Mr. Obama has come to believe that under the Constitution, the President has the power to impose arbitary death sentances upon any of his subjects who dare incur his wrath.

Here is the most tragic part:

2/26/2008, Speech in Cleveland: “It’s time to give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools they need to track down and take out terrorists, while ensuring that their actions are subject to vigorous oversight that protects our freedom. So let me be perfectly clear: I have taught the Constitution, I understand the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution when I am President of the United States.”

You see, once upon a time, before being seduced by the Dark Side, Mr. Obama was an upstanding constitutional lawyer, and even taught classes on the subject. In fact, that was a major appeal to his candidacy – since he was a constitutional lawyer by profession he would surely have more respect for that document than his predecessor Mr. Bush, who likely had never once read it. I have no idea what happened to Mr. Obama between 2/26/2008 and his inauguration, but something has surely changed his mind on these issues.

Auditing the Fed

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The policy blogs are abuzz with the recent news that the Federal Reserve System might finally undergo an audit. The bill, sponsored by Ron Paul and endorsed by nearly everyone else, passed with a lopsided 43-26 victory in the House and would be the first comprehensive inquiry into what the Fed does with the trillions of dollars it commands. Glenn Greenwald has the best dissection of what went down.

Some highlights:

Our leading media outlets are capable of understanding political debates only by stuffing them into melodramatic, trite and often distracting “right v. left” storylines.  While some debates fit comfortably into that framework, many do not.  Anger over the Wall Street bailouts, the control by the banking industry of Congress, and the impenetrable secrecy with which the Fed conducts itself resonates across the political spectrum, as the truly bipartisan and trans-ideological vote yesterday reflects.  Populist anger over elite-favoring economic policies has long been brewing on both the Right and Left (and in between), but neither political party can capitalize on it because they’re both dependent upon and subservient to the same elite interests which benefit from those policies.

Beyond the specifics, a genuine audit of the Fed would be a major blow to the way Washington typically works.  The Fed is one of those permanent power centers in this country that exert great power with very little accountability and almost no transparency (like much of the intelligence and defense community).  The power they exert has exploded within the last year as a result of the financial crisis, yet they continue to operate in a completely opaque manner and with virtually no limits.  Its officials have been trained to view their unfettered power as an innate entitlement, and they express contempt for any efforts to limit or even monitor what they do.

Written by pavanvan

November 20, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Iran and the Dollar

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iran-nuclear-facility

America and Iran are now engaging in high-level talks with the reported aim of inducing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. This development comes at a point of extra ammunition for US negotiators, having just revealed their knowledge of a secret enrichment facility in Qom.

But wait a minute. The US Government admits it has known about the Qom facility for at least three years. Why should they choose this particular moment to show their hand? Given that these high-level meetings occur literally on the heels of their Qom revelation, a sort of bargain using the facility as leverage isn’t difficult to imagine. But what do we want from the Iranians?

Administration officials claim the main goal of these talks is to persuade Iran to give up its claims to a bomb, but recent events would suggest that is only a secondary objective. Primarily, our policy planners wish to ensure Iran’s cooperation with the dollar.

Last week, mere days before the US government made public the nuclear facility in Qom, Iran began shifting its foreign currency reserves from the Dollar to the Euro. This comes well after Iran created its own oil exchange, The Iran Oil Bourse, and began trading a majority of its oil in Euros or Yen. It cannot be a coincidence that the US decided to reveal its knowledge of a secret facility and ramp up its vilification campaign immediately after Iran undertook this decision.

Much has been made of the similarities between our current stance toward Iran and our statements regarding Iraq immediately before we invaded (the hysteria over “weapons of mass destruction”, the demonization of their leaders,the open threats, etc.), but to those we can add one more example: Both countries threatened to liquidate their dollar holdings shortly before the melodrama over their “weapons programs” materialized. On October 4, 2000, on the eve of President Bush’s election, Iraq decided to begin selling its oil in Euros, the only OPEC country at the time who dared to do so. The quickening drumbeat in favor of war in Iraq began soon after.

Written by pavanvan

October 1, 2009 at 10:36 pm