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Posts Tagged ‘military

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.

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Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Tax Day!

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I know I’m a day late for tax day, but I wanted to re-post the War Resisters League’s pie-chart on where these tax dollars are being spent. You can download a detailed PDF here.

I hope everyone had a happy filing.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 11:36 pm

How Not to End the War in Afghanistan

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A rather disappointing article in The New York Review of Books by British Labour politician David Miliband this week entitled “How to End the War in Afghanistan” prominently displays all the hang-ups our ‘coalition forces’ suffer when contemplating that quagmire of a war. It would be interesting to discuss this article because it contains within it the genealogy of orientalist Western thought toward that unfortunate desert; from British gamesmanship during the 19th century to hedge against Russia to the 21st century Anglo-American occupation of the same desert, ostensibly to hedge against Iran and China. Astoundingly, it seems we have learned nothing of imperialism, of cultural imposition and brute coercion in the intervening centuries. Then, as now, we marched in and expected the Afghans to listen to us because, after all, it was in their best interest to do so. Then, as now, we expressed our bewilderment that they could not grasp so easy a concept. And then (as now) we wrung our hands and lamented that we wish there were another way, but we must, unfortunately, continue our occupation until we achieve a “stable” “friendly” “democracy” in that far-off, warlord-plagued desert.

For an article with such a direct title, Mr Milibrand chooses a roundabout method of answering his implied question. After all, “How to End the War in Afghanistan” could be summed up in about a paragraph: NATO-led coalition forces should immediately cease all combat operations, issue an apology to the Afghan people for using them as pawns in macabre game of geopolitical chess, withdraw all troops and war material, and extend some manner of reparations for the thirty years of horrific destruction the US and Britain collectively wrought upon their land.

From the first sentence of his article, we can see Mr. Milibrand rejects that method of “ending the war”. He repeats, with no sense of irony, the prevailing narrative which brought us into the war in the first place, a narrative which has been shown to be false, and which goes directly against the stated aim of Milibrand’s article (‘ending the war’). In his opening paragraph below, I have bolded the most dubious claims:

In the 1990s that country’s Taliban government provided a safe haven and support for al-Qaeda. In return Osama bin Laden provided the Taliban with money and fighters. Afghanistan became the incubator for the September 11 attacks. The international intervention in response to those attacks had widespread support around the world. But we never meant for our militaries to be there forever. Eight years later, with al-Qaeda pushed into Pakistan, it is not enough to explain to people why the war started. We need to set out how it will be ended—how to preserve what has been achieved and protect South Asia from a contagion that would affect us all.

Now, it is clear that one would not begin an article with such fantastic mendacity if one were serious about “ending the war”. As Milibrand well knows, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan; the US provided far more dollars to the Taliban than Osama Bin Laden (and continues to do so); the 2001 invasion saw massive, worldwide protests that were the largest yet seen (but were surpassed two years later against the Iraq War); and the so-called “contagion” that would “affect us all” has neither been defined nor genuinely demonstrated.

And so on. The article continues to detail the pernicious “insurgent” problem that threatens the “stability” of Hamid Karzai’s US-imposed dictatorship, the opium which continues to be a “major problem” for Afghanistan (even though the premier opium kingpin in Afghanistan is on the CIA’s payroll), and the problems of “corruption” (even though the US-supported Karzai regime is widely considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world.)

The mendacity displayed here is astonishing, but it is the natural result of the inherent contradictions in Mr Miliband’s position. On one hand, like all politicians seeking election, he wants this unpopular war to “end”. On the other hand, like all geopolitical power players, he wants a US-friendly regime in Afghanistan, one which will act precisely as we wish it to act and will acquiesce to the permanent stationing of US troops, should China, Pakistan or Iran begin to act uppity. Now, obviously, imposing an illegitimate, unelected government like that of Mr Karzai would tend to make a few of his citizens upset, and just as obviously, the US would have to use force, perhaps indefinite force, to defend its client. Hence the contradiction. “Ending the War” implies letting go of our client state in Afghanistan, something which Mr Miliband and our US policy planners are evidently unwilling to do.

Hence the vague threats of “contagion”, the constant apology for the Karzai dictatorship (He has, after all, “promised to tackle corruption”), the rancid bellicosity toward “extremists” (“They must be beaten back”, says Miliband, which sounds pretty “extreme” to me), etc.

The most astounding line in the whole essay comes when Mr Miliband says: “The idea of anyone reaching out to political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult.” The lack of self-awareness in such a pronouncement is almost too much to be believed. Let us imagine that Britain had been invaded by Germany in 1940, as was then thought to be a serious possibility. The British had been preparing for guerrilla warfare to repel the Nazis, but, under Milibrand’s logic, any British resistance would have been illegitimate! After all, the German general could say, “The idea of reaching out to those who would attack our troops is difficult.” How dare those British attack good German soldiers? And likewise, how dare those dastardly Afghans attack our stalwart American forces, who only invaded their country and installed a corrupt and unpopular dictator in order to bring them Peace™ and Democracy™ !

So, in the end, despite a confused list of policy suggestions that happen not to make a lick of sense (how the hell does he expect to “eradicate corruption” while supporting stolen elections and massive payments to drug kingpins?!), Mr Miliband’s essay argues cogently in favor of the Afghan war. If there is one thing we are meant to take away from this essay, it is that these desert wogs simply have no idea how to govern themselves and need constant oversight from their best friends in the United States and Britain. Doing so, of course, requires a long-term military presence (something which Mr Miliband curiously appears to support). He ought to have titled it “How not to End the War in Afghanistan”.

Written by pavanvan

April 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Military Dictatorships: Friendly and Not-So

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The Times’ front page today: ‘Clinton Fears Iran Is Headed For Military Dictatorship

An excerpt:

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran’s political, military, and economic establishment.

“That is how we see it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting of students at the Doha campus of Carnegie Mellon University. “We see that the government in Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.”

A brief list of US-sponsored military dictators:

Gen. Augusto Pinochet – Chile, 1974-1990

Ferdinand Marcos – Philippines, 1965-1986

Gen. Fulgenco Batistia – Cuba, 1933-1944, 1952-1959

Marshall Castillo Branco – Brazil, 1964-1967

Gen. Medici – Brazil, 1969-1974

Gen. Geisel – Brazil, 1974-1979

Gen. Figueiredo – Brazil, 1979-1985

Gen. Mobutu Sese-Seko – The Congo, 1965-1997 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Sani Abacha – Nigeria, 1993-1998

Gen. Redondo – Argentina, 1976-1981 (guilty of genocide)

Col. Hugo Banzer – Bolivia, 1971-1978

Bolivian Military Junta – Bolivia, 1978-1989

Gen. Maximilliano Martinez – El Salvador, 1931-1944

Alfredo Christiani – El Salvador, 1980-1994 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Francois Duvalier – Haiti, 1957-1971

Gen. Jean-Claude Duvalier – Haiti, 1971-1986

Gen. Manuel Noriega – Panama, 1983-1989

Gen. Suharto – Indonesia, 1967-1998 (guilty of genocide)

Turgut Ozal – Turkey, 1983-1993

Gen. Yahya Khan – Pakistan, 1969-1971 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Muhammad Zia – Pakistan, 1976-1988

Gen. Musharraf – Pakistan, 1999-2008

Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov – Turkey, 1990-2006

Gen. Somoza Senior – Nicaragua, 1957-1967

Gen. Somoza Junior and subsequent Junta – Nicaragua, 1967-1980 (guilty of genocide)

Alfredo Stroessner – Paraguay, 1954-1988

Gen. Efrain Rios Montt – Guatemala, 1982-1983 (guilty of genocide)

I wonder if The Times has a sense of irony. Or shame. What they meant to write in their headline, obviously, is that Secretary Clinton fears Iran might be headed for an unfriendly military dictatorship. Otherwise, I fail to see her problem with the concept.

Trillions to Burn?

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(c/o Kevin Drum)

The Project for Defense Alternatives has just put up its 2011 guide to Pentagon spending, entitled Trillions to Burn – complete with nine handy charts which excruciatingly detail the United States’ military dominance of the world. We will be hearing a lot in the coming months about the US budget deficit – how this or that proposal will be “unfeasible” because of its budgetary implications, or how we must reduce social spending (via education, social security, medicare, etc.) in order to show “fiscal responsibility”. Just know that all of those statements are hogwash and bullshit (or hogshit, if you like).

In reality, the single biggest contributor to the United States budget deficit is so-called “defense spending”. We spend upwards of $5000 per second in Iraq (source) and spend a similar amount per unit time in Afghanistan. This spending does nothing for anybody. It does not make us “more safe”, it does not help these impoverished people “achieve democracy”, and it certainly hasn’t made oil any cheaper. The only thing – and I do mean the only thing – it does is transfer the nation’s wealth from the taxpayer to a select group of war profiteers.

That’s it. That’s all our “defense spending” does. The next time you hear some “Republican” or “Democrat” spout off about how we need to spend this money in order to “defeat our enemies”, check to see who their campaign contributors are (via OpenSecrets), and ask yourself if these people would still be our “enemies” if we weren’t spending the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP every year attempting to bomb them out of their homes. Remember the Fort Hood shooter, who specifically stated that his motivation was outrage over US massacres of Iraqi and Afghan civilians? Or the so-called “shoe bomber” who similarly claimed he was compelled to attack the US because of its ongoing support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza?  (Aid to Israel = “Defense spending”, in the eyes of our budget office). Osama bin Laden himself, assuming he was responsible for 9/11, repeatedly cited the US occupation of Saudi Arabia and its continued ‘aid’ to Israel as his primary beefs with the United States.

It is clear that the gargantuan sums of money we allocate for ‘defense’ have precisely the opposite of their intended effect. That we should spend our time squabbling over whether or not health care reform should “add to the deficit” demonstrates just how far removed from reality our discourse has become. Anyone who claims to worry about the deficit yet still thinks we need to prosecute our foreign adventures is either an idiot or in the pay of our ‘defense contractors’. Either way, we should all benefit from their swift and timely death.

Written by pavanvan

February 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Pentagon Officially Endorses Biblical Jihad

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A few days ago the story broke that US soldiers in Afghanistan use gun-sights with biblical verses inscribed on them. Naturally this caused some discomfort among our “enemies”, who did not enjoy being killed in the name of Jesus. But this was just an oversight, right?

Not quite. ABC reported that Trijcon, a major arms supplier to the US Army and Marines, had been inscribing the verses on its product – to give our soldiers that fightin’ edge, one assumes – since at least 2005. This has been going on for years. But now that they’re aware, I’m sure the Pentagon denounces this, right? I mean how would it look, sending our soldiers to fight with Jesus-branded weaponry?

Well, the Raw Story reported today that the Pentagon is A-OK with Jesus on the weapons, likening it to the phrase “In God we Trust” on money.

“This situation is not unlike the situation with US currency,” Maj. Redfield said. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used.”

How do biblical verses meet the “combat needs” of our soldiers? Oh, he didn’t say.

And also:

“Well if that were true, then we would not be allowed to display the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, because of its explicit reference to a creator,” Sasser said.

Yeah, ’cause it’s the same thing. Do you think this might have something to do with the belief among “terrorists” that America is engaging in a crusade against Islam?

In fact, Bush once specifically told Jacques Chirac that God wanted to “erase” his enemies “before a new age begins”, quoting an old testament prophecy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.

Baffling indeed. It looks like we’ll be continuing this misbegotten murder rampage for the time being, but can we at least dispense with all this rhetoric against “islamofascism” and these crazy, irrational, religious Muslims? Someone is engaging in a holy war here, but I’m not sure it’s them.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

An Unspoken Surge

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Curiously missing from Obama’s speech last week, save for some vague references to our “success” in Afghanistan being “inextricably linked to Pakistan”, was the increase in “drone” attacks that shall be visited upon that unfortunate desert.

Obama thinks most of “Al Qaeda” (or perhaps “The Taliban”) is hiding out in Pakistan. But Obama cannot “go in and get ‘im” like his cowboy predecessor because of the small issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty. So instead he pummels them with flying death machines (euphemistically, “drones”), indiscriminately bombing villages and murdering, on average, 10 civilians per strike.  So long as he can claim that some “terror leaders” were killed (no need to specify whom – nobody’s checking anyway), the civilian deaths can conveiently fall under that humanitarian heading of “collateral damage”.

The Pakistani government officially speaks out against flying death machines attacking its citizens, but privately they have come to an agreement with the US military that so long as the dollars keep flowing, they won’t register any serious complaints. After all, the US just tripled aid to Pakistan, mainly to keep the Pakistani government quiet while the US butchers its citizens.

What a fantastic war.

Written by pavanvan

December 6, 2009 at 2:35 pm