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Military Industrial Complex
By John Grant
To: Jofi Joseph, Washington DC
Dear Mr Joseph:
I read of your firing as a national security adviser in the White House thanks to your “snarky” tweeting about various White House officials above you in the pecking order.
The abiding defect of U.S. foreign policy? It’s isolationism, my friend. Purporting to steer clear of war, isolationism fosters it. Isolationism impedes the spread of democracy. It inhibits trade and therefore prosperity. It allows evildoers to get away with murder. Isolationists prevent the United States from accomplishing its providentially assigned global mission. Wean the American people from their persistent inclination to look inward and who knows what wonders our leaders will accomplish.
The United States has been at war for well over a decade now, with U.S. attacks and excursions in distant lands having become as commonplace as floods and forest fires. Yet during the recent debate over Syria, the absence of popular enthusiasm for opening up another active front evoked expressions of concern in Washington that Americans were once more turning their backs on the world.
As he was proclaiming the imperative of punishing the government of Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry also chided skeptical members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is not the time for armchair isolationism.” Commentators keen to have a go at the Syrian autocrat wasted little time in expanding on Kerry’s theme.
Reflecting on “where isolationism leads,” Jennifer Rubin, the reliably bellicose Washington Post columnist, was quick to chime in, denouncing those hesitant to initiate another war as “infantile.” American isolationists, she insisted, were giving a green light to aggression. Any nation that counted on the United States for protection had now become a “sitting duck,” with “Eastern Europe [and] neighbors of Venezuela and Israel” among those left exposed and vulnerable. News reports of Venezuelan troop movements threatening Brazil, Colombia, or Guyana were notably absent from the Post or any other media outlet, but no matter -- you get the idea.
Military analyst Frederick Kagan was equally troubled. Also writing in the Post, he worried that “the isolationist narrative is rapidly becoming dominant.” His preferred narrative emphasized the need for ever greater military exertions, with Syria just the place to launch a new campaign. For Bret Stephens, a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, the problem was the Republican Party. Where had the hawks gone? The Syria debate, he lamented, was “exposing the isolationist worm eating its way through the GOP apple.”
The Journal’s op-ed page also gave the redoubtable Norman Podhoretz, not only still alive but vigorously kicking, a chance to vent. Unmasking President Obama as “a left-wing radical” intent on “reduc[ing] the country’s power and influence,” the unrepentant neoconservative accused the president of exploiting the “war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment... on the left and right” to bring about “a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.”
Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, “got” Osama bin Laden, toppled one Arab dictator in Libya, and bashed and bombed targets in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Even so, it turns out he is actually part of the isolationist conspiracy to destroy America!
Over at the New York Times, similar concerns, even if less hysterically expressed, prevailed. According to Times columnist Roger Cohen, President Obama’s reluctance to pull the trigger showed that he had “deferred to a growing isolationism.” Bill Keller concurred. “America is again in a deep isolationist mood.” In a column entitled, “Our New Isolationism,” he decried “the fears and defeatist slogans of knee-jerk isolationism” that were impeding military action. (For Keller, the proper antidote to isolationism is amnesia. As he put it, “Getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”)
For his part, Times staff writer Sam Tanenhaus contributed a bizarre two-minute exercise in video agitprop -- complete with faked scenes of the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor -- that slapped the isolationist label on anyone opposing entry into any war whatsoever, or tiring of a war gone awry, or proposing that America go it alone.
When the “New Isolationism” Was New
Most of this, of course, qualifies as overheated malarkey. As a characterization of U.S. policy at any time in memory, isolationism is a fiction. Never really a tendency, it qualifies at most as a moment, referring to that period in the 1930s when large numbers of Americans balked at the prospect of entering another European war, the previous one having fallen well short of its “War To End All Wars” advance billing.
In fact, from the day of its founding down to the present, the United States has never turned its back on the world. Isolationism owes its storied history to its value as a rhetorical device, deployed to discredit anyone opposing an action or commitment (usually involving military forces) that others happen to favor. If I, a grandson of Lithuanian immigrants, favor deploying U.S. forces to Lithuania to keep that NATO ally out of Vladimir Putin’s clutches and you oppose that proposition, then you, sir or madam, are an “isolationist.” Presumably, Jennifer Rubin will see things my way and lend her support to shoring up Lithuania’s vulnerable frontiers.
For this very reason, the term isolationism is not likely to disappear from American political discourse anytime soon. It’s too useful. Indeed, employ this verbal cudgel to castigate your opponents and your chances of gaining entrée to the nation’s most prestigious publications improve appreciably. Warn about the revival of isolationism and your prospects of making the grade as a pundit or candidate for high office suddenly brighten. This is the great thing about using isolationists as punching bags: it makes actual thought unnecessary. All that’s required to posture as a font of wisdom is the brainless recycling of clichés, half-truths, and bromides.
No publication is more likely to welcome those clichés, half-truths, and bromides than the New York Times. There, isolationism always looms remarkably large and is just around the corner.
In July 1942, the New York Times Magazine opened its pages to Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who sounded the alarm about the looming threat of what he styled a “new isolationism.” This was in the midst of World War II, mind you.
After the previous world war, the vice president wrote, the United States had turned inward. As summer follows spring, “the choice led up to this present war.” Repeat the error, Wallace warned, and “the price will be more terrible and will be paid much sooner.” The world was changing and it was long past time for Americans to get with the program. “The airplane, the radio, and modern technology have bound the planet so closely together that what happens anywhere on the planet has a direct effect everywhere else.” In a world that had “suddenly become so small,” he continued, “we cannot afford to resume the role of hermit.”
The implications for policy were self-evident:
“This time, then, we have only one real choice. We must play a responsible part in the world -- leading the way in world progress, fostering a healthy world trade, helping to protect the world’s peace.”
One month later, it was Archibald MacLeish’s turn. On August 16, 1942, the Times magazine published a long essay of his under the title of -- wouldn’t you know it -- “The New Isolationism.” For readers in need of coaching, Times editors inserted this seal of approval before the text: “There is great pertinence in the following article.”
A well-known poet, playwright, and literary gadfly, MacLeish was at the time serving as Librarian of Congress. From this bully pulpit, he offered the reassuring news that “isolationism in America is dead.” Unfortunately, like zombies, “old isolationists never really die: they merely dig in their toes in a new position. And the new position, whatever name is given it, is isolation still.”
Fortunately, the American people were having none of it. They had “recaptured the current of history and they propose to move with it; they don’t mean to be denied.” MacLeish’s fellow citizens knew what he knew: “that there is a stirring in our world…, a forward thrusting and overflowing human hope of the human will which must be given a channel or it will dig a channel itself.” In effect, MacLeish was daring the isolationists, in whatever guise, to stand in the way of this forward thrusting and overflowing hopefulness. Presumably, they would either drown or be crushed.
The end of World War II found the United States donning the mantle of global leadership, much as Wallace, MacLeish, and the Times had counseled. World peace did not ensue. Instead, a host of problems continued to afflict the planet, with isolationists time and again fingered as the culprits impeding their solution.
The Gift That Never Stops Giving
In June 1948, with a notable absence of creativity in drafting headlines, the Times once again found evidence of “the new isolationism.” In an unsigned editorial, the paper charged that an American penchant for hermit-like behavior was “asserting itself again in a manner that is both distressing and baffling.” With the Cold War fully joined and U.S. forces occupying Germany, Japan, and other countries, the Times worried that some Republicans in Congress appeared reluctant to fund the Marshall Plan.
From their offices in Manhattan, members of the Times editorial board detected in some quarters “a homesickness for the old days.” It was incumbent upon Americans to understand that “the time is past when we could protect ourselves easily behind our barriers behind the seas.” History was summoning the United States to lead the world: “The very success of our democracy has now imposed duties upon us which we must fulfill if that democracy is to survive.” Those entertaining contrary views, the Times huffed, “do not speak for the American people.”
That very month, Josef Stalin announced that the Soviet Union was blockading Berlin. The U.S. responded not by heading for the exits but by initiating a dramatic airlift. Oh, and Congress fully funded the Marshall Plan.
Barely a year later, in August 1949, with Stalin having just lifted the Berlin Blockade, Times columnist Arthur Krock discerned another urge to disengage. In a piece called “Chickens Usually Come Home,” he cited congressional reservations about the recently promulgated Truman Doctrine as evidence of, yes, a “new isolationism.” As it happened, Congress duly appropriated the money President Truman was requesting to support Greece and Turkey against the threat of communism -- as it would support similar requests to throw arms and money at other trouble spots like French Indochina.
Even so, in November of that year, the Times magazine published yet another warning about “the challenge of a new isolationism.” The author was Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, then positioning himself for a White House run. Like many another would-be candidate before and since, Stevenson took the preliminary step of signaling his opposition to the I-word.
World War II, he wrote, had “not only destroyed fascism abroad, but a lot of isolationist notions here at home.” War and technological advance had “buried the whole ostrich of isolation.” At least it should have. Unfortunately, some Republicans hadn’t gotten the word. They were “internationally minded in principle but not in practice.” Stevenson feared that when the chips were down such head-in-the-sand inclinations might come roaring back. This he was determined to resist. “The eagle, not the ostrich,” he proclaimed, “is our national emblem.”
In August 1957, the Times magazine was at it once again, opening its pages to another Illinois Democrat, Senator Paul Douglas, for an essay familiarly entitled “A New Isolationism -- Ripples or Tide?” Douglas claimed that “a new tide of isolationism is rising in the country.” U.S. forces remained in Germany and Japan, along with Korea, where they had recently fought a major war. Even so, the senator worried that “the internationalists are tiring rapidly now.”
Americans needed to fortify themselves by heeding the message of the Gospels: “Let the spirit of the Galilean enter our worldly and power-obsessed hearts.” In other words, the senator’s prescription for American statecraft was an early version of What Would Jesus Do? Was Jesus Christ an advocate of American global leadership? Senator Douglas apparently thought so.
Then came Vietnam. By May 1970, even Times-men were showing a little of that fatigue. That month, star columnist James Reston pointed (yet again) to the “new isolationism.” Yet in contrast to the paper’s scribblings on the subject over the previous three decades, Reston didn’t decry it as entirely irrational. The war had proven to be a bummer and “the longer it goes on,” he wrote, “the harder it will be to get public support for American intervention.” Washington, in other words, needed to end its misguided war if it had any hopes of repositioning itself to start the next one.
A Concept Growing Long in the Tooth
By 1980, the Times showed signs of recovering from its brief Vietnam funk. In a review of Norman Podhoretz’s The Present Danger, for example, the noted critic Anatole Broyard extolled the author’s argument as “dispassionate,” “temperate,” and “almost commonsensical.”
The actual text was none of those things. What the pugnacious Podhoretz called -- get ready for it -- “the new isolationism” was, in his words, “hard to distinguish from simple anti-Americanism.” Isolationists -- anyone who had opposed the Vietnam War on whatever grounds -- believed that the United States was “a force for evil, a menace, a terror.” Podhoretz detected a “psychological connection” between “anti-Americanism, isolationism, and the tendency to explain away or even apologize for anything the Soviet Union does, no matter how menacing.” It wasn’t bad enough that isolationists hated their country, they were, it seems, commie symps to boot.
Fast forward a decade, and -- less than three months after U.S. troops invaded Panama -- Times columnist Flora Lewis sensed a resurgence of you-know-what. In a February 1990 column, she described “a convergence of right and left” with both sides “arguing with increasing intensity that it’s time for the U.S. to get off the world.” Right-wingers saw that world as too nasty to save; left-wingers, the United States as too nasty to save it. “Both,” she concluded (of course), were “moving toward a new isolationism.”
Five months later, Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait. Instead of getting off the world, President George H.W. Bush deployed U.S. combat forces to defend Saudi Arabia. For Joshua Muravchik, however, merely defending that oil-rich kingdom wasn’t nearly good enough. Indeed, here was a prime example of the “New Isolationism, Same Old Mistake,” as his Times op-ed was entitled.
The mistake was to flinch from instantly ejecting Saddam’s forces. Although opponents of a war against Iraq did not “see themselves as isolationists, but as realists,” he considered this a distinction without a difference. Muravchik, who made his living churning out foreign policy analysis for various Washington think tanks, favored “the principle of investing America’s power in the effort to fashion an environment congenial to our long-term safety.” War, he firmly believed, offered the means to fashion that congenial environment. Should America fail to act, he warned, “our abdication will encourage such threats to grow.”
Of course, the United States did act and the threats grew anyway. In and around the Middle East, the environment continued to be thoroughly uncongenial. Still, in Times-world, the American penchant for doing too little rather than too much remained the eternal problem, eternally “new.” An op-ed by up-and-coming journalist James Traub appearing in the Times in December 1991, just months after a half-million U.S. troops had liberated Kuwait, was typical. Assessing the contemporary political scene, Traub detected “a new wave of isolationism gathering force.” Traub was undoubtedly establishing his bona fides. (Soon after, he landed a job working for the paper.)
This time, according to Traub, the problem was the Democrats. No longer “the party of Wilson or of John F. Kennedy,” Democrats, he lamented, “aspire[d] to be the party of middle-class frustrations -- and if that entails turning your back on the world, so be it.” The following year Democrats nominated as their presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who insisted that he would never under any circumstances turn his back on the world. Even so, no sooner did Clinton win than Times columnist Leslie Gelb was predicting that the new president would “fall into the trap of isolationism and policy passivity.”
Get Me Rewrite!
Arthur Schlesinger defined the problem in broader terms. The famous historian and Democratic Party insider had weighed in early on the matter with a much-noted essay that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1952. He called it – you guessed it -- “The New Isolationism.”
In June 1994, more than 40 years later, with the Cold War now finally won, Schlesinger was back for more with a Times op-ed that sounded the usual alarm. “The Cold War produced the illusion that traditional isolationism was dead and buried,” he wrote, but of course -- this is, after all, the Times -- it was actually alive and kicking. The passing of the Cold War had “weakened the incentives to internationalism” and was giving isolationists a new opening, even though in “a world of law requiring enforcement,” it was incumbent upon the United States to be the lead enforcer.
The warning resonated. Although the Times does not normally give commencement addresses much attention, it made an exception for Madeleine Albright’s remarks to graduating seniors at Barnard College in May 1995. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had detected what she called “a trend toward isolationism that is running stronger in America than at any time since the period between the two world wars,” and the American people were giving in to the temptation “to pull the covers up over our heads and pretend we do not notice, do not care, and are unaffected by events overseas.” In other circumstances in another place, it might have seemed an odd claim, given that the United States had just wrapped up armed interventions in Somalia and Haiti and was on the verge of initiating a bombing campaign in the Balkans.
Still, Schlesinger had Albright’s back. The July/August 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs prominently featured an article of his entitled “Back to the Womb? Isolationism’s Renewed Threat,” with Times editors publishing a CliffsNotes version on the op-ed page a month earlier. “The isolationist impulse has risen from the grave,” Schlesinger announced, “and it has taken the new form of unilateralism.”
His complaint was no longer that the United States hesitated to act, but that it did not act in concert with others. This “neo-isolationism,” he warned, introducing a new note into the tradition of isolationism-bashing for the first time in decades, “promises to prevent the most powerful nation on the planet from playing any role in enforcing the peace system.” The isolationists were winning -- this time through pure international belligerence. Yet “as we return to the womb,” Schlesinger warned his fellow citizens, “we are surrendering a magnificent dream.”
Other Times contributors shared Schlesinger’s concern. On January 30, 1996, the columnist Russell Baker chipped in with a piece called “The New Isolationism.” For those slow on the uptake, Jessica Mathews, then a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, affirmed Baker’s concerns by publishing an identically titled column in the Washington Post a mere six days later. Mathews reported “troubling signs that the turning inward that many feared would follow the Cold War’s end is indeed happening.” With both the Times and the Post concurring, “the new isolationism” had seemingly reached pandemic proportions (as a title, if nothing else).
Did the “new” isolationism then pave the way for 9/11? Was al-Qaeda inspired by an unwillingness on Washington’s part to insert itself into the Islamic world?
Unintended and unanticipated consequences stemming from prior U.S. interventions might have seemed to offer a better explanation. But this much is for sure: as far as the Times was concerned, even in the midst of George W. Bush’s Global War in Terror, the threat of isolationism persisted.
In January 2004, David M. Malone, president of the International Peace Academy, worried in a Times op-ed “that the United States is retracting into itself” -- this despite the fact that U.S. forces were engaged in simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among Americans, a concern about terrorism, he insisted, was breeding “a sense of self-obsession and indifference to the plight of others.” “When Terrorists Win: Beware America’s New Isolationism,” blared the headline of Malone’s not-so-new piece.
Actually, Americans should beware those who conjure up phony warnings of a “new isolationism” to advance a particular agenda. The essence of that agenda, whatever the particulars and however packaged, is this: If the United States just tries a little bit harder -- one more intervention, one more shipment of arms to a beleaguered “ally,” one more line drawn in the sand -- we will finally turn the corner and the bright uplands of peace and freedom will come into view.
This is a delusion, of course. But if you write a piece exposing that delusion, don’t bother submitting it to the Times.
Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.
Copyright 2013 Andrew Bacevich
US may be committing robotic war crimes: Two Human Rights Groups Blast US for Drone Killing Campaigns
By Dave Lindorff
Last week President Obama was largely successful at blacking out from the American public word that Nobel Peace Prize Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani advocate of girls’ education nearly killed by Taliban gunmen a year ago, used a photo-op invitation to the White House to ask the president to halt to his drone killings of Pakistanis. But Obama cannot so easily silence the condemnations today of his remote drone “Murder, Inc.” program by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In terms of pure projectable power, there’s never been anything like it. Its military has divided the world -- the whole planet -- into six “commands.” Its fleet, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, rules the seas and has done so largely unchallenged for almost seven decades. Its Air Force has ruled the global skies, and despite being almost continuously in action for years, hasn’t faced an enemy plane since 1991 or been seriously challenged anywhere since the early 1970s. Its fleet of drone aircraft has proven itself capable of targeting and killing suspected enemies in the backlands of the planet from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia with little regard for national boundaries, and none at all for the possibility of being shot down. It funds and trains proxy armies on several continents and has complex aid and training relationships with militaries across the planet. On hundreds of bases, some tiny and others the size of American towns, its soldiers garrison the globe from Italy to Australia, Honduras to Afghanistan, and on islands from Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Its weapons makers are the most advanced on Earth and dominate the global arms market. Its nuclear weaponry in silos, on bombers, and on its fleet of submarines would be capable of destroying several planets the size of Earth. Its system of spy satellites is unsurpassed and unchallenged. Its intelligence services can listen in on the phone calls or read the emails of almost anyone in the world from top foreign leaders to obscure insurgents. The CIA and its expanding paramilitary forces are capable of kidnapping people of interest just about anywhere from rural Macedonia to the streets of Rome and Tripoli. For its many prisoners, it has set up (and dismantled) secret jails across the planet and on its naval vessels. It spends more on its military than the next most powerful 13 states combined. Add in the spending for its full national security state and it towers over any conceivable group of other nations.
The United States is loosening controls over military exports, in a shift that former U.S. officials and human rights advocates say could increase the flow of American-made military parts to the world's conflicts and make it harder to enforce arms sanctions.
What if we had politicians who believed in the abolition of war with as much passion as the Republican right believes in the abolition of taxes?
For me, the question that immediately follows is: What kind of politics draws power from resources other than the deep pockets of billionaires? Just because the world is sick of war, how will that ever translate into serious political action to defund standing armies and ongoing weapons research? How will it ever cohere into a consensus that has political traction? Does Washington, D.C. only have room for one consensus?
For the Democrats to stand moderately tough against GOP right-wing zealots in defense of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Social Security, there’s no way they could also — even if they wanted to — stand tough on, let us say, nuclear disarmament or a movement toward demilitarization. Such concepts aren’t on or anywhere near the fabled “table” of national debate; they’re as marginalized as segregated restrooms. This is a deep problem from the point of view of anyone looking clear-eyed into the future.
“‘They were all dying,’ she said, ‘and there was no medicine, and there was nothing we could do.’”
The speaker is 82-year-old Kono Kyomi, one of the “Hibakusha,” or survivors of the atomic blasts that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, quoted by the Rev. John Dear. She was part of a delegation of survivors who came to the United States last August to commemorate the anniversary of those blasts and speak of their experiences. Their visit included a trip to Los Alamos, N.M., where the Hiroshima bomb was built and still the center of the country’s ongoing nuclear weapons research and production.
Dear, a long-time peace activist who traveled with the Hibakusha delegation during their visit, described the moment Kyomi looked him in the eye during a church dinner in Santa Fe: “Be sure to speak to young people,” she said. “We need to tell them the stories, to tell them about these weapons, and to educate them to work to get rid of them. That’s the most important thing we can do for the future.”
This message can resonate at a church basement potluck, but I no longer have the least bit of faith it has the force to penetrate our national political fortress. Nukes and militarism are done deals at the official level, uncontroversial, off the table, forever funded. The military-industrial complex has no serious opponents. It seems to have won the war for our future, limited as that future might be because of it.
What fascinates me is how recently this was not the case. Consider, for instance, the criticism that so frequently, these days, swirls around the Nobel Peace Prize committee and its choice of winners. This year the prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog group that had its spirit broken more than a decade ago, critics say. That was when the Bush administration succeeded in ousting its then-director general, Jose Bustani, whose plans to inspect Iraq’s chemical weapons put the U.S. case against Saddam Hussein— and the pending invasion of Iraq — in jeopardy.
“The subsequent OPCW leadership has been far weaker and more averse to challenging great power prerogatives, as indicated by the fact that they are currently in the process of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal while the vast stockpiles belonging to U.S. allies Israel and Egypt remain intact,” Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes said after the Peace Prize winner was announced.
And Fredrik Heffermehl, author of The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted, called the 2013 award half-hearted. Alfred Nobel’s vision, he said, was “to abolish not only certain weapons, like the chemical, but all weapons in all countries. Demilitarize international relations — not only civilize war but abolish it.”
Michael Parenti, lamenting the committee’s decision in 2012 to award the Peace Prize to the European Union, quoted from Nobel’s 1895 will specifying the prize be given “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
I repeat: “Demilitarize international relations — not only civilize war but abolish it.” This was a real goal a century ago, a glowing possibility. And even 50 years ago, it remained so.
John F. Kennedy, announcing that talks on a Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union had begun, declared: “Our primary long range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament . . . permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. . . .
“While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”
This was once a goal of nations, a goal of wealth. It had credibility and presence at the highest levels. Now it has vanished. Bitterly cherished as this goal may still be among ordinary humanity, the governing classes have decreed: The next war is coming.
The time has come not to believe them. The time has come to return disarmament to the political agenda. The time has come to refuse to make peace with war.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at email@example.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.
© 2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
By John Grant
For the past week I’ve been talking with anyone I could shoehorn about the shooting death of Miriam Carey on the streets of Washington DC. As with any homicide -- and that’s how it would be classified for the autopsy -- there are differing opinions and mitigating circumstances to consider.
For instance, the mitigating circumstance most articulated by officialdom and the media to justify the killing of Miriam Carey is that the threat of terrorism is in the forefront of the minds of police officers in the nation’s capital, where 17 days earlier a random gunman had murdered 12 people at the Navy Yard.
By William Blum
“U.S. hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s divided rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed political opposition coalition and announced the formation of an alliance dedicated to creating an Islamist state. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group.” 1
Pity the poor American who wants to be a good citizen, wants to understand the world and his country’s role in it, wants to believe in the War on Terrorism, wants to believe that his government seeks to do good … What is he to make of all this?
For about two years, his dear American government has been supporting the same anti-government side as the jihadists in the Syrian civil war; not total, all-out support, but enough military hardware, logistics support, intelligence information, international political, diplomatic and propaganda assistance (including the crucial alleged-chemical-weapons story), to keep the jihadists in the ball game. Washington and its main Mideast allies in the conflict – Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – have not impeded the movement to Syria of jihadists coming to join the rebels, recruited from the ranks of Sunni extremist veterans of the wars in Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, while Qatar and the Saudis have supplied the rebels with weapons, most likely bought in large measure from the United States, as well as lots of of what they have lots of – money.
This widespread international support has been provided despite the many atrocities carried out by the jihadists – truck and car suicide bombings (with numerous civilian casualties), planting roadside bombs à la Iraq, gruesome massacres of Christians and Kurds, grotesque beheadings and other dissections of victims’ bodies (most charming of all: a Youtube video of a rebel leader cutting out an organ from the chest of a victim and biting into it as it drips with blood). All this barbarity piled on top of a greater absurdity – these Western-backed, anti-government forces are often engaged in battle with other Western-backed, anti-government forces, non-jihadist. It has become increasingly difficult to sell this war to the American public as one of pro-democracy “moderates” locked in a good-guy-versus-bad-guy struggle with an evil dictator, although in actuality the United States has fought on the same side as al Qaeda on repeated occasions before Syria. Here’s a brief survey:
Afghanistan, 1980-early 1990s: In support of the Islamic Moujahedeen (“holy warriors”), the CIA orchestrated a war against the Afghan government and their Soviet allies, pouring in several billions of dollars of arms and extensive military training; hitting up Middle-Eastern countries for donations, notably Saudi Arabia which gave hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year; pressuring and bribing Pakistan to rent out its country as a military staging area and sanctuary.
It worked. And out of the victorious Moujahedeen came al Qaeda.
Bosnia, 1992-5: In 2001 the Wall Street Journal declared:
It is safe to say that the birth of al-Qaeda as a force on the world stage can be traced directly back to 1992, when the Bosnian Muslim government of Alija Izetbegovic issued a passport in their Vienna embassy to Osama bin Laden. … for the past 10 years, the most senior leaders of al Qaeda have visited the Balkans, including bin Laden himself on three occasions between 1994 and 1996. The Egyptian surgeon turned terrorist leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has operated terrorist training camps, weapons of mass destruction factories and money-laundering and drug-trading networks throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia. This has gone on for a decade. 2
A few months later, The Guardian reported on “the full story of the secret alliance between the Pentagon and radical Islamist groups from the Middle East designed to assist the Bosnian Muslims – some of the same groups that the Pentagon is now fighting in “the war against terrorism”. 3
In 1994 and 1995 US/NATO forces carried out bombing campaigns over Bosnia aimed at damaging the military capability of the Serbs and enhancing that of the Bosnian Muslims. In the decade-long civil wars in the Balkans, the Serbs, regarded by Washington as the “the last communist government in Europe”, were always the main enemy.
Kosovo, 1998-99: Kosovo, overwhelmingly Muslim, was a province of Serbia, the main republic of the former Yugoslavia. In 1998, Kosovo separatists – The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – began an armed conflict with Belgrade to split Kosovo from Serbia. The KLA was considered a terrorist organization by the US, the UK and France for years, with numerous reports of the KLA having contact with al-Qaeda, getting arms from them, having its militants trained in al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan, and even having members of al-Qaeda in KLA ranks fighting against the Serbs. 4
However, when US-NATO forces began military action against the Serbs the KLA was taken off the US terrorist list, it “received official US-NATO arms and training support” 5 , and the 1999 US-NATO bombing campaign eventually focused on driving Serbian forces from Kosovo.
In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, an independence so illegitimate and artificial that the majority of the world’s nations still have not recognized it. But the United States was the first to do so, the very next day, thus affirming the unilateral declaration of independence of a part of another country’s territory.
The KLA have been known for their trafficking in women, heroin, and human body parts (sic). The United States has naturally been pushing for Kosovo’s membership in NATO and the European Union.
Nota bene: In 1992 the Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs reached agreement in Lisbon for a unified state. The continuation of a peaceful multi-ethnic Bosnia seemed assured. But the United States sabotaged the agreement. 6
Libya, 2011: The US and NATO to the rescue again. For more than six months, almost daily missile attacks against the government and forces of Muammar Gaddafi as assorted Middle East jihadists assembled in Libya and battled the government on the ground. The predictable outcome came to be – the jihadists now in control of parts of the country and fighting for the remaining parts. The wartime allies showed their gratitude to Washington by assassinating the US ambassador and three other Americans, presumably CIA, in the city of Benghazi.
Caucasus (Russia), mid-2000s to present: The National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House have for many years been the leading American “non-government” institutions tasked with destabilizing, if not overthrowing, foreign governments which refuse to be subservient to the desires of US foreign policy. Both NGOs have backed militants in the Russian Caucasus area, one that has seen more than its share of terror stretching back to the Chechnyan actions of the 1990s. 7
“Omission is the most powerful form of lie.” – George Orwell
I am asked occasionally why I am so critical of the mainstream media when I quote from them repeatedly in my writings. The answer is simple. The American media’s gravest shortcoming is much more their errors of omission than their errors of commission. It’s what they leave out that distorts the news more than any factual errors or out-and-out lies. So I can make good use of the facts they report, which a large, rich organization can easier provide than the alternative media.
A case in point is a New York Times article of October 5 on the Greek financial crisis and the Greeks’ claim for World War Two reparations from Germany.
“Germany may be Greece’s stern banker now, say those who are seeking reparations,” writes the Times, but Germany “should pay off its own debts to Greece. … It is not just aging victims of the Nazi occupation who are demanding a full accounting. Prime Minister Antonis Samarass government has compiled an 80-page report on reparations and a huge, never-repaid loan the nation was forced to make under Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1945. … The call for reparations has elicited an emotional outpouring in Greece, where six years of brutal recession and harsh austerity measures have left many Greeks hostile toward Germany. Rarely does a week go by without another report in the news about, as one newspaper put it in a headline, ‘What Germany Owes Us’.”
“The figure most often discussed is $220 billion, an estimate for infrastructure damage alone put forward by Manolis Glezos, a member of Parliament and a former resistance fighter who is pressing for reparations. That amount equals about half the country’s debt. … Some members of the National Council on Reparations, an advocacy group, are calling for more than $677 billion to cover stolen artifacts, damage to the economy and to the infrastructure, as well as the bank loan and individual claims.”
So there we have the morality play: The evil Germans who occupied Greece and in addition to carrying out a lot of violence and repression shamelessly exploited the Greek people economically.
Would it be appropriate for such a story, or an accompanying or follow-up story, to mention the civil war that broke out in Greece shortly after the close of the world war? On one side were the neo-fascists, many of whom had cooperated with the occupying Germans during the war, some even fighting for the Nazis. Indeed, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, acknowledged in August 1946 that there were 228 ex-members of the Nazi Security Battalions – whose main task had been to track down Greek resistance fighters and Jews – on active service in the new Greek army. 8
On the other side was the Greek left who had fought the Nazis courageously, even forcing the German army to flee the country in 1944.
So guess which side of the civil war our favorite military took? … That’s right, the United States supported the neo-fascists. After all, an important component of the Greek left was the Communist Party, although it wouldn’t have mattered at all if the Greek left had not included any Communists. Support of the left (not to be confused with liberals of course) anywhere in the world, during and since the Cold War, has been verboten in US foreign policy.
The neo-fascists won the civil war and instituted a highly brutal regime, for which the CIA created a suitably repressive internal security agency, named and modeled after itself, the KYP. For the next 15 years, Greece was looked upon much as a piece of real estate to be developed according to Washington’s political and economic needs. One document should suffice to capture the beauty of Washington’s relationship to Athens – a 1947 letter from US Secretary of State George Marshall to Dwight Griswold, the head of the American Mission to Aid Greece, said:
During the course of your work you and the members of your Mission will from time to time find that certain Greek officials are not, because of incompetence, disagreement with your policies, or for some other reason, extending the type of cooperation which is necessary if the objectives of your Mission are to be achieved. You will find it necessary to effect the removal of these officials. 9
Where is the present-day Greek headline: “What The United States Owes Us”? Where is the New York Times obligation to enlighten its readers?
The latest step in the evolution of America’s Police State
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
So say many Americans. And many Germans as well.
But one German, Ilija Trojanow, would disagree. He has lent his name to published documents denouncing the National Security Agency (NSA), and was one of several prominent German authors who signed a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to take a firm stance against the mass online surveillance conducted by the NSA. Trojanow and the other authors had nothing to hide, which is why the letter was published for the public to read. What happened after that, however, was that Trojanow was refused permission to board a flight from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, to Miami on Monday, September 30. Without any explanation.
Trojanow, who was on his way to speak at a literary conference in Denver, told the Spiegel magazine online website that the denial of entry might be linked to his criticism of the NSA. Germany’s Foreign Ministry says it has contacted US authorities “to resolve this issue”. 10
In an article published in a German newspaper, Trojanow voiced his frustration with the incident: “It is more than ironic if an author who raises his voice against the dangers of surveillance and the secret state within a state for years, will be denied entry into the ‘land of the brave and the free’.” 11
Further irony can be found in the title of a book by Trojanow: “Attack on freedom. Obsession with security, the surveillance state and the dismantling of civil rights.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who oversees the NSA and other intelligence agencies, said recently that the intelligence community “is only interested in communication related to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.” 12
It’s difficult in the extreme to see how this criterion would apply in any way to Ilija Trojanow.
The story is a poignant caveat on how fragile is Americans’ freedom to criticize their Security State. If a foreigner can be barred from boarding a flight merely for peaceful, intellectual criticism of America’s Big Brother (nay, Giant Brother), who amongst us does not need to pay careful attention to anything they say or write.
Very few Americans, however, will even be aware of this story. A thorough search of the Lexis-Nexis media database revealed a single mention in an American daily newspaper (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch), out of 1400 daily papers in the US. No mention on any broadcast media. A single one-time mention in a news agency (Associated Press), and one mention in a foreign English-language newspaper (New Zealand Herald).
- Washington Post, September 26, 2013 ↩
- Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2001 ↩
- The Guardian (London), April 22, 2002 ↩
- RT TV (Moscow), May 4, 2012 ↩
- Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2001 ↩
- New York Times, June 17, 1993, buried at the very end of the article on an inside page ↩
- Sibel Edmonds’ Boiling Frogs Post, “Barbarians at the Gate: Terrorism, the US, and the Subversion of Russia”, August 30, 2012 ↩
- Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, October 16, 1946, column 887 (reference is made here to Bevin’s statement of August 10, 1946) ↩
- Foreign Relations of the United States, 1947, Vol. V (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), pp. 222-3. See William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, chapter 3 for further details of the US role in postwar Greece. ↩
- Associated Press, October 2, 2013 ↩
- Huffington Post, “Ilija Trojanow, German Writer, Banned From US For Criticizing NSA”, October 1, 2013 ↩
- Washington Post, October 5, 2013 ↩
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.
By Alfredo Lopez
Recently, Richard Stallman published an article in Wired about Free and Open Source Software  and its alternative, "Proprietary Software". As he has for 30 years now, he vigorously called for the use and defense of FOSS and warned about the nefarious nature of Proprietary.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system the US military has ever pursued. With massive delays, cost blowouts and performance failings, the F-35 has become a symbol of the excess of the military industrial complex. It has also become a flashpoint of popular opposition to runaway military spending, and now the Burlington City Council may vote to take a stand, by prohibiting the basing of the aircraft at the city-owned airport in Northern Vermont.
The following article outlines the problems with the F-35 Project, the situation in Vermont and the opportunity arising for people power at a local level to challenge militarism across the United States.
Update: October 7th Rally and City Council Public Hearing
Important: There is a change of plans for Monday, October 7th.
The City Council has removed the resolution to bar the F-35 basing from the agenda. The Council President Joan Shannon cited the need for the City to have public officials liability insurance before taking up the issue. Given the immense harm the F-35 basing will cause, the City's legal and moral liability is very large. President Shannon promised to take up the F-35 resolution as soon as possible.
The October 7th Rally at City Hall is still on!
New Time: 6:30 - 7:00 - Rally for People Over Planes
City Council Public Hearing: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Burlington City Hall
We need to tell the Burlington City Council that it must Act to Bar the Basing this Month. The Air Force 30-day review period of the preliminary basing decision began Oct. 4.
The Resolution Must Be Put Back on the City Council Agenda this Month!
Many members of the City Council have been seriously considering the many harms the basing presents and have favorably responded to our call to bar the basing. The public's response has been similar. Let's keep things moving in this positive direction!
The resolution to bar the basing is the
best chance for us to stop this disastrous plan.
Bring friends, neighbors, and anyone else you can to stand up for people over planes. Contact Burlington City Councilors
now to ask them to do the right thing and take a stand against sacrificing over 8,000 residents in airport neighborhoods to this plane and to stand against the backwards priorities the F-35 basing supports.
Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer from South Burlington.
Forget about 7,719 Vermonters and their 3,410 homes. Those are the Vermonters the Air Force Final Environmental Impact Statement (final EIS) says will be stuck with homes that are “not considered suitable for residential use.” The ones the Air Force says will be in the 65 dB DNL average noise zone of the F-35.
Forget that Sen. Leahy, the most senior and the most powerful senator of all, with heavy influence over the Air Force budget, admitted to making a call to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welch last month demanding a quick decision to base the F-35 in Vermont.
Ignore the fact that the 7,719 Vermonters could not have anticipated that, loud as the F-16 is, their own U.S. senator would be pushing hard to bring a new jet that the Air Force says is more than four times louder than the F-16.
Also forget about the study done by respected Vermont real estate appraiser Rich Larson that found that tiny affordable homes near the airport entrance had each lost an average of $33,000 because of F-16 noise. Fortunately, most of those homeowners were saved that loss of value because, under the terms of the $40 million the FAA provided to Burlington to purchase the 200 homes, Burlington had to set the price it paid for these homes disregarding the adverse impact of F-16 airport noise on home value. So, not a problem.
Ignore the fact that the 3,410 homeowners — who will be put in exactly the same noise zone as the 200 homeowners in South Burlington if the F-35 is based here — will not get any such favorable buyout. And forget about the $100 million the Rich Larson study shows they will lose when F-35 jets put their homes in that intense noise zone.
And forget about the much higher crash risk of a brand new military jet the Pentagon’s own watchdog condemns as failing quality assurance. How safe can the F-35 be if its quality assurance program is so harshly condemned by the Department of Defense Inspector General in its just-issued 136 page report, dated Sept. 30, 2013? In its lead paragraph, the report states:
The F-35 Program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical and quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software. This could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Lockheed Martin) and its subcontractors did not follow disciplined AS9100 Quality Management System practices, as evidenced by 363 findings, which contained 719 issues.
Don’t worry, say F-35 supporters, it will all be fixed by the time it comes to Burlington sometime, they say, after 2020.
No one is saying that the F-35′s bugs will all be fixed by 2015. Nevertheless, ignore the fact that we will all be guinea pigs in a boondoggle.
Except the Air Force Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), also just issued, says, “at this time, the Air Force anticipates that F-35s would start arriving at the basing locations in 2015″ (page E1233). That means the F-35s would start arriving in Burlington sometime between 15 and 27 months from now.
No one is saying that the F-35′s bugs will all be fixed by 2015. Nevertheless, ignore the fact that we will all be guinea pigs in a boondoggle.
Also ignore the fact that 42 percent of the F-35 by weight is fabricated of a fiber-plastic composite material that is flammable and that emits highly toxic fumes and fibers when it burns. Ignore the fact that a crash of an F-35 warplane carrying 18,000 pounds of fuel is sure to get that flammable composite burning and produce one hell of a mess inside the lungs of any Vermonters living downwind. But why should our senators, our congressman, our governor, or the mayor of Burlington worry about the crash risk when no one knows for sure whether it will crash in Vermont or precisely where it will crash? Could be anywhere. So don’t worry.
Ignore the fact that the Air Force Final EIS says the crash rate of the F-35 is expected to be like that of the F-22 (page BR4-51), which the Air Force EIS says had a whoppingly high crash rate during its first years of operational basing: 236 times the lifetime average crash rate of the F-16 during its first two years of operational basing. During its first four years, the F-22 had 16 times the crash rate of the F-16. During its first five years, the F-22 had 11 times the crash rate of the F-16. And during its first 10 years it had twice the crash rate of the F-16.
The Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) says it has flown the F-16 three times more safely than the national average, with only one VTANG F-16 crash, whereas nationally there have been 351 F-16 crashes of which 317 F-16s were destroyed (page BR4-49). So why should we worry about the F-35 ever crashing here? Forget about it.
As for where the warplanes are most likely to crash, the Air Force says crashes happen mostly near the ends of the runways. But the Air Force describes two crash zones in its Final EIS (page 3-26 and 3-27), one for Air Force bases and one for mixed use airports like the one in Burlington that is used for both commercial flights and that also bases military jets. The mixed use airport crash zone is only 11 percent of the length and half the width of the crash zone for Air Force bases. That is not because the identical military jets flown at mixed use airports are likely to crash closer to the runway. It’s because of economic and political reasons: if the larger crash zone were used for mixed use airports lots of homes and businesses would be in the crash zone. And that would not be acceptable.
So forget about the fact that some 2,000 Vermont homes are in the larger crash zone if you can buy the bogus argument that what counts for crash zone size is the airport type and not the fact that in both cases it is the identical military plane taking off or landing.
And, of course, forget about the fact that the runway in Burlington barely meets the minimum requirement for F-35 basing. The requirement is 8,000 feet, and Burlington’s runway is 8,300 feet. True, the much longer runway at Eglin Air Force base that is 12,000 feet long is safer. But Burlington’s meets the bare minimum requirement, and that is good enough. So don’t worry.
Of course we can also ignore the 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report that says that half of the 1,500 children living in the 65 dB DNL zone will suffer cognitive impairment. The WHO report even says that 20 percent of the much larger number of children living in the much larger 55 dB DNL zone will suffer cognitive impairment. We can also ignore the World Health Organization presentation, “Children and Noise,” updated in 2009, that urges consideration that children are vulnerable to “lifelong impairment of learning and education” (page 15) and says that “over 20 studies have reported that noise adversely affects children’s academic performance” (page 33).
The Air Force Final EIS discounts such WHO reports, claiming that the results and conclusions of studies more recent than the decade-old studies relied on by the Air Force “have been somewhat contradictory according to leading noise experts who have evaluated those studies for the Air Force” (page E1229). If the Air Force can discount the World Health Organization, can’t we?
Also ignore the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that provides a chart showing the length of time a worker may safely be exposed to sounds at different levels. The chart shows that for the 94 dB peak noise level produced by the F-16, the allowed time duration for a worker is one hour each day. For the 115 dB produced by the F-35, the allowed time duration is only 28 seconds per day. The Air Force Final EIS says forget that because “the NIOSH document cited was a recommendation, and was never accepted. The current daily occupational noise exposure limit for 115 dBA is 15 minutes, not 28 seconds” (page E1232). Sure. Long enough so we can all stop worrying about how long children can be exposed to the 115 dB the F-35s will produce every day. Don’t we all want to volunteer our children to be exposed to anything approaching 115 dBA on a daily basis, month after month and year after year?
While forgetting about all this, do pay special attention to the words in the Air Force Final EIS that 65 dB DNL is not enough noise for health effects to be “credible.” The Air Force Final EIS says you need to be living within the 75 dB DNL contour for health effects to be credible (page C-12). So why worry?
Oops. The Air Force Final EIS says that 770 Vermonters will be living within the 75 dB DNL noise contour (page BR4-35). That’s the zone that the World Health Organization report says the 70 to 85 percent of the children suffer cognitive impairment. (But ignore the WHO, of course).
Now what do we do? Regardless of what else we ignore, can we ignore 770 Vermonters? The ones whose children who even the Air Force EIS acknowledges will be subject to cognitive impairment (page C-28 to C-30)? The children who even the Air Force says will have learning problems because of the intense aircraft noise? No one is disputing that these 770 Vermonters will be taking a heavy hit. Not even Sen. Leahy. Can we all just forget about the 770?
The Burlington City Council has a chance to consider the 770 – and to consider all the other issues — at its meeting on Oct. 7. All of us can have a say at that meeting as the council chair has extended the time for the public forum to one hour, starting at 6 p.m. Those who want to oppose the basing of the F-35 in Burlington will be rallying outside City Hall on Church Street starting at 5:30 sharp and going in to the meeting just before 6.
A resolution introduced by four Burlington city councilors will be up for a vote. The resolution says that Burlington, as owner of the Burlington International Airport, will use its authority as landowner to prevent the basing of F-35 jets at its airport. Passage of the resolution will stop the basing. Everyone should come to this meeting to help city councilors keep their focus at least on the 770 Vermonters. And pass the resolution to protect our great city and its neighbors.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
- John Lennon
Whether war or cooperation is the more dominant trait of humanity is one of the oldest questions in human discourse. There are no satisfying answers for either side exclusively, which seems to suggest the answer is in the eternal nature of the debate itself.
ThisCantBeHappening! just into its fourth year of publication, has learned that we have won our fourth Project Censored Award, this time for Dave Lindorff's article Incidents raise suspicions on motive: Killing of Journalists by US Forces a Growing Problem, published in TCBH! on Nov. 22, 1012.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Imagine U.S. House Speaker John Boehner blasted on weed.
Given Boehner’s teary-eyed trait, he’d probably cry uncontrollably when high on pot alternating his crocodile tears with hysterical laughter…perhaps even laughing at some of that dumb shi-tuff he and his GOP colleagues constantly do on Capitol Hill.
By Dave Lindorff
I no longer recognize my country.
Back in 1997, after two years living in China, and five more living in Hong Kong, during which time, as a correspondent for Business Week magazine, I slipped in and out of China regularly as a journalist to report on developments there, I got a good dose of life in a totalitarian society. When I alit from the plane in Philadelphia where my family and I were about to start a new chapter of our lives, I remember feeling like a big weight had been lifted off my chest.
After decades US still has huge poison gas stash: Washington Demands Syria Destroy Chemical Weapons Lickety-Split
By Dave Lindorff
The US is demanding, in negotiations at the UN, that all Syrian chemical weapons, stocks and production facilities be eliminated by June 30 of next year. This has an element of hypocrisy, because the US itself has been incredibly slow about eliminating its own stocks of chemical weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to Syria as having one of the largest chemical stockpiles in the world. But the US and Russia both still have stocks of chemicals many times as large. Syria’s neighbor Israel, which refuses to admit it has the weapons and has yet to ratify the treaty banning them, is suspected of also having a large arsenal.
By Dave Lindorff
Syrian civilians and children should count themselves lucky that mass opposition in the US, the UK and much of the rest of the world to the idea of a US bombing blitz aimed at punishing the Syrian government for allegedly using Sarin gas in an attack on a Damascus neighborhood forced the US to back off and accept a Russian deal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons.
A trillion dollars. It's a lot of money. In a year it could send 127 million college students to school, provide health insurance for 206 million people, or pay the salaries of seven million schoolteachers and seven million police officers. A trillion dollars could do a lot of good. It could transform or save a lot of lives. Now, imagine doubling the money; no, tripling it. How about quadrupling it, maybe quintupling it, or even sextupling it? Unfortunately, you really will have to imagine that, because the money to do it isn’t there. It was (or will be) spent on Washington’s disastrous post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
War, the military-industrial complex, and the national security state that go with it cost in every sense an arm and a leg. And that, in the twenty-first century, has been where so many American tax dollars have gone.
That’s because the cost of war always turns out to be more than estimated. Who could forget the $60 billion high-end figure the Bush administration offered in early 2003 as its estimate for its coming invasion of Iraq? A decade later, we’ve spent $814 billion in Iraq to date with the full price tag yet to come in. Recently, when the Obama administration was planning to launch Tomahawk missiles against Syria, just about nobody even bothered to talk about what it would have cost. (Before Washington even considered such a strike, the Tomahawk program was already costing U.S. taxpayers $36,000 per hour all year long.)
This reality has slowly sunk into American consciousness, which may be why the public in opinion polls has proven so clearly opposed to jumping into another overseas conflict when tax dollars are desperately needed at home.
And those Tomahawk missiles are just icing on the cake of what this country spends on its military and the national security state that goes with it, estimated at nearly a trillion dollars a year. A fire hose of taxpayer cash -- to the tune of around $600 billion -- gets pumped into the Department of Defense each year (and that doesn’t include the “civilian” intelligence community or the Department of Homeland Security).
The spending on that war machine is so profligate, in fact, that the Pentagon has never successfully completed an audit; its officials can’t even tell you where all that money goes. The U.S. accounts for a staggering 40% of all military expenditures globally. And some members of Congress -- their bread buttered by military contractors -- are ready to use the next war, whether in Syria or elsewhere, as a pretext to sustain or even expand our current wartime military budget.
Early Experiments in Civilianizing the Military Economy
Here’s what no one is talking about: maintaining that staggering level of military funding would mean squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity. That’s because right now is a rare moment when two pieces of bad news Americans are accustomed to hearing could be converted into one piece of very good news.
First, there’s the bad news that threatens to change the course of human civilization. Following a year of record wild fires and droughts, crop failures, record flooding, and the punishing winds and waves of Hurricane Sandy, there’s the urgent crisis of climate change, already well underway. Intertwined with that is the mammoth problem of how to feed humanity’s insatiable appetite for energy, while somehow radically cutting our consumption of fossil fuels.
Then there’s a separate item of bad news: misguided budget cuts in Washington are pulling funding from obviously important investments like natural disaster preparedness, infrastructure improvements, the criminal justice system, and early-childhood education, among many other things. Budget-cutting fever in the capital shows no sign of subsiding, even though arguments for austerity have been debunked and our annual federal budget deficit has fallen sharply.
How, then, can these dismal pieces of news be transformed into the best thing you’ve heard in a while?
Budget cuts at the Pentagon were long considered an impossibility and a formula in Congress for political suicide. Now, the austerity movement’s first major initiative in Washington, known as “sequestration,” those mandated, take-no-prisoners, across-the-board cuts in federal spending instituted by Congress, have in fact accomplished what nothing else could: the first downsizing of our defense spending in this century.
Admittedly, in the scheme of overall U.S. military spending, those cuts remain marginal. Sequestration shaved around $40 billion from the Pentagon’s funding this year -- which is a modest figure relative to that $600 billion budget. Still, it’s a start. With these cuts already underway and slated to continue in 2014, we can at least begin to imagine what sort of resources it might be possible to free from the military economy and how, if we’re smart, these could help fuel our transition to a low-carbon, twenty-first-century economy that would work for us and for the planet.
That’s because it’s possible to “harvest” military-generated technology and repurpose it for this task. As the sequestration cuts begin to bite into the defense sector, some high-tech production facilities and the workforce that goes with them will need to find a new purpose. Taxpayers have invested billions of dollars over decades in developing inventive technology, building infrastructure, and training skilled workers to fulfill military contracts for the war economy. It’s time for the American public to start seeing all this harnessed to new purposes, first among them tackling our climate crisis.
As it happens, some savvy and forward-looking outfits in the military sector have already begun converting their know-how into green-tech manufacturing.
Take, for instance, Bath Iron Works, the largest employer in Maine. For several decades, the company has gotten most of its revenue from building and maintaining destroyers for the Navy. Now, however, it has joined an initiative to develop deep-water, offshore wind power, with the goal of making Maine the leading state in the nation in such technology and the production systems that go with it.
Oregon Iron Works has similarly built its expertise by fulfilling contracts for the U.S. military. Now, it’s diversifying into renewable energy, noting proudly that its “history of innovation in the marine industry gives [it] the ability to produce high-quality, cost effective Wave and Tidal energy devices.”
The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard dates back to 1776. Its workforce peaked at 40,000 during World War II. The end of the Cold War brought an end to most naval activities at the yard, and today that industrial space has been re-imagined as an expansive corporate campus that includes a green technology incubator site and research collaboration between private business and universities.
In the same spirit, Connecticut, which has a sizeable defense industry, passed first-of-its-kind legislation this year to establish an economic development advisory committee aimed at helping defense contractors move into “environmentally sustainable” sectors of the economy. The committee is also charged with better aligning the state’s educational institutions with its manufacturing sector to ensure that its workforce of the future has training in the skills that green industries will need.
Downsizing the Global Military Mission, Building a Civilian Economy
These are promising examples of how to begin the process of converting from a war economy to a civilian one, and they provide reason for optimism, but they are also small potatoes when compared to what might be possible. Consider the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, a vast facility that repairs and rebuilds submarines. It spans 800 acres, contains 30 miles of paved roads and four miles of waterfront, employs 6,750 civilian workers, and has its own police and fire departments. Examining the current job categories at the shipyard reveals a skills base ready to be tapped to develop and produce green-energy technology. From electrical engineers and chemists to machinists, metal workers, and crane operators, there’s plenty of overlap between existing man- and womanpower in military industry and what’s needed for the robust growth of this country’s green energy sector.
For now, though, the shipyard is still doing submarines. And it will keep doing them until Congress makes new and different plans for this country.
A great deal of good can happen if military contractors and militarized communities, one by one, see the writing on the wall and move away from economic dependence on Cold War weapons systems, investing instead in new energy technology. But for such a transition to happen on a national scale, there would have to be a lot more of that writing on far more walls. Even though cuts to the military budget have gone from fantasy to reality, many lawmakers still don’t support substantial reductions in military spending and hope to prevent additional cuts from taking place in 2014.
To really move this country in a new direction, the Pentagon budget would have to be cut substantially. Not by 7% as now, but by at least 20%, and for that to happen, the American global military mission and posture would have to be downsized in significant ways. Recent polling around the Syrian crisis indicates that the public might indeed be ready to consider such changes. Whether Congress and the rest of Washington’s elite would be is obviously another matter.
Right now lawmakers are loath to cut funding if it means erasing military jobs in their districts, and the military-industrial complex has been particularly clever in the way it has spread its projects across every state and so many localities. Converting military contracts into green energy contracts would make redirecting wasteful military spending more politically feasible, and the federal government already operates an array of programs -- including the Pentagon's own Office of Economic Adjustment -- that could be expanded to help businesses and communities make the transition.
Moving public dollars into this country’s renewable energy sector could begin to lay the groundwork for a vibrant economy in the second and third decades of this century, while creating good jobs in a growth sector, working toward energy security, and helping this country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Like the construction of our interstate highway system in the 1950s, it’s an investment that would pay dividends for decades to come.
Or we can skip all that and launch the next war.
Mattea Kramer is Research Director at National Priorities Project and lead author of A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget. Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and during the post-Cold War period, she worked for Seymour Melman at his National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Mattea Kramer and Miriam Pemberton
By John Grant
The media didn’t waste time lining up US leaders to trash Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent op-ed in The New York Times. There was the expected outrage that such a “dictator” and “tyrant” had the gall to lecture the United States of America. Bill O’Reilly referred to Putin as “a criminal monster.” Charles Krauthammer kept it real and called Putin "a KGB thug.”
For a timely explanation of the crisis of the militarization of America, days after popular opposition, in a historic first, blocked a US war -- in this case against the sovereign nation of Syria -- check out this film by Lanny Cotler and Paul Edwards of Class War Films
To view the film, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net
Nobel Laureate president defends unprovoked war against Syria: Obama Offers No Evidence Assad Ordered Syria Poison Gas Attack
By Dave Lindorff
In what NPR called “perhaps President Obama’s last best chance” to make his case for launching a war against Syria, the president tellingly didn’t make a single effort to present hard, compelling evidence to prove that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had been behind the alleged Sarin Aug. 21 attack on residents of a suburb of Damascus.
Not one piece of evidence.
Cross-Posted from FireDogLake
On September 9, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus -- who also formerly headed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) International Security Assistance Force for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-wrote the Counterinsurgency Field Manual -- began a new job as an adjunct professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College.
A people’s victory over Syrian attack plan: In Historic First, American Empire is Blocked at the Starting Line
By Dave Lindorff
Let’s be clear here. The people of the US and the world have won a huge victory over a war-obsessed US government and an administration that was hell-bent on yet again launching a criminal war of aggression against a country that poses no threat to the US or its neighbors. Overwhelming public opposition in the US and the nations of Europe, as well as most of the rest of the world to a US strike on Syria have forced the US to falter and to accept the idea of a compromise deal offered by Russia.
By Dave Lindorff
The Obama administration’s campaign for war against Syria is so flagrantly wrong, so ill-advised and so illegal, that it is making a fool of both the president and his secretary of state, John Kerry.
Hopeful and disturbing signs in an unscientific neighborhood survey: Anti-War Conservatives and War-Monger Liberals
By Dave Lindorff
I just had two discussions with neighbors in my suburb of Philadelphia that offer both a hope that the Republican-run House may block President Obama’s war on Syria, and a warning that liberal Democrats could hand him the narrow majority he needs to claim Congressional backing for his war.