INDEX (stories follow)
from Ted Rall’s Rallblog by Ted Rall
Obama announces a partial withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
- Dozens Killed in Baghdad Bombings in the Worst Attack in Months
- Obama Meets Soldiers, Touts Afghan War Plan
- Mullen Acknowledges Doubts on Afghan Withdrawal
- Pentagon: “No Rush to Exits” in Afghanistan
- Clinton Acknowledges U.S. Talks with Taliban
- Clinton to Lawmakers about Libya Conflict: “Whose Side Are You On?”
- Senate Proposal Would Mandate Military Detention for Terror Suspects
- U.S. to Tap Strategic Oil Reserve
- GOP Pulls Out of National Debt Talks
- Relatives of Mexico Drug War Victims Demand Presidential Apology
- U.S. Warns Peace Activists Not to Join Gaza Flotilla
- Pulitzer-Winning Reporter Reveals Undocumented Status
- Al Gore: Obama Has “Failed” to Tackle Global Warming
- New Jersey Assembly Curbs Wages, Benefits of Public Workers
- Thousands of Nurses Rally for Financial Tax on Wall Street
- Mothers of Jailed Hikers to Resume Fast Ahead of Iran Trial
Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets Monday to demand an end to the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and a move to a transitional government and elections. Saleh is recuperating in Saudi Arabia after surgery for injuries sustained in a rocket attack.
Among the demands of the demonstrators is the departure of the president’s sons, Ahmad Saleh and Khaled Saleh. Ahmad commands the dreaded presidential guard, and Khaled is also a military commander.
Bashar al-Asad on Monday gave his third national speech since the uprising against him began about three months ago, and it appears mainly to have made many of his countrymen more angry at him.
Euronews reports that al-Asad tried to distinguish between potential dialogue partners among his critics and those who, he said, were mere vandals and saboteurs. Al-Asad maintains that parliamentary elections will be held later this summer, but his family has presided over a one-party state since 1970 and many question how genuine his commitment to reform is.
President Abdullah Gul of Turkey slammed al-Asad for not opening his country faster to multi-party elections, showing Ankara’s increasing frustration with the Syrian leadership. Turkey under the Justice and Development Party had reached out to al-Asad and repaired relations with Damascus, allowing a big expansion in bilateral trade. But al-Asad is, from Turkey’s point of view, squandering all that progress and threatening Turkey’s economy by being so repressive and provoking a months-long uprising, as well as chasing dissidents over the border into Turkey, where they are an economic and political liability for the latter.
Deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidin Bin Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi have been sentenced by a Tunisian court to 35 years in prison for embezzlement. While it is clear that the president and the first lady were extremely corrupt while in office, it seems to me that the main purpose of the sentence is to ensure that Bin Ali does not attempt to return to the country, since he now would be arrested at the airport. Bin Ali gave a cock-and-bull interview maintaining that he only flew to Jidda last January to deliver his wife there, and had planned on returning but the plane left without him. Dear Zine: the country left without you.
This Observer editorial argues that the widespread availability of digital video recording devices, including those in smart phones, has allowed people abused by their governments to create an evidence trail that can then be deployed at forums like the International Criminal Court. Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Libya are singled out as governments that have committed war crimes against their people and where these have been recorded and disseminated by video.
Addendum: Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar Seminary, a leading center of Sunni Muslim authority in the world, has issued a document calling for a civil, democratic state that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or gender and is dedicated to the welfare of the people. The document also seeks more independence of al-Azhar from the state, asking that its rector be elected rather than appointed by the president of the country. This development in the thinking of the al-Azhar clerics is momentous in my view, not only for al-Azhar and Egypt but also for Sunni Islam in general. Al-Azhar does have to overcome suspicion in some quarters that it is an Establishment institution too close to the old Mubarak regime. But many ordinary Sunnis do value its fatwas.
from World War 4 Report blogs by Jurist
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on June 23 condemned a Bahraini court for sentencing 21 human rights advocates, political activists and opposition leaders to harsh punishments. The court sentenced the protestors to lengthy prison sentences, including life terms. Ban urged Bahraini authorities to comply with international human rights obligations such as ensuring the right to due process and a fair trial and permitting the defendants to appeal their sentences. A spokesperson for the secretary-general relayed Ban’s sentiments about how Bahraini authorities should proceed:
A new report raises questions about the connection of Harvard, Vanderbilt and other U.S. universities to European financial interests buying or leasing vast areas of African farmland. Called “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa,” the report by the Oakland Institute claims farmers in Africa are being driven off their lands to make way for new industrial farming projects backed by hedge funds seeking profits and foreign countries looking for cheap food. We speak with Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute. “We have heard about the role of these private hedge funds in food speculation and speculation of food prices, because they control commodities” says Mittal. “But when they start buying even the means of production — they control labor, they control large tracts of land, they control water, they dictate what is grown and how it is grown — it is the kind of vertical integration of a food system that we have never seen before.” [includes rush transcript]
President Obama’s plan to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan still leaves more in the country than when he came into office. In a televised address, Obama said he will also bring home another 23,000 troops by the end of summer in 2012, leaving around 70,000 military forces, plus thousands of contractors. We discuss the longest war in U.S. history with Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. “There is an effort here to create a narrative that, as he put it, the war is receding, the tide of war is receding, when in fact nothing of the sort is happening,” says Porter. “Clearly, the Taliban are carrying out counterattacks this year and will do so again next year. That’s not going to come to an end.” [includes rush transcript]
Breaking news: CNN is reporting that President Obama has decided to take 30,000 troops out of Afghanistanover the next year, including 10,000 by the end of this year. Military commanders had requested that he limit this first draw down to as little as 5,000, so this step was unexpected.
There are 100,000 or so US troops in that country, so even this drawdown will leave many there, and, indeed, their numbers will be higher than during most of the war. But symbolically, Obama’s move indicates that he is now moving to wind up US involvement in that war. It is a testimony to what a trauma the September 11 attacks were that the US public has put up with this, the longest war in American history, for so long. But opinion polling shows that most of the public now wants out, including 60 percent of Republicans. And the Republican presidential candidates are beginning to run against the war.
This local ABC News report covers the controversies, and notes ominously that there is no talk of pulling out US drones from the region.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan revealed last Saturday that the US has been holding secret direct talks with some of the Taliban leadership.
For how things look from the other side, see this interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban leader, in a Hungarian newspaper, translated by the USG Open Source Center. Zaeef, incredibly, represents the Taliban as not interested in power. He is challenged in the article by Afghan Haroun Mir, who doubts that the Taliban would ever hold another presidential election if they grew powerful again.
Former Taliban Official Tells Hungarian Daily Taliban Want To Teach, Not Govern
Report on interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, by Eszter Zalan in Kabul; date not given: “‘The Taliban Will Not Give up the Fight — The Taliban Opposition Can Be Included in the Power at the Cost of Dangerous Compromises”
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…
I am not sure that anything is happening — Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who was imprisoned in Guantanamo for four years after 2001, told Nepszabadsag in connection with the talks with the Taliban.
Today he is giving advice regarding the Taliban in the protection of guards supplied by the Afghan government, in a house in Kabul provided for him by the Karzai cabinet. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was the first to confirm at the weekend that the United States and other countries were in direct contact with the Taliban.
According to Zaeef, the West is spreading contradictory news on the talks to create mistrust among the Taliban, and “because the European people have become tired,” and do not want to continue the war. “The Europeans want change. With the help of the news on the talks, the leaders want to create vain hopes that an alternative exists,” Zaeef says, who also supports a negotiated solution, but states: “The Taliban will definitely not become a political party while the US troops are in Afghanistan. I am certain that they will not give up the fight.”
According to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban are not interested in politics
Zaeef claims that power is not important for the Taliban. “Perhaps they will go home and teach in the madrasas (religious schools),” he presumes about the period after the settlement. He says that even in the 1990s they came to power out of necessity because the whole country had become destabilized during the civil war, warlords were domineering everywhere, and a tough and dictatorial central power was needed.
“The Taliban brought security and stability. But they are not interested in politics. When they are in power, they cannot teach the people, even though this is more important for them. The Taliban, as experts of Islam, have a natural power within society. They will lose this power if they start to work in government,” Zaeef says, admitting that something like this happened in the 1990s. According to Zaeef, who is now teaching in a religious school, the Taliban do not want to overthrow the Karzai government, only to reform it. He does not say much about his own role, all we know is that his telephone is tapped by the Afghan secret service (among others).
Zaeef refuses to admit that any kind of progress has taken place in Afghanistan in the past 10 years.
“A US general once sat here opposite me, and asked the same, namely why do I not accept progress? I asked him what he was talking about. Every day Afghan children are being killed, so what makes you think that it is enough to build roads in exchange? And you expect that I accept this so-called progress?,” he says, and reiterates the theory popular in Afghanistan that the Americans are only present in this Central-Asian country owing to the mineral resources.
As a matter of fact, in his book entitled “My Life With the Taliban” — also available in English –, and also during the interview Zaeef insists on the romantic image of his fellow Taliban as freedom fighters. He rejects everything that would attack this image with muddled arguments. He explains that the only reason women have been pushed in the background is because men bear a greater responsibility in Islam, therefore, the job opportunities have had to be provided for them. The 1,500-year old Buddha statues had to be destroyed out of political revenge: in response to the fact that fanatic Hindus had destroyed the Babri Mosque in India in 1992.
It is to be seen whether too many human rights will have to be given up for creating peace with Taliban who think similarly to Zaeef. Especially as, since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February speech, laying down the weapons and accepting the Afghan Constitution have not been conditions for the Taliban, only a break with the terrorist organization Al-Qa’ida. To make it easier for the Taliban (and Washington), the United Nations has recently separated the black lists afflicting the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida member s.
“I hope that, rather than making a pact, a real peace process will take place,” political analyst Haroun Mir said, voicing the concern of many Afghans. According to him the process so far is not transparent and it does not involve the entire Afghan society. In his opinion, the Taliban know that they would only lose in a democratic process, therefore, they will probably want to place the Afghan political system on entirely new bases. “I do not believe that they would set a presidential candidate, nor candidates for parliamentary deputies,” he says with a slight smile. Although even the fact of the talks has not yet been confirmed, the Taliban hope for obtaining more power than this, and no one knows what kind of promise would force them to lay down the weapons. According to Mir, if the Taliban do not lay down their weapons, they could become like the Hezbollah in Lebanon: they play democracy, but they shoot when they cannot get what they want. Mir also recalls that there is no agreement without Pakistan.”
A Syrian reader shared this with me: “Dear Editor, Am I to understand the Obama Administration in considering war crime charges against Syria? Let me see, I understand that dissident groups claim the government of Syria has killed 1,300 citizens while admitting that over 300 security and military personnel also met their end in the fighting. But, even if there are 10,000 so-called refugees in Turkey, aren’t there over 1,300,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria because of the American invasion of that country. Is it not agreed that American action in Iraq is the cause of the deaths of over 300,000 Iraqi civilians? Is the Obama Administration becoming immune to balanced or proportional thinking? Is anyone going to bring war crime charges against Bush, Cheney or Blair? Puzzled. ”
*PS Why I share the reader’s outrage against Western hypocrisy, I take issue with his characterization of Syrian refugees as “so-called refugees”.
The Obama administration has issued minor criticism of human rights abuses against peaceful protests by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the monarchy in Bahrain. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just recently said the conflict in Yemen would end only if President Ali Abdullah Saleh “steps down.” We speak with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole about why the United States has not been more vocal in supporting these pro-democracy movements in a region of strategic importance. [includes rush transcript]
President Barack Obama has overruled top administration lawyers and decided he has the legal authority to continue involvement in the NATO air war in Libya, without congressional approval. Our guest, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, who supports the Libya operation, says Obama needs authorization from Congress in order to continue. “Not doing that has damaged the legitimacy of the war in the eyes of the American people,” says Cole. [includes rush transcript]
President Obama is expected to announce today a withdrawal of up to 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year. Under the plan, the United States would still have some 67,000 troops, plus thousands of contractors, in Afghanistan at the start of 2013—the same total as before last year’s surge. “[U.S. Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said that he thought that if the U.S. brings the hammer on the Taliban again and again through the next year, that then they may be able to force them to the negotiating table in some sincerity sometime over this next 12 months,” says our guest, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole. “But how likely is that, really?” [includes rush transcript]
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: TD pieces tend to be long, so I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that this site’s readers are also devoted book buyers, and that you have given in an unprecedented way in return for signed copies of Adam Hochschild’s remarkable new history of World War I, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. That offer is now at an end. My deepest thanks to everyone who took it up and so kept this site humming along!
Remember as well that TD makes modest money every time you visit Amazon.com from a TomDispatch book link and buy anything at all. With that in mind, if you like today’s post, consider picking up a copy of my book The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. If you meant to contribute for Hochschild’s history but didn’t, you can still go to Amazon via TD and buy it (an act you won’t regret). Or in this week of the war on words at TD, in which Jonathan Schell wrote on how the Obama administration assaulted the dictionary, consider picking up a copy of his amazingly prescient book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. It came out just as the U.S. was invading Iraq, when “nonviolence” seemed a fool’s game, but in ways no one could imagine, Schell “knew” that something like the Arab Spring would come. On any purchase you make, we get a small cut at no extra cost to you, and it adds up. Tom]
Nine War Words That Define Our World
“Victory” Is the Verbal Equivalent of a Yeti
By Tom Engelhardt
Now that Washington has at least six wars cooking (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and more generally, the global war on terror), Americans find themselves in a new world of war. If, however, you haven’t joined the all-volunteer military, any of our 17 intelligence outfits, the Pentagon, the weapons companies and hire-a-gun corporations associated with it, or some other part of the National Security Complex, America’s distant wars go on largely without you (at least until the bills come due).
War has a way of turning almost anything upside down, including language. But with lost jobs, foreclosed homes, crumbling infrastructure, and weird weather, who even notices? This undoubtedly means that you’re using a set of antediluvian war words or definitions from your father’s day. It’s time to catch up.
So here’s the latest word in war words: what’s in, what’s out, what’s inside out. What follows are nine common terms associated with our present wars that probably don’t mean what you think they mean. Since you live in a twenty-first-century war state, you might consider making them your own.
Victory: Like defeat, it’s a “loaded” word and rather than define it, Americans should simply avoid it.
In his last press conference before retirement, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked whether the U.S. was “winning in Afghanistan.” He replied, “I have learned a few things in four and a half years, and one of them is to try and stay away from loaded words like ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ What I will say is that I believe we are being successful in implementing the president’s strategy, and I believe that our military operations are being successful in denying the Taliban control of populated areas, degrading their capabilities, and improving the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces.”
In 2005, George W. Bush, whom Gates also served, used the word “victory” 15 times in a single speech (“National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”). Keep in mind, though, that our previous president learned about war in the movie theaters of his childhood where the Marines always advanced and Americans actually won. Think of his victory obsession as the equivalent of a mid-twentieth-century hangover.
In 2011, despite the complaints of a few leftover neocons dreaming of past glory, you can search Washington high and low for “victory.” You won’t find it. It’s the verbal equivalent of a Yeti. Being “successful in implementing the president’s strategy,” what more could you ask? Keeping the enemy on his “back foot”: hey, at $10 billion a month, if that isn’t “success,” tell me what is?
Admittedly, the assassination of Osama bin Laden was treated as if it were VJ Day ending World War II, but actually win a war? Don’t make Secretary of Defense Gates laugh!
Maybe, if everything comes up roses, in some year soon we’ll be celebrating DE (Degrade the Enemy) Day.
Enemy: Any super-evil pipsqueak on whose back you can raise at least $1.2 trillion a year for the National Security Complex.
“I actually consider al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with Al-Awlaki as a leader within that organization probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.” So said Michael Leiter, presidential adviser and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, last February, months before Osama bin Laden was killed (and Leiter himself resigned). Since bin Laden’s death, Leiter’s assessment has been heartily seconded in word and deed in Washington. For example, New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti recently wrote: “Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen is believed by the C.I.A. to pose the greatest immediate threat to the United States, more so than even Qaeda’s senior leadership believed to be hiding in Pakistan.”
Now, here’s the odd thing. Once upon a time, statements like these might have been tantamount to announcements of victory: That’s all they’ve got left?
Of course, once upon a time, if you asked an American who was the most dangerous man on the planet, you might have been told Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or Mao Zedong. These days, don’t think enemy at all; think comic-book-style arch-villain Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom — anyone, in fact, capable of standing in for globe-encompassing Evil.
Right now, post-bin-Laden, America’s super-villain of choice is Anwar al-Awlaki, an enemy with seemingly near superhuman powers to disturb Washington, but no army, no state, and no significant finances. The U.S.-born “radical cleric” lives as a semi-fugitive in Yemen, a poverty-stricken land of which, until recently, few Americans had heard. Al-Awlaki is considered at least partially responsible for two high-profile plots against the U.S.: the underwear bomber and package bombssent by plane to Chicago synagogues. Both failed dismally, even though neither Superman nor the Fantastic Four rushed to the rescue.
As an Evil One, al-Awlaki is a voodoo enemy, a YouTube warrior (“the bin Laden of the Internet”) with little but his wits and whatever superpowers he can muster to help him. He was reputedly responsible for helping to poison the mind of Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan before he blew away 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. There’s no question of one thing: he’s gotten inside Washington’s war-on-terror head in a big way. As a result, the Obama administration is significantly intensifying its war against him and the ragtag crew of tribesmen he hangs out with who go by the name of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Covert War: It used to mean secret war, a war “in the shadows” and so beyond the public’s gaze. Now, it means a conflict in the full glare of publicity that everybody knows about, but no one can do anything about. Think: in the news, but off the books.
Go figure: today, our “covert” wars are front-page news. The top-secret operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden garnered an unprecedented 69% of the U.S. media “newshole” the week after it happened, and 90% of cable TV coverage. And America’s most secretive covert warriors, elite SEAL Team 6, caused “SEAL-mania” to break out nationwide.
Moreover, no minor drone strike in the “covert” CIA-run air war in the Pakistani tribal borderlandsgoes unreported. In fact, as with Yemen today, future plans for the launching or intensification of Pakistani-style covert wars are now openly discussed, debated, and praised in Washington, as well as widely reported on. At one point, CIA Director Leon Panetta even bragged that, when it came to al-Qaeda, the Agency’s covert air war in Pakistan was “the only game in town.”
Think of covert war today as the equivalent of a heat-seeking missile aimed directly at that mainstream media newshole. The “shadows” that once covered whole operations now only cover accountability for them.
Permanent bases: In the American way of war, military bases built on foreign soil are the equivalent of heroin. The Pentagon can’t help building them and can’t live without them, but “permanent bases” don’t exist, not for Americans. Never.
That’s simple enough, but let me be absolutely clear anyway: Americans may have at least 865 bases around the world (not including those in war zones), but we have no desire to occupy other countries. And wherever we garrison (and where aren’t we garrisoning?), we don’t want to stay, not permanently anyway.
In the grand scheme of things, for a planet more than four billion years old, our 90 bases in Japan, a mere 60-odd years in existence, or our 227 bases in Germany, some also around for 60-odd years, or those in Korea, 50-odd years, count as little. Moreover, we have it on good word that permanent bases are un-American. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said as much in 2003 when the first of the Pentagon’s planned Iraqi mega-bases were already on the drawing boards. Hillary Clinton said so again just the other day, about Afghanistan, and an anonymous American official added for clarification: “There are U.S. troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently.” Korea anyone? So get it straight, Americans don’t want permanent bases. Period.
And that’s amazing when you think about it, since globally Americans are constantly building and upgrading military bases. The Pentagon is hooked. In Afghanistan, it’s gone totally wild — more than 400 of themand still building! Not only that, Washington is now deep into negotiations with the Afghan government to transform some of them into“joint bases” and stay on them if not until hell freezes over, then at least until Afghan soldiers can be whipped into an American-style army. Latest best guesstimate for that? 2017 without even getting close.
Fortunately, we plan to turn those many bases we built to the tune of billions of dollars, including the gigantic establishments at Bagram andKandahar, over to the Afghans and just hang around, possibly “for decades,” as — and the word couldn’t be more delicate or thoughtful —“tenants.”
And by the way, accompanying the recent reports that the CIA is preparing to lend the U.S. military a major covert hand, drone-style, in its Yemen campaign, was news that the Agency is building a base of its own on a rushed schedule in an unnamed Persian Gulf country. Just one base. But don’t expect that to be the end of it. After all, that’s like eating one potato chip.
Withdrawal: We’re going, we’re going… Just not quite yet and stop pushing!
If our bases are shots of heroin, then for the U.S. military leaving anyplace represents a form of “withdrawal,” which means the shakes. Like drugs, it’s just so darn easy to go in that Washington keeps doing it again and again. Getting out’s the bear. Who can blame them, if they don’t want to leave?
In Iraq, for instance, Washington has been in the grips of withdrawal fever since 2008 when the Bush administration agreed that all U.S. troops would leave by the end of this year. You can still hear those combat boots dragging in the sand. At this point, top administration and military officials are almost begging the Iraqis to let us remain on a few of our monster bases, like the ill-named Camp Victory or Balad Air Base, which in its heyday had air traffic that reputedly rivaled Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military officially departs, lock, stock, and (gun) barrel, Washington’s still not really planning on leaving.
In recent years, the U.S. has built near-billion-dollar “embassies” that are actually citadels-cum-regional-command-posts in the Greater Middle East. Just last week, four former U.S. ambassadors to Iraq made a plea to Congress to pony up the $5.2 billion requested by the Obama administration so that that the State Department can turn its Baghdad embassy into a massive militarized missionwith 5,100 hire-a-guns and a small mercenary air force.
In sum, “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” is not a song that Washington likes to sing.
Drone War (see also Covert War): A permanent air campaign using missile-armed pilotless planes that banishes both withdrawal and victory to the slagheap of history.
Is it even a “war” if only one side ever appears in person and only one side ever suffers damage? America’s drones are often flown from thousands of miles away by “pilots” who, on leaving their U.S. bases after a work shift “in” a war zone, see signs warning them to drive carefully because this may be “the most dangerous part of your day.” This is something new in the history of warfare.
Drones are the covert weaponry of choice in our covert wars, which means, of course, that the military just can’t wait to usher chosen reporters into its secret labs and experimental testing grounds to reveal dazzling visions of future destruction.
To make sense of drones, we probably have to stop thinking about “war” and start envisaging other models — for example, that of the executioner who carries out a death sentence on another human being at no danger to himself. If a pilotless drone is actually an executioner’s weapon, a modern airborne version of the guillotine, the hangman’s noose, or the electric chair, the death sentence it carries with it is not decreed by a judge and certainly not by a jury of peers.
It’s assembled by intelligence agents based on fragmentary (and often self-interested) evidence, organized by targeteers, and given the thumbs-up sign by military or CIA lawyers. All of them are scores, hundreds, thousands of miles away from their victims, people they don’t know, and may not faintly understand or share a culture with. In addition, the capital offenses are often not established, still to be carried out, never to be carried out, or nonexistent. The fact that drones, despite their “precision” weaponry, regularly take out innocent civilians as well as prospective or actual terrorists reminds us that, if this is our model, Washington is a drunken executioner.
In a sense, Bush’s global war on terror called drones up from the depths of its unconscious to fulfill its most basic urges: to be endless and to reach anywhere on Earth with an Old Testament-style sense of vengeance. The drone makes mincemeat of victory (which involves an endpoint), withdrawal (for which you have to be there in the first place), and national sovereignty (see below).
Corruption: Something inherent in the nature of war-torn Iraqis and Afghans from which only Americans, in and out of uniform, can save them.
Don’t be distracted by the $6.6 billion that, in the form of shrink-wrapped $100 bills, the Bush administration loaded onto C-130 transport planes, flew to liberated Iraq in 2003 for “reconstruction” purposes, and somehow mislaid. The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction did recently suggest that it might prove to be “the largest theft of funds in national history”; on the other hand, maybe it was just misplaced… forever.
Iraq’s parliamentary speaker now claims that up to $18.7 billion in Iraqi oil funds have gone missing-in-action, but Iraqis, as you know, are corrupt and unreliable. So pay no attention. Anyway, not to worry, it wasn’t our money. All those crisp Benjamins came from Iraqi oil revenues that just happened to be held in U.S. banks. And in war zones, what can you do? Sometimes bad things happen to good $100 bills!
In any case, corruption is endemic to the societies of the Greater Middle East, which lack the institutional foundations of democratic societies. Not surprisingly then, in impoverished, narcotizedAfghanistan, it’s run wild. Fortunately, Washington has fought nobly against its ravages for years. Time and again, top American officials have cajoled, threatened, even browbeat Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his compatriots to get them to crack down on corrupt practices and hold honest elections to build support for the American-backed government in Kabul.
Here’s the funny thing though: a report on Afghan reconstruction recently released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff suggests that the military and foreign “developmental” funds that have poured into the country, and which account for 97% of its gross domestic product, have played a major role in encouraging corruption. To find a peacetime equivalent, imagine firemen rushing to a blaze only to pour gasoline on it and then lash out at the building’s dwellers as arsonists.
National Sovereignty: 1. Something Americans cherish and wouldn’t let any other country violate; 2. Something foreigners irrationally cling to, a sign of unreliability or mental instability.
Here’s the twenty-first-century credo of the American war state. Please memorize it: The world is our oyster. We shall not weep. We may missile [bomb, assassinate, night raid, invade] whom we please, when we please, where we please. This is to be called “American safety.”
Those elsewhere, with a misplaced reverence for their own safety or security, or an overblown sense of pride and self-worth, who put themselves in harm’s way — watch out. After all, in a phrase: Sovereignty ‘R’ Us.
Note: As we still live on a one-way imperial planet, don’t try reversing any of the above, not even as a thought experiment. Don’t imagine Iranian drones hunting terrorists over Southern California or Pakistani special operations forces launching night raids on small midwestern towns. Not if you know what’s good for you.
War: A totally malleable concept that is purely in the eye of the beholder.
Which is undoubtedly why the Obama administration recently decided not to return to Congress for approval of its Libyan intervention as required by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The administration instead issued a report essentially declaring Libya not to be a “war” at all, and so not to fall under the provisions of that resolution. As that report explained: “U.S. operations [in Libya] do not involve  sustained fighting or  active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve  the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties, or a serious threat thereof, or  any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.”
This, of course, opens up the possibility of quite a new and sunny American future on planet Earth, one in which it will no longer be wildly utopian to imagine war becoming extinct. After all, the Obama administration is already moving to intensify and expand its [fill in the blank] in Yemen, which will meet all of the above criteria, as its [fill in the blank] in the Pakistani tribal borderlands already does. Someday, Washington could be making America safe all over the globe in what would, miraculously, be a thoroughly war-less world.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).
[Note: My special thanks go to three websites without which I simply couldn’t write pieces like this or cover the areas that interest me most: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward’s the War in Context. All are invaluable to me. In addition, two daily services I couldn’t do without are Today’s Terrorism News, which comes out of New York University’s Center for Law and Security (and to which you can subscribe by clicking here), and the Af/Pak Channel Daily Brief, which comes out of the New America Foundation (and to which you can subscribe by clicking here). Both represent monumental effort and are appreciated.]
[Absolute Last Chance for TomDispatch Readers: In 24 hours, your opportunity to get a personalized, signed copy of Adam Hochschild’s bestselling To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, in return for a $100 contribution to this website will be over. Visit our donation page now or be doomed on Wednesday night. After that, donations to TomDispatch will, of course, still be warmly welcomed and, for $75, a signed copy of my book, The American Way of War, will continue to be available. But you’ll have missed a genuine treat. Tom]
Nobody seems to have noticed, but in the nearly two and a half years of the Obama administration at least three commonplace phrases of the George W. Bush era have slipped into oblivion: “regime change,” “shock and awe,” and “imperial presidency.” The war in Libya should remind us of just how appropriate they remain.
By now, it’s obvious that, despite much talk about a limited mission to protect Libyan civilians, Obama and his NATO allies are as clearly on a course of “regime change” in Libya as Bush was in Iraq. If you loved it then (and you haven’t learned a thing since), you should love it now. If you were disturbed by it then, you should still be disturbed by it.
No question, Saddam Hussein was one nasty guy, as is Muammar Gaddafi, and the Bush administration was certainly blunter about what it was trying to do to Saddam. The initial air assault aimed at him and other regime heavyweights (which killed dozens of Iraqi civilians, but not a single significant or even insignificant figure) was repeatedly described as a “decapitation attack.” This time around, the attacks on Gaddafi’s “compound” and other locations the Libyan leader is suspected of using have been accompanied by denials that assassination was intended or his removal the point. But reality is reality, and attempted regime change is attempted regime change, whatever officials care to call it.
When the U.S. and NATO struck with their might against Gaddafi, using jets, drones, and later Apache helicopters, they were visibly engaging in a modified version of the “shock and awe” campaign that launched the invasion of Iraq: massive air power meant to crack a regime open, leave it stunned and potentially leaderless, and take it down. As air power, for all its destructiveness, has disappointed in the past, so it has done here. All the Obama administration’s problems with Congress and with the War Powers Resolution come from a belief — similar to the Bush administration’s — that, given our awesome might, this would end quickly. It hasn’t.
Faced with the need to endlessly claim “progress” (amid endless frustration) in a war that has once again inspired something less than awe and submission, the Obama administration has, like previous administrations, resorted to the powers of the imperial presidency, which only grow fiercer with time. It seems that even a former constitutional law professor, on entering the White House, can’t resist enhancing the powers of the executive office. And if that’s not imperial, what is? (Ironically, if the Obama administration had gone to Congress for support weeks ago, as the War Powers Act calls for, it would undoubtedly have gotten that support.) In the meantime, in its attempt to explain away the powers invested in Congress, it has launched a war on words, as Jonathan Schell makes clear. Schell first began writing about imperial presidents back in the days of Richard Nixon, and his prescient 2003 book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People made pre-sense of our Arab Spring planet. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Schell discusses war and the imperial presidency, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Attacking Libya — and the Dictionary
If Americans Don’t Get Hurt, War Is No Longer War
By Jonathan Schell
The Obama administration has come up with a remarkable justification for going to war against Libya without the congressional approval required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration insists it is not a war. Why? Because,according to “United States Activities in Libya,” a 32-page report that the administration released last week, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.”
In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favor of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die. When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.
This cannot be classified as anything but strange thinking and it depends, in turn, on a strange fact: that, in our day, it is indeed possible for some countries (or maybe only our own), for the first time in history, to wage war without receiving a scratch in return. This was nearly accomplished in the bombing of Serbia in 1999, in which only one American plane was shot down (and the pilot rescued).
The epitome of this new warfare is the predator drone, which has become an emblem of the Obama administration. Its human operators can sit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or in Langley, Virginia, while the drone floats above Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Libya, pouring destruction down from the skies. War waged in this way is without casualties for the wager because none of its soldiers are near the scene of battle — if that is even the right word for what is going on.
Some strange conclusions follow from this strange thinking and these strange facts. In the old scheme of things, an attack on a country was an act of war, no matter who launched it or what happened next. Now, the Obama administration claims that if the adversary cannot fight back, there is no war.
It follows that adversaries of the United States have a new motive for, if not equaling us, then at least doing us some damage. Only then will they be accorded the legal protections (such as they are) of authorized war. Without that, they are at the mercy of the whim of the president.
The War Powers Resolution permits the president to initiate military operations only when the nation is directly attacked, when there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The Obama administration, however, justifies its actions in the Libyan intervention precisely on the grounds that there is no threat to the invading forces, much less the territories of the United States.
There is a parallel here with the administration of George W. Bush on the issue of torture (though not, needless to say, a parallel between the Libyan war itself, which I oppose but whose merits can be reasonably debated, and torture, which was wholly reprehensible). President Bush wanted the torture he was ordering not to be considered torture, so he arranged to get lawyers in the Justice department to write legal-sounding opinions excluding certain forms of torture, such as waterboarding, from the definition of the word. Those practices were thenceforward called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Now, Obama wants his Libyan war not to be a war and so has arranged to define a certain kind of war — the American-casualty-free kind — as not war (thoughwithout even the full support of his own lawyers). Along with Libya, a good English word — war — is under attack.
In these semantic operations of power upon language, a word is separated from its commonly accepted meaning. The meanings of words are one of the few common grounds that communities naturally share. When agreed meanings are challenged, no one can use the words in question without stirring up spurious “debates,” as happened with the word torture. For instance, mainstream news organizations, submissive to George Bush’s decisions on the meanings of words, stopped callingwaterboarding torture and started calling it other things, including “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but also “harsh treatment,” “abusive practices,” and so on.
Will the news media now stop calling the war against Libya a war? No euphemism for war has yet caught on, though soon after launching its Libyan attacks, an administration official proposed the phrase “kinetic military action” and more recently, in that 32-page report, the term of choice was “limited military operations.” No doubt someone will come up with something catchier soon.
How did the administration twist itself into this pretzel? An interview that Charlie Savage and Mark Landler of the New York Times held with State Department legal advisor Harold Koh sheds at least some light on the matter. Many administrations and legislators have taken issue with the War Powers Resolution, claiming it challenges powers inherent in the presidency. Others, such as Bush administration Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, have argued that the Constitution’s plain declaration that Congress “shall declare war” does not mean what most readers think it means, and so leaves the president free to initiate all kinds of wars.
Koh has long opposed these interpretations — and in a way, even now, he remains consistent. Speaking for the administration, he still upholds Congress’s power to declare war and the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution. “We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own,” he told the Times. “We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”
In a curious way, then, a desire to avoid challenge to existing law has forced assault on the dictionary. For the Obama administration to go ahead with a war lacking any form of Congressional authorization, it had to challenge either law or the common meaning of words. Either the law or language had to give.
It chose language.
Jonathan Schell is the Doris M. Shaffer Fellow at The Nation Institute, and a Senior Lecturer at Yale University. He is the author of several books, including The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Schell discusses war and the imperial presidency, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Jonathan Schell
from War Times blogs by janinsanfran
So the President has decided to “declare victory in Afghanistan and get out” except that neither he nor anyone else has a definition of “victory” and we’re not actually getting out. By the end of the President’s current term in 2012, there will still be more than twice as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan as when he took office.
from Informed Comment by Juan
Mark Kukis writes a guest column for Informed Comment:
Leaving Iraq: Why total U.S. military withdrawal is best
By Mark Kukis
The Obama administration’s move to accelerate a U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan inadvertently highlighted an unsettled question about American forces in Iraq. Will U.S. troops leave Iraq entirely at the end of 2011, as outlined in a standing agreement between Washington and Baghdad? Or will Iraq and the United States strike a new deal that allows a significant U.S. military presence to remain?
With the 2011 withdrawal deadline nearing, the Pentagon and key figures in Washington have for months signaled a willingness to leave a large number of troops in Iraq, perhaps as many as 15,000. Fears of instability and a potentially meddlesome Iran have left some U.S. strategists feeling that the U.S. military needs to keep a strong posture inside Iraq. Under the withdrawal agreement the Iraqi government must technically ask for a continued U.S. troop presence, however. So far, no request has come, and that appears unlikely to change before the end of the year. This is good, because the Obama administration should resist any urges it may have to linger militarily in Iraq.
In May, thousands of Iraqis marched against a lengthened American military stay at the behest of Muqtada al-Sadr, a pivotal political figure who has vowed to reform his Mahdi Army militia and attack U.S. troops en masse anew if they remain past the 2011 deadline. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is highly unlikely to defy al-Sadr and extend an invitation to U.S. forces beyond 2011. Al-Maliki owes his current government coalition to al-Sadr, who could collapse the government by withdrawing the support of his parliamentary bloc.
In 2009, as the U.S. withdrawal was beginning, I interviewed roughly 100 Iraqis in Baghdad at length for a book of mine recently released, Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003 – 2009. The book is an oral history of the war in Iraq as told entirely by Iraqis, who spoke with candor at length with me on a wide range of topics. The subject of whether U.S. forces should stay or go came up frequently, and Iraqis generally had one of two opinions based on their sectarian identity. Shi’ites tended to be eager to see U.S. forces go – and the sooner the better. The newly empowered Shi’ite majority often sees the U.S. presence as an impediment to the new order in Iraq, where wealth, power and privileges have been flowing into Shi’ite circles since the downfall of Saddam Hussein at the expense of the Sunni minority. (In other opinion polling, a super-majority of Iraqis has tended to want US troops out in fairly short order, a finding that remained the same over many years, and which would be consistent with the majority Shiite population of some 60% of the country being in favor of an early departure of the Americans).
The Sunni Arabs in our sample tended to want the U.S. troops stay in force. Many of them see the American military presence as the one institution that can stop a ruthless marginalization at hands of the rising Shi’ite majority. Sunni fears are well founded. The Iraqi government has shown little regard generally for the Sunni minority and been downright cruel at times by encouraging Shi’ite militias in sectarian violence. (Other polling has also found that Sunni Arabs are disproportionately worried about poor security once the Americans are gone, though the greater Sunni Arab opposition to a complete withdrawal has not always been replicated. Of course, some Sunni Arabs are against the US remaining in their country, and they have demonstrated in tandem with the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, though in small numbers).
Kurds too fear that they will lose out to the Shi’ite majority in the absence of a U.S. military presence, which has served as something of a brake on tensions in the dispute around Kirkuk. But Kurds are in a much stronger position militarily, economically and politically than the Sunni minority and know they can weather any serious confrontations fairly well even without American forces on hand to play referee.
That Iraqi opinion is divided over the question of a continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq is the main reason American forces should go entirely. Any troops remaining in 2012 would become a lightening rod for political discord, which has a tendency to become quite violent quite quickly in Iraq. Of course some U.S. troops are likely to remain in Iraq to continue working with the Iraqi security forces, but only token number should stay. Calls for a residual U.S. force of up to 15,000 troops, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham has made, would rightly leave many Iraqis feeling like a galling reminder of the deeply resented occupation is still with them. Al-Sadr would certainly not tolerate such a sizable U.S. troop contingent, and neither would Sunni militants still active in the country. A U.S. footprint that heavy would inevitably draw attacks from Shi’ite and Sunni fighters alike.
The prospect of continuing attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq is not just a problem for the military, which has already lost nearly 4,500 men and women in Iraq. Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq have side effects that stoke instability generally. Secular, nonsectarian Sunni militants, men who consider themselves Iraqi nationalists for resisting a foreign military presence, drift into the company of Iraq’s al-Qaeda contingent when seeking help to lash out at U.S. forces. This drift in effect bolsters al-Qaeda radicals, allowing them to pursue more easily sectarian violence against Shi’ites. Increased sectarian aggression on the part of al-Qaeda produces a violent response from Shi’ite militias such as the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government, whose security forces are quick to indulge in brutal crackdowns against Sunni communities where militants are thought to be active. So, a U.S. troop presence, big or small, inadvertently furthers sectarian violence. This has been the case since the early days of the U.S. occupation, when a Sunni nationalist resistance movement formed to fight U.S. forces but was quickly hijacked by al-Qaeda.
None of these points are intended to suggest that prospects for Iraq will brighten significantly in 2012 if U.S. forces are gone. Iraq has problems, major problems. Ask any Iraqi. The issues that make Iraq one of the most violent and troubled countries in the world will not disappear if U.S. forces go. But a continued U.S. military presence will only deepen the worst of Iraq’s problems. And after nearly ten years in country, the U.S. military’s ability to help Iraq solve its many problems is surely spent.
Mark Kukis is a journalist and writer now living in Nairobi, Kenya. He has written for Time, The New Republic andSalon, and was the White House correspondent for United Press International, 1999-2001. His most recent book is Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009