Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

The practicality of nonviolent civil resistance

September 21, 2014

Erica Chenoweth in this TED talk says that in the past 50 or so years, nonviolent civil resistance (or, as I prefer to call it, mass defiance) has a better track record of success than violent struggle for overthrowing oppressive governments and resisting conquest.

I am not a pacifist, but in recent years I have gotten out of the mindset that says that war is the baseline answer to oppression and aggression, and it is only the alternatives to war that must justify themselves.

The aim of your oppressor is to compel you to obey him.  The oppressor is defeated when he comes to realize that your obedience cannot be compelled.  The effective way to do that is to join with others in mass defiance.  To me, violence or the lack of violence are not the most important things.  The most important thing is a population that shows it cannot be compelled to submit.

What I have learned from reading the writings of Gene Sharp is that nonviolent struggle requires as much strategy and tactics as violent struggle.  Just going out and letting yourself be hit over the head doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything.  What counts, as he has pointed out, is to find ways to destroy the enemy’s legitimacy and fearsomeness.

Now there are circumstances in which this does not apply.  If the aim of your enemy is not to rule over you, but to destroy you or to drive you off your land, your only choices are to flee or fight.   Nonviolence resistance would not have worked for the Jews or gypsies against the Nazis.   But not every enemy is a Hitler.

I thank Mike Connelly for e-mailing me the link to the video.

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Afghans unaware U.S. invasion sparked by 9/11

September 15, 2014

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, I thought that at least the invasion would be an object lesson to any government who thought of harboring terrorists who attacked the United States.

But Ted Rall, a writer and cartoonist who has visited and toured Afghanistan twice without protection of the U.S. military, said no such lesson was ever learned.   In an interview with Salon about his new book, After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan, Rall said this:

I’ve never met a single Afghan who had any understanding of the relationship between 9/11 and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. 

In fact, I’ve never met a single Afghan who even understood what happened on 9/11, understood the scale of it.

SONY DSCI was repeatedly having to explain it to people, having to explain these buildings and how big they were and how many people were in them and how it affected the American psyche and so on.

Whenever you asked [Afghans], regardless of their age or their politics or their tribal affiliation, they’d all say the same thing: The only reason the U.S. was in Afghanistan was because the U.S. was the dominant superpower in the world; and from their point of view, whoever is the dominant superpower in the world at any given time invades Afghanistan.

So we’re just there because we could — they all think that.

If Americans think Afghans understand that whatever suffering they’re going through is somehow tied to 9/11, no; they should be disabused of that, because Afghans just don’t think that.  That’s just universally true.

They think we’re there because we hate Islam or because we want to steal Afghanistan’s natural resources or because it’s strategically important or “I don’t know, but they’re here, and I just have to deal with them!”

… … They always call us “the foreigners,” which just refers to the inevitable foreign presence that’s always there, whether it’s Soviet advisers in the 1960s and ’70s or the Red Army in the ’80s or whatever it is.

“There’s always foreigners here. We’re a weak country. We can’t defend our borders.  The foreigners come and go; we shoot a lot of them, and then they leave.”

Black humor is absolutely a huge survival tool for people who live in stressful circumstances — and Afghans are very, very funny people.

via Ted Rall’s “uncomfortable truths” – Salon.com.

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Obama and peace: Links & comments 9/12/14

September 12, 2014

NO, NO, NO – THIS DIDN’T HAPPEN – I WAS TAKEN IN BY AN INTERNET HOAX.

See What was fake on the Internet this week! .

Nobel Committee Regrets Obama Peace Prize: official statement.

Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 before he had an opportunity as President to do much of anything either for or against world peace.

Their thinking arose out of a relief that George W. Bush was no longer President, and a hope that the Peace Prize award would motivate him to be a peacemaker.

His response, when receiving the prize, was to lecture the Norwegian Nobel Institute on the evils of pacifism and the responsibility of the United States to use military force for good objectives.

The Nobel Committee stated that awarding the Peace Prize seemed at the time like a good way of advancing peace, but now this is no longer the case.

Does anybody know of any precedent for the Nobel Committee expressing regret at the awarding of any previous prize?  I can’t think of any.

Obama just announced he wants to help the guys who kidnaped Steven Sotloff by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire (via Naked Capitalism).

President Obama’s policy is to help the Free Syrian Army as an alternative to both Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Syria.  But evident it was the FSA to kidnapped the American reporter, Steven Sotloff and sold him to ISIS so they could make a video of him being beheaded.

The various militias fighting the Assad government are more alike than they are different.  For one thing, they all want to wipe out Syria’s ancient Christian community.

Could Jim Webb Mount a Credible Challenge to Clinton? by Albert R. Hunt for BloombergView.

I admire Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for her willingness to take on Wall Street financiers, but she is a down-the-line supporter of the Obama administration’s war policies.  Former Senator James Webb of Virginia is not only anti-Wall Street, but anti-interventionist and opposed to the drug laws that have resulted in mass incarceration of young black people.

Webb is a former Marine, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, a novelist and former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration.  He broke with the Republican Party because he opposed the George W. Bush administration’s war policies and its captivity to Wall Street.   Unfortunately the Obama administration was no improvement, and Hillary Clinton would be even worse.

Webb is an opponent of gun control, has reservations about feminism (especially as applied to the military) and differs with many Democrats on social issues that are dear to their hearts.  I don’t think any of these things matter so much as peace, economic justice and fundamental civil liberties.

Blood and treasure: Links & comments 9/10/14

September 10, 2014

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

Tonight President Obama will outline his policy for dealing with the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), the murderous jihadists who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

There are many questions to answer.

Is ISIS is the USA’s top enemy, does that change U.S. policy toward the governments of Syria and Iraq?

Can the U.S. intervene once again in the Middle East without positioning ISIS as the defender of Arab and Muslim freedom from foreign invaders?

Can the United States wage war by means of special operations teams, flying killer robots and arms aid to selected foreign proxies?

I can’t see any good answers to any of these questions, and I doubt if the President can, either.

Pentagon Can’t Pay For Itself Amid Budget Woes, Increased World Conflicts by Paul D. Shinkman for U.S. News and World Report.  (via Rochester Business Journal)

The USA spends a greater part of its national income, by far, than any other country on our military.  Yet a Washington think tank called the Center for Strategic and Budget Analysis says that the Department of Defense cannot carry out all its missions, including protecting Ukraine, fighting the Islamic State and counterbalancing China, within its existing budget.  Either the budget must grow or the missions must shrink.

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report by Ryan Gallagher for The Intercept.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has spent billions of dollars on contractors to support killer drones, surveillance technology and psychological warfare.   The more the U.S. government outsources war-making, the more vested interests there will be in waging war.

U.S. treads on Islamic State minefield by Ehsan Ahrari for Asia Times.

Why Does the U.S. Support Saudi Arabia, Sponsor of Islamic Terrorism? on Washington’s Blog.

Obama strategy to beat Islamic State likely to draw U.S. into years of conflict by Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay for McClatchy newspapers.

Defeating the Islamic State Is Going to be Kind of a Pain by Ryan Faith of Vice News.

To repeat: Getting into is easier than getting out of.

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Why the U.S. lost the war on terror

September 4, 2014

The war on terror is over …  Terror won. [1]

Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began what was called the “war on terror.”  This war [2] has been lost.  Anti-American terrorists are many times stronger now than they were back then, and the U.S. government lacks a feasible strategy for fighting them.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including most of the Islamic world, was outraged at the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians, and rallied to the side of the USA.  There were pro-American demonstrations even in Tehran!

This would have been a great opportunity to shut down Al Qaeda for good.  Al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy and a would-be mass movement.  The way to fight a mass movement is to cut it off from its popular support.  The way to fight a criminal conspiracy is to cut if off from its sources of money.  Both of these, in my opinion, were feasible at the time.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600But this was not the path that was taken.

Instead of targeting Al Qaeda, the U.S. government decided to target hostile governments—perhaps on the theory that the Pentagon does not know how to fight mass movements, but does know how to invade small foreign countries.

Instead of targeting countries in which Al Qaeda had its roots, such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. invaded Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of Al Qaeda, while continuing its cold war with Iran, also an enemy of Al Qaeda.  Later the U.S. helped overthrow the government of Libya and plotted to overthrow the government of Syria, whose leaders, Qaddafi and Assad, were not anti-American, but eager to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.

U.S. invasions reduced Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to bloody chaos, which are precisely the conditions in which radical and terrorist mass movements flourish.  Since the U.S. military has yet to figure out how to deal with insurgencies, the U.S. government has relied on assassination teams, flying killer robots and use of local forces as proxies.

Assassination teams are effective in taking out leaders.  I can’t count the number of times the death of Al Qaeda’s “second in command” has been announced.   Flying killer robots are less so.  But mass movements throw up new leaders.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and his original organization probably is need, but new Al Qaedas have sprung up in Yemen and Iraq, and the so-called Islamic State is even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Use of proxies has backfired time and time again.  The weapons the U.S. government gives to its supposed friends wind up in the hands of its enemies, either because the supposed friends are not willing to fight or because the supposed friends have their own objectives which are different from what we Americans think.

The USA has had too many enemies in the Middle East, so that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies.   We were enemies of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, but supported their Shiite allies in Iraq against Saddam’s loyalists and radical Sunni Muslim jihadists.   We were enemies of the radical jihadist Muslims, but we supported them against Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad.  Now Washington journalists and politicians talk about supporting Iran and its Syrian and Iraqi allies against the jihadist Islamic State.

It is no wonder there is no faction in the Middle East the U.S. government can trust.  Nor is it any wonder there is no faction that trusts the U.S. government.

Having no clear aims of its own, the U.S. government follows the lead of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchs such as Qatar, all of whom naturally follow their own perceived interests,

I am as horrified by the actions of the so-called Islamic State movement as anybody else.  But I can’t think of anything the Obama administration could do that won’t make matters worse.   Bomb the Islamic State forces?  Bombing from the air terrorizes and alienates the mass of the people below.  Arm the Iraqi government?  The U.S. arms they were given previously wound up in the hands of the Islamic State.   Arm the Kurds?  Maybe.

We Americans have lost all moral standing in the Middle East to denounce the crimes of the Islamic State.  That is because hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died as the result of U.S. military action, and hundreds of thousands more have been turned into refugees.  [3]   Nobody in that part of the world has any reason to take seriously anything an American says.  [4]   The Islamic State is an evil for the Arabs to deal with (or not), not us.

The best thing for us Americans to do is to admit defeat, wind down our presence in the Middle East and concentrate on rebuilding our own nation.

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A hope for peace in Ukraine

September 4, 2014
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.  Source: NBC News

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.    Source: NBC News

I hope the proposed cease-fire in Ukraine takes effect, and I hope President Obama accepts this life-line out of the crisis.

A deal that recognizes the autonomy of Donetsk and Lugansk without breaking up Ukraine would be in the best interests of everyone.   The industrial resources of eastern Ukraine would be remain part of the overall Ukrainian economy.  But Russian language and culture in Ukraine would no longer be under attack.

While President Putin would not want to give up control of the Russian naval base in Ukraine, it  is not in his interest for Russia to annex eastern Ukraine.  Keeping Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Ukraine would be insurance that Ukraine as a whole does not join NATO.

It is undoubtedly true, as President Putin said, that the Russian army could take Ukraine in a week.  The question of whether the Russian army could successfully occupy Ukraine is another matter.   The American army defeated the army of Saddam Hussein very quickly.  Successfully occupying the country was a different matter.

It would not be in Russia’s interest to annex eastern Ukraine, if it meant an anti-Russian Ukrainian government in western Ukraine joining NATO.  A neutral Ukrainian buffer state would be in the interest of both countries, and would not threaten any vital interest of the United States.

Or so it seems to me.  This is, however, not based on any special knowledge of Russia and Ukraine, but on what I imagine I would think and do if I were in President Putin’s place.  Does this make sense?   What do you think?

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We broke Iraq. Do we own it?

August 18, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

You break it.  You own it.

==The Pottery Barn Rule (per General Colin Powell)

Of all the arguments for sending troops back into Iraq, the most plausible (to me) is that we owe it to the Iraqi people—and in particular the Kurdish Iraqi people—to clean up the mess the original U.S. intervention created.

The people of Kurdistan and Baghdad would not be menaced by the would-be Islamic Caliphate (aka ISIS) if the U.S. invasion had not broken down orderly government in Iraq, and opened up an opportunity for these murderous fanatics.  So do we Americans not have a responsibility to fix the situation before we leave the Iraqis on my own.

But it was that very argument that led me, 10 years ago, to support the original invasion of Iraq.  I thought to myself that we Americans had supported Saddam Hussein in the first place.  Our government provided him with weapons, encouraged him to attack Iran and protected him from international sanctions when he used poison gas against the people of Kurdistan.   Then we turned against him, and waged a low-level war of blockade and bombing through the Clinton years.

So it seemed to me (wrongly) that by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, we could partly make up for the harm we had done to the Iraqi people.

And even now I sometimes think (wrongly) that the U.S.-led invasion would have worked out—

  • If the U.S. forces had recognized the local governments the Iraqi people spontaneously chose and worked with them, instead of installing puppets of U.S. choosing.
  • If the American authorities had not discharged the Iraqi army, had kept control of weapons and armories and had not allowed the country to disintegrate into anarchy.
  • If the United States had employed the Iraqi people in rebuilding their own country instead of turning Iraq into a vast cash cow for American contractors.
  • If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had not excluded everybody in the government who knew anything about Iraq from the planning.

But when I think that, I am just fooling myself.  I am fooling myself when I think that the U.S. government had any goal in Iraq other than getting control of Iraq’s oil supply and establishing military bases on Iraq’s soil.

And even if American intentions were wholly good, democracy and freedom are not something that any country can give another country.  Every free country has to win and maintain freedom for itself.

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Arguments for moderation: Links & comments

August 14, 2014

The West on the wrong path by Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt, Germany’s leading financial newspaper.

A conservative German newspaper publisher criticized the U.S. tendency to escalate specific conflicts into epic global struggles—Al Qaeda terrorism into a global struggle with radical Islam, a secessionist movement in Ukraine into a new cold war with Russia.

Far better, he wrote, to follow the example of Willy Brandt who, as mayor of West Berlin and then as chancellor of the German Federal Republic, sought to minimize rather than escalate, and worked for peace in small practical steps rather than grandiose gestures.

How America lost the Middle East by Zach Beauchamp for Vox.  (Hat tip to Bill Elwell)

A thoughtful journalist points out that the Middle East situation is such that the United States can do little good and much harm by military intervention.  Far better, he wrote, to work for improvement in small, incremental steps.

It’s a thoughtful article, well wroth reading, but Beauchamp treats U.S. and Israeli policy as if they were defensive reactions to external events.  The real problem is in thinking that America can “lose” something we never owned in the first place.

How Money Warps U.S. Foreign Policy by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic.  (Hat tip to Corrente).

The division among Americans on foreign policy is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the Washington establishment and the American public.   Every leading political figure, from John McCain and Rand Paul to Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, is much more belligerent than the rank-and-file of either of the two major political parties.

Why?  Beinart pointed out that this is what big campaign donors of both parties demand.

“Humanitarian bombing” is self-contradictory

August 9, 2014

If you believe it is your duty to protect people from their enemies, the only way to do it is to go stand by them.  Dropping bombs from the air in the hope you will hit some of their enemies will not do the job.  You’ll kill bystanders and create more enemies for yourself and them; you’ll very likely kill some of the people you’re trying to protect.

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSome of us Americans are concerned about the fate of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, currently under attack by the fanatical Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.  But our concern does not reach the level of being willing to send Americans to fight the ISIS in person.  So it is tempting to many people, myself included, to think we can accomplish the same purpose, without risk, by dropping bombs instead.

But giving in to that temptation would be a big mistake.

  • The ISIS is a fanatic Sunni movement in rebellion against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the non-Sunni government of Syria.  The only way to defeat ISIS is to separate it from the Sunni population of those two countries.  Bombing will kill Sunni bystanders, solidify Sunni support for ISIS and bring ISIS closer to Al Qaeda.
  • Intensive bombing of Fallujah and other parts of Iraq during the U.S. occupation never brought about any decisive victory.  Iraq in fact has an air force if it wants to use it.  There is no reason to think that an American bombing campaign will change anything.
  • Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been going on a long time.  More than half of Iraq’s Christians were killed or driven into exile during the American occupation.  Bombing ISIS will not bring them back or end persecution.
  • Once the initial small-scale bombing campaign fails, past history indicates the government will escalate U.S. military intervention rather than admit failure.

I admire the people of Kurdistan.  They are willing to fight for their own freedom and to allow people of other religions (they’re mostly Sunni Muslims) and heritages to live in peace.   I want the U.S. government to make sure they get all they need to defend themselves.  But I don’t want to make their war an American war.

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The long odds against Israel-Palestine peace

August 9, 2014

The Israeli novelist Amos Oz is an example of a sincere Zionist who sincerely wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  He favors lifting the blockade against Gaza and recognition of a truly independent Palestinian Arab state.

But in regard the Israeli army’s attack on Gaza, he posed the following questions:

Amos Oz

Amos Oz

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

via Deutsche Welle

I might say that if my neighbor had been the original occupant of my house, that if I’d kicked him out, and that if I had a record of killing my neighbor’s relatives, regardless of age, he would be exceedingly foolish to expect me to be deterred from anything by a child on his lap.

But this is not a meaningful answer to Oz’s argument, which is that Israel should try to make peace, including lifting the blockade on Gaza, but that so long as Hamas militants attack Israel, Israel has no realistic choice but to respond and retailiate.

Jewish peace advocates say Israel should negotiate a truce, end the blockade and freeze the settlements (or, which is highly unlikely, shut them down).   They are right in saying that so long as Israel bombs and blockades the people of Gaza, and expands settlements on the West Bank, there is no possibility of peace.

But if bombing, blockade and settlements ceased, the Palestinian Arabs would not necessarily be content to let bygones be bygones, and to sit in peace on the 22 percent of the original Palestine remaining to them.

In the one case, peace is impossible; in the other, peace is unlikely.

I don’t say this in any gloating spirit.  The government of my own country, the United States, has done a global basis what the Israeli government has done locally.   Both countries have operated like the Michael Corleone character in Godfather II—seeking safety by trying to kill all their enemies.

But perfect safety is an illusion, the number of potential enemies is unlimited and there comes a time when it is too late to escape the consequences of past actions.   I hope it is not too late for Israel.  I hope it is not too late for us Americans.

§§§

Read and listen to some other Jewish voices below.

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