Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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The enigma of Barack Obama

May 21, 2015

HarpersWeb-June2015-Cover-302x410Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received.  Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition.  His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.

One of the least controversial things you can say about Barack Obama is that he campaigned better than he has governed.  The same might be said about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but with Obama the contrast is very marked.

Governing has no relish for him.  Yet he works hard at his public statements, and he wishes his words to have a large effect.  Even before he ascended to the presidency, Obama enjoyed the admiration of diverse audiences, especially within black communities and the media.  The presidency afforded the ideal platform for creating a permanent class of listeners.

via Harper’s Magazine..

I am more disappointed in Barack Obama than in anyone else I ever voted for.  His speeches are often eloquent and wise, but his actions have no seeming connection with his words.  He is conciliatory toward his American political enemies, and tough with his core supporters.

I read The Audacity of Hope in 2008 and was under no illusion that Obama was a progressive reformer.  In that book, he presented himself as one who understood both liberals and conservatives and, by showing his reasonableness, could reconcile the two.  This was either hypocrisy or naivete.

What hoped for was that Obama as President could restore the country to normal after the excesses of the George W. Bush administration—a country in which the President respected the Constitution, didn’t start wars and kept his distance from Wall Street.  But none of these things happened.

There are three possible explanations of this.  One is that the entrenched power of Wall Street and of the covert military-intelligence complex—the so-called deep states—are too powerful to overcome, and that Obama is the best we can hope for.  I hate to believe that because it means there is no hope for my country.

Another is that Barack Obama has certain character flaws that make him ineffective.  The third, which is what I tend to believe, is that Obama’s intentions are not what his liberal supporters think they are.  Although he ran on a platform of hope and change, he is a very effective defender of the status quo.

David Bromwich, writing in the June issue of Harpers magazine, examined the Obama record in terms of his character.   The article worth reading, but it is behind a pay wall, so you have to buy the magazine or go to a public library to read it.  I subscribe to the magazine, so I can provide the highlights.

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What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

What we knew back then about Saddam

May 18, 2015

Matt Taibbi thinks it is silly to question Jeb Bush about what should have been done about Iraq “in the light of what we know now.”  Any sensible American knew enough then to realize what a bad idea invading Iraq was, he wrote.

The Iraq invasion was always an insane exercise in brainless jingoism that could only be intellectually justified after accepting a series of ludicrous suppositions.

dick-quizFirst you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration’s analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one).

And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.

It was absurd, a whole bunch of maybes piled on top of a perhaps and a theoretically possible or two. O.J.’s lawyers would have been embarrassed by it.

via Rolling Stone.

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A heroic girl sniper of World War Two

May 4, 2015

Hat tip to Jack Clontz

Body counts and the new normal

May 1, 2015

Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report issued several weeks ago, estimated that more than 1 million people died in Iraq during the past 15 years as a result of U.S.-led military operations, and more than 300,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m not certain these numbers are accurate.  I do think they are as close to being accurate as is humanity possible.  I don’t find them unbelievable.  They’re partly based on verified reports, partly on statistical sampling methods most Americans find credible when applied to everyday subjects.

The worst thing to me is not the number, but the indifference of the American public.  We as a nation don’t care about bystanders, except when American citizens happen to be among those accidentally killed.

Somebody might argue that people were killed in larger numbers, and more indiscriminately, in World War Two.  But the war against the Axis powers had a definite purpose and came to a definite end.  There is no expectation of when the so-called long war on terror might be won, or exactly what winning would consist of.

We talk about the moral breakdown of society.  When I think about the moral breakdown of society, I don’t think about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.   I think of the President of the United States drawing up a weekly list of assassination orders, as if this were the most normal thing in the world

LINKS

Why the U.S. “war on terra” is a fraud by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Body Count by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The full 80-page report.

Libya invasion fostered chaos and terrorism

April 21, 2015

I read this morning about Islamic State militants beheading Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

So far as I know there was no ISIS / ISIL presence in Libya until after the U.S.-backed invasion and reduction of the country to chaos.   That has been the result of all the U.S. invasions—the creation of chaos in which terrorism spreads.

What Could Go Wrong?Muammar Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya, was a dictator and a supporter of terrorism in his day.  He was an imperialist who had designs on Chad and other countries to the soul.

But he was an enlightened despot who channeled his country’s oil revenues into schools, hospitals, roads and other internal improvements, provided free education and health care and improved the condition of women.

Libya under Qaddafi was a country in which a law-abiding person could lead a normal life without living in fear.  Now Libya has been reduced to chaos, many innocent people have been killed and the country has been given over to lawless militia bands and religious fanatics.

Who did that benefit?  Not Libyans.  Not ordinary Americans.  Qaddafi had tried to make peace with the West.  His overthrow and murder will be remembered by other rulers who are tempted to do the same.

Refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean from Libya and other countries, and being turned back.  Maybe the governments of Italy and France should have thought about that possibility before initiating the invasion of Libya.

Empires of the past imposed order.   We the American people do not want to take on the burden of empire, so all our government’s accomplsih is to spread death and destruction.

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Yemen intervention is dangerous for the US

April 21, 2015

The U.S. government should beware of being drawn into the conflict in Yemen.

The fight among Shiite Houthi militia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the government of Yemen are part of a wider Middle East conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

sunnishiitemap5_0

Source: Zero Hedge.  Click to enlage.

That religious conflict is overlaid with a conflict between two alliances of Middle East powers—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shiite militias on the one hand, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria and Turkey, with Israel as a silent partner, on the other.

Washington sides with Saudi Arabia and Israel.  I have come to realize that sanctions against Iran were never about the imaginary danger of nuclear weapons, but to keep Iran weak.   Now Iran has found an ally in Putin’s Russia.

This is a highly dangerous situation.  National governments are keeping the religious wars going by sending arms and money to the different religious factions.  But religious wars are not controllable.  Being drawn in to these wars serves no national interest of the United States, does not benefit the people of the region and puts the American people at risk of being drawn into a wider war.

The USA has had a strange relationship with Iran during the past 35 years.  While waging economic war against Iran, the U.S. government strengthened Iran’s position by defeating its main enemies, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.  A defeat of ISIS would further strengthen Iran.

By agreeing to end sanctions, the Obama administration appeared to accept Iran as a major power in the Middle East.  Now Obama is sending warships to checkmate Iranian power.

I’m by no means an expert on the religious and cultural geography of the Middle East, but I don’t see this ending well.

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A former Viet Cong fighter tells his story

April 6, 2015

A former Viet Cong fighter recently told his story to, of all people, a representative of Cracked.com.

pleiku_1966__operation_paul_revere_viet_cong_prisoners__vietnam_war_upi_wire_photoIt seems that he and his friends were not the deadly jungle fighters as portrayed in Hollywood movies.  Rather they were confused young men stuck in the middle of a bad situation they didn’t understand, something like American GIs, but much worse.

He said recruits didn’t have the benefit of such things as “functional equipment” or “the slightest idea of what to do.”  Training was rudimentary or nonexistent.  So were weapons.

The AK-47s the Soviets send via China to aid the Viet Cong were mostly kept by the Chinese, who sent Chinese imitations and World War Two surplus to Hanoi, which were mostly kept by the North Vietnamese.  His troop got the leftovers.

He said the Vietnamese jungle was a more fearsome adversary than the Americans.  His troop regularly lost men to tigers.

What’s most significant to me about his story is the motives for joining the Viet Cong.  Hardly any recruits had any concept of ideology, he wrote; they thought Communists were followers of somebody called Commun, and some thought they were still fighting the French.

No, the main motive was to take revenge for the death of a parent, loved one or child, or, in the narrator’s case, for having the U.S.-backed government confiscate his family’s home and land and give them to a rich guy.

My guess is that this is the main reason for joining insurgents against American forces in Afghanistan [1], Iraq or anywhere else—taking revenge for the death of a relative or friend, or for what was done to you by the corrupt U.S.-backed government.

And the longer Americans remain as an occupying force, the more people there are with a motivation to take revenge.  The U.S. forces literally can’t win—not until we Americans become so fanatically evil as to commit to a war of annihilation and a permanent occupation.  Thankfully we aren’t like that, not yet, and it might not even work anyway.

LINK

8 Things Vietnam War Movies Leave Out (By an Enemy Soldier) by Nguyen Hao Giai as told to Evan B. Simon for Cracked.com.  His story is grimly humorous, and worth reading the whole way through. Hat tip to Unqualified Offerings.

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Hiroshima’s Shadow: crossing a moral line

March 24, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Professor Olsen@large

Seventy years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we live under the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used again—possibly but not necessarily by us Americans or on us Americans.

I’m trying to understand the reasons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki by reading Hiroshima’s Shadow:Writing on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy, edited by Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, which was recommended by my e-mail pen pal Tanweer Akram of the Bertrand Russell Society.

The book was published after the Smithsonian Institution in 1995 canceled an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, after the American Legion and the Air Force Association objected to inclusion of material questioning the necessity of the bombing.

It is plain to me as I read this book that  the decision to use the atomic bomb mainly reflected the momentum of two earlier decisions:

  • The decision to wage war against civilians by bombing enemy cities from the air.
  • The decision to develop atomic weapons for that purpose.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_After these choices were made, I think the decision to bomb was, if not inevitable, the path of least resistance.   Once the original bright moral line was crossed, the only issue was whether to do the same thing by means of a new and more horrible method.

I think the consequences of these decisions would still be with us even if the tragedy of Hiroshima could have been avoided.

Americans and Britons once were shocked by the German Zeppelin raids on London during World War Two, the destruction of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese and of the bombing of Rotterdam and Warsaw by the Germans.

But we soon came to accept the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, first as regrettable necessities and then as the new normal.

That new normal is still with us.  Bombing is still the basic American military tactic, even when it doesn’t work.  When your only tool is air power, everything looks like a target.

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If the US attacks Iran, what happens next?

March 15, 2015

Suppose the United States attacks Iran, as we did Iraq, in order to destroy its nuclear weapons program.

That’s pretty much what Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu wants.  It’s what Senator Tom Cotton and his supporters want.  It’s what influential neo-conservatives such as Joshua Muravchik, writing in last week’s Washington Post, want.

Put to one side the question of whether such a program actually exists.  Also put to one side the morality of attacking a nation that is not a threat to the United States and killing bystanders who have as much right to live in this world as you or I or the people who worked in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

What would happen next?

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

Given the U.S. experience in Iraq, I don’t think the United States would actually attempt to invade Iran, a nation whose population is more than double Iraq’s and whose area is three times as big.   What is more likely is a bombing attack—hopefully not nuclear—to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

What would happen after that?  Whether or not the Iranian government has the intention of developing nuclear weapons now, it surely would do so then.   Muravchik wrote that this would not be a problem.  Just drop more bombs.

What if Iranian-backed Shiite Muslims, in retaliation, attack Americans in the Middle East or even in our homeland?  Muravchik said this would be a price the U.S. would have to pay in order to keep bombing Iran as long as necessary.

Would this be a solution to the Iran problem?  The U.S. pursued an policy similar to this with Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, with economic warfare and intermittent bombing.  It didn’t solve the problem.

Israel’s attacks on the population of Gaza haven’t made Israel safer.   Turning Iran into a Gaza writ large wouldn’t make either Israel or the United States safer.  The only result would be to make both countries more hated.

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Ten reasons to oppose the AUMF resolution

March 12, 2015

Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich listed 10 good reasons why Congress should not authorize President Obama to use military force against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL).

1.  ISIS is not a threat to the U.S. homeland.
2.  The AUMF disingenuously calls for a “limited” war, while it is written to guarantee a permanent war, thus nullifying the power of the people’s representatives in Congress.
3.  The AUMF is a blank check and a fiscal black hole.
4.  Regional armies appear to be rising to their own defense.  U.S. presence will escalate war.
5.  The U.S. could get drawn into a worldwide religious war.
6.  ISIS and Al Qaeda are divided. US re-entry into war could unite them.
7.  A solution: Follow ISIS’ money and shut it down.
8.  Another solution: Cyber response.
9.  Endless wars enable Washington to ignore a domestic agenda.
10.  The time has come for the U.S. to review the effects of interventionism.

Kucinich served in Congress 16 years. He was always an independent thinker who, in my opinion, made a lot more sense than many of his colleagues who had higher positions and bigger reputations.

In addition to refusing a new AUMF resolution, Congress should refuse to renew key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which otherwise would expire June 1.

These two refusals would be modest but important steps toward ending perpetual war and perpetual martial law and returning the United States to the status of a normal country.

LINKS

Ten reasons to vote against the use of military force by Dennis Kucinich for Fox News.  His supporting arguments for each point are worth reading.  (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)

Tell Congress to put an expiration date on unconstitutional bulk surveillance by Demand Progress.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire)

U.S. actually backs al Qaeda rebels in Syria

March 6, 2015

It’s surprising how little of the “war on terror” has been directed against the actual killers who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” included Iraq and Iran, two nations whose rulers were enemies of al Qaeda, and North Korea, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. attacks on Iraq and Libya, and the attempted overthrow of the Assad government in Syria, created chaos and lawlessness in which al Qaeda could flourish.  The rulers of Libya and Syria had proven their willingness to co-operate with the United States, so what U.S. policy showed is that there is nothing to be gained in being a friend of the USA.

syrianrebelsNow the U.S. government is supporting the Nusra front, an al Qaeda unit, in Syria, as an alternative to the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) insurgents there.  Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire wrote an illuminating post about this.

If the U.S. government’s top priorities were to eliminate al Qaeda and ISIS, we would co-operate with their enemies, namely Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.  They are more effective fighting forces than the U.S.-trained Iraqi army.

Why don’t we?  Is it because Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and not al Qaeda and ISIS, are the main enemies of Israel and Saudi Arabia?  Do the Pentagon and State Department think it is possible to get control of Middle East oil by military force?  Or does continuous war have a self-perpetuating momentum that nobody is willing to stop?

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s priorities

March 4, 2015

Bibi lumped as evil forces lurking in his “neighborhood” everyone from Iran and “Lebanon” (he meant Hezbollah) to Assad’s Syria and Hamas. But not ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.   So a non-nuclear Iran is a worse threat to civilization than the fake, beheading-addicted Caliphate

via Pepe Escobar.

The warmongering record of Hillary Clinton

March 4, 2015

The frustrating thing about the right-wing Republican critics of Hillary Clinton is they criticize her for all the wrong things.   I think I’m as strongly opposed to Clinton as they are, and they put me in the position of defending her.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

In the U.S. intervention in Libya, she is criticized for failing to arrange protection for the U.S. ambassador from the terrorist attack on Benghazi, a legitimate issue, and for mis-characterizing the attack as a spontaneous reaction instead of a planned terrorist attack, an insignificant issue.

But neither of these things matter as much as the total disaster she brought down on the people of Libya.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in Counterpunch that sums up what’s wrong with Clinton very well.

First Libya:

The results of “Operation Unified Protector” … … include the persecution of black Africans and Tuaregs, the collapse of any semblance of central government, the division of the country between hundreds of warring militias, the destabilization of neighboring Mali producing French imperialist intervention, the emergence of Benghazi as an al-Qaeda stronghold, and the proliferation of looted arms among rebel groups.

Now the whole Clinton record:

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