Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

What price U.S. world power?

May 18, 2018

Many commentators think U.S. power is declining, largely due to long-term trends, but speeded up by Donald Trump.

I think that’s true.  How much should we the American people worry about this?

Paul Street wrote a savage but accurate article for Truthdig about reasons why the world in general would welcome the downfall of U.S. power.   The enumeration of the death and destruction caused by U.S. military interventions, acts of war, covert action and economic sanctions makes is painful reading for an American.

And what benefit have we, the American people, gotten from it?  Little or nothing, that I can see.  In fact, the welfare of Americans has been sacrificed to maintaining American military power.  We can’t afford to maintain decent public services, but cost is no consideration when it comes to the military.

That doesn’t mean that loss of American global power would be painless.  We would have to find new ways to employ the millions of people employed by the U.S. military, the covert action agencies and their many contractors and suppliers.

Having a large number of unemployed, some highly qualified in the use of lethal force and others in covert political action, would be no small problem.  Neither would being a pariah among nations, as the Germans were for a time after their defeat in World War Two.

The British and French people were better off in the long run after they lost their overseas empires.  The German and Japanese people were better off in the long run after their defeats in World War Two.  We Americans will be better off in the long run if we give up the quest for world domination.

LINK

The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony by Paul Street for Truthdig.

Tucker Carlson’s case against war in Syria

April 11, 2018

I don’t watch network television any more and, when I did, I hardly ever watched Fox News.  But in this clip, Tucker Carlson says almost everything that needs to be said about why going to war in Syria is a mistake.

The United States has no vital interests in Syria, the war has created terrible suffering to the Syrian people, and, while President Assad is a ruthless dictator, the radical jihadist fanatics being back by the U.S. would be worse, especially for the Christian minority in Syria.

The excuse for attacking Syria is the regime’s alleged use of poison gas against civilians, but there’s no proof of this, and, even if true, it would be no worse than atrocities by U.S. allies that the U.S. government ignores.

The only thing Carlson leaves out is the possibility of a clash with Russian forces in Syria, leading to a U.S-Russian war.   Invading small countries that do not endanger the U.S. is morally wrong as well as counterproductive.  Fighting a country with the power to bring about mutual assured destruction is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Congress should invoke the War Powers Act.  If President Trump starts a war without authorization by Congress, that would be grounds for impeachment.

LINKS

We All Need to Unite Against War in Syria, Regardless of Ideology by Caitlin Johnstone.

This Is How Russia and America Could Go to War in Syria by Dave Majundar for The National Interest.

With Latest Syria Threats, Trump Continues to be More Confrontational Towards Russia Than Obama Was by Glenn Greenwald and Zaid Jilani for The Intercept.  [Added 4/12/2018]

The US Empire Has Been Trying to Regime Change Syria Since Long Before 2011 by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 4/12/2018]

Tucker Carlson: The Populist Paladin of Primetime by Alan Pell Crawford for The American Conservative.

Truth, guesswork and Russiagate

April 7, 2018

The United States government claims we are under attack from Russia.  That is the justification for military buildup in Syria and along Russia’s borders, for waging economic war against Russia and sanctions against Russian individuals, and for a diplomatic campaign against Russia.

Before we blunder into a nuclear war, which would mean the end of the United States, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of humanity, we need to look at the basis for these claims.  Specifically, we need to assess the evidence for three claims: –

Ideally, I would advocate reserving judgement until the results of the Mueller investigation are in.  But official Washington, including the press corps and the top leaders of the Democratic Party, are acting as if the results are already in.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified as truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods.

Here is how I see the balance of truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods:

∞∞∞

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin stated several times in 2016 that he would be pleased if Donald Trump was elected, because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

Why would he not?  Russia in 2016 was hard-pressed by U.S.-led economic sanctions and a U.S. military buildup.   Hillary Clinton was and is an extreme war hawk.

Putin is a ruthless operator with few scruples.   There is credible circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence sources engineered a false flag terror attack in order to rally public sentiment against the rebel province of Chechnya.  There is strong evidence that Russian intelligence services murdered the dissident and human rights advocate Alexander Litvinenko.

So it is possible that the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee computer files and published e-mails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton, or that individual Russian hackers did so with the knowledge and encouragement of the Russian government.

The reasons I have doubts this happened are (1) the FBI has never conducted its own examination of the DNC computers and (2) the FBI has never interviewed Julian Assange about his claim that he received the information from a whistleblower.   Why would they not do this?  Were they afraid of what they might find out?

Maybe the DNC was hacked by more than one person or group, acting independently of each other.

In any case, the result of the DNC e-mail hacks was to disseminate truthful information, which is not an act of war.

It also is possible that Russians used social media to try to influence the election.  But I don’t see how the 13 Russians who were accused of distributing social media ads under fake names could have had any impact.  If they were Russian intelligence agents, they were decoys to divert attention from a secret real campaign that so far as not been discovered.

If Vladimir Putin did try to engineer Donald Trump’s election, he must feel buyer’s remorse.  President Trump has approved weapons shipments to Ukraine, which goes beyond what President Obama ever did.  He wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to undermine Russia’s ally, Syria.  He is continuing the nuclear arms race against Russia.

Like President Obama, Trump talks about improving relations with Russia.   But like Obama, he so far has done nothing to make this happen.  Putin, with all his ruthlessness, is a defender of the status quo.  It is the U.S. government that seeks regime change in targeted countries, and that seeks military dominance in every important region of the world.

∞∞∞

Donald Trump, like other authoritarian nationalists, has long expressed an affinity for the authoritarian nationalist Vladimir Putin.   He also made a lot of money in business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures in the New York real estate market.

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It’s okay to negotiate with North Korea

March 13, 2018

It isn’t wrong to negotiate with tyrants and terrorists.  It is wrong to prop them up with money and weapons, but it isn’t wrong to negotiate with them when the alternative is mutually destructive war.

But if you have no plan to get rid of them or if there’s no assurance that their successors will be any better than they are, then sooner or later you have to deal.

President Nixon negotiated with Mao Zedong and ended the Cold War with China.   President Reagan negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev and ended the Cold War with the USSR.

President Trump’s willingness to negotiate with Kim Jong-un is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I think the odds are against success, but you never know.

Donald Trump

The reason I think the odds are against success is that the U.S. goal is for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, and, if I were Kim, I never would agree to that.

Kim in the past has said his government would never give up nuclear weapons so long as the United States refused to sign a peace treaty ending the Korean Conflict of 1950-1953 or to guarantee it would not attack North Korea.

The implication is that if a peace treaty was signed, and if the U.S. government renounced the use of force against North Korea, Kim would consider giving up nuclear weapons.

But without nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, there is no way North Korea can deter an attack by the United States, except maybe by the threat of a massive attack with conventional weapons on Seoul, which is just across the border.

Would negotiations with the United States even by on the table if North Korea didn’t already have nuclear weapons?

President Trump is talking about renouncing the U.S. nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  How could Kim be sure he wouldn’t renounce an agreement with North Korea?

Maybe Kim would agree to give up nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee against attack by China and/or Russia.  Is this something the U.S. government would want?

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Democrats allow Trump a dictator’s power

March 6, 2018

Lee Camp, writing for Truthdig, pointed out that Democrats in Congress have no qualms about giving President Donald Trump the powers of a dictator.  Instead of standing up for the American people, he said, corporate-owned Democrats have strengthened the president.

The Democrats have helped, voted for, and often argued in favor of all of the following:

  1. Giving Trump unlimited war powers.
  2. Giving Trump unlimited trade negotiation powers.
  3. Giving Trump unlimited surveillance powers.
  4. Giving Trump the power to lock someone up indefinitely without a trial or charges under the National Defense Authorization Act.
  5. Giving Trump the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial or charges.
  6. Giving Trump’s administration full control of our election system infrastructure.

If this is considered “resistance,” then I don’t want to be a part of it. I’d rather spend my time resisting the “Resistance” and thereby taking this dictator’s toolkit away from Donald Trump.

Source: Truthdig

Most of my Democratic friends are obsessed with Trump.  Every discussion of politics veers to the most recent foolish thing Trump has said or done.

They hope and expect that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will prove that Trump is in league with the Russian government and provide grounds for impeachment.

Even if that works out, which I doubt, they’re then faced with President Mike Pence, who from a liberal Democratic standpoint is just as bad as Trump on matters of policy, but more effective.

On matters of policy, there’s little difference between Trump and the dominant faction in the Republican Party.

On fundamental questions of war and peace, Constitutional rights and economic policy, there is no fundamental difference between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.

That’s why some Democrats in Congress would rather allow Trump the powers of a dictator than to set limits on the power of a future Democratic President.

It’s true that, out of the six items, only the war powers and the surveillance powers were voted on during the Trump administration.

That doesn’t matter.  When you vote to remove restraints on Presidential power, you have empowered all Presidents, present and future—not just to the one you happen to like.

LINKS

Six Ways the ‘Resistance’ Gave Trump a Dictator’s Toolkit by Lee Camp for TruthDig.

Russiagate, Trump, Putin, Mueller and Targeting Dissent by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria

March 2, 2018

Update 3/5/2018:  According to this article in Der Spiegel, Russians didn’t participate in the attack and few of them were killed.   If that’s so, how did the other version of events originate?  Fog of war, or something more sinister?  At this point, I don’t know what to believe. 

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never engaged in direct combat.   But early last month, Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. position in Syria, and an estimated 100 to 300 Russians were killed.

The Russian troops reportedly were employed by a private company funded by a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also funded the company accused of illegally meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. troops and an allied militia called Syrian Democratic Forces were protecting an oil refinery at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.   The SDF position was attacked by Syrian government forces along with by Russian troops employed by the Wagner PMC (private military company).

U.S. forces counter-attacked with artillery, air strikes and drone strikes, smashed the attacking force and didn’t suffer any casualties themselves.

The Russian government said no Russian government troops were involved.  All the Russians in the battle were private individuals who were in Syria for their own reasons, the government said.

The U.S. government also had no official comment, but since then journalists have written a good bit based on off the record comments by U.S. intelligence and Treasury officials.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known at “Putin’s chef,” got his start as a hot dog vendor, then the owner of a chain of restaurants, a caterer to the Kremlin and then a caterer to the Russian armed forces.   He owns two companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering.

Both he and his companies were indicted on charges related to interfering in the 2016 election, and he and his companies are on the U.S. sanctions list.

He reportedly is an investor in Wagner PMC, which was founded by Dmitry Utkin, also on the U.S. sanctions list.  Wagner PMC reportedly employed the “green men,” troops without insignia who engineered the Russian takeover of Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly owns or controls Evro Polis, a Russian company that has been promised a 25 percent share of oil and gas revenues in territories recaptured by the Syrian government from the Islamic State (ISIS).  Evidently Wagner PMC’s mission is to help secure these territories, and that was the reason for the attack.

I can see why Vladimir Putin might work with a private individual such as Yevgeny Prigozshin.   I don’t think Russians are any more willing than Americans to see their sons drafted to fight wars in distant countries for obscure purposes.  Hiring mercenaries solves this political problem, and also provides a way to deny responsibility if thing go wrong.

But what if it is the other way around?  What if this whole operation is to serve the business strategy of a Russian oligarch?  This is a dangerous situation, because both the Russian and U.S. governments could be sucked in a conflict they didn’t intend or expect.

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War in the heart of America

February 28, 2018

During my lifetime, I’ve read a fair amount about the Civil War, but two books that I read during the past few weeks bring home its reality in a new way.

They show how different the war was to people at the time than it seems in the light of history, and how events could have turned out differently from the way they did.

It was not inevitable that the war would last as long as it did, that the North would win or that slavery would have been abolished even if the North had won.

The two books are IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES: War in the Heart of America (2003) and THE THIN LIGHT OF FREEDOM: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (2017) both by Edward L. Ayers.

His window into the war is a collection of source material—letters, dairies, newspaper accounts and the like from two communities— Franklin County, Pa., and Augusta County, Va.—collected over a period of decades as part of a special project of the University of Virginia.

The two counties are at opposite ends of the Great Valley running north and south between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians, which was a major battleground of the war.

They were more alike than they were different.   Both consisted of prosperous small farms and small towns.  Augusta was different from the plantation South; Franklin was more typical of the North.

Ayers began with accounts of the 1859 celebration of the Fourth of July in the two counties.   The white people of both considered themselves loyal to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.   Both wanted to preserve the Union.  Neither wanted to abolish slavery.

Yet within a few years they were at war and hated each other.   Reading these books helps me understand places such as Bosnia and Lebanon, which differing peoples can live together in peace for generations, yet, in a short period of time, be brought to the point of killing each other.

In the 1860 election, Augusta County supported the Constitutional Union party, which was pro-slavery, but anti-secession.  Franklin County supported the Republican Party, which was anti-slavery on only one point—that slavery should be barred from United States territories, in order to protect Northern white workers from competition with slave labor.

Slaveowners in the Deep South saw this as an ultimate threat, because no new slave states would have been admitted to the Union, which in the long run would have made slaveowners a politically powerless minority.

In Virginia, delegates from Augusta County voted against secession.  But as secession proceeded, the question changed from favoring the Union vs. secession to favoring the North vs. the South.  Once the decision was made, the anti-secession delegates fought bravely the Confederate Army or otherwise supported the war wholeheartedly.

The white people of Augusta County were willing to break up the Union in order to preserve slavery.  The white people of Franklin County became willing to abolish slavery in order to preserve the Union.   Black people in both counties had their own w

None foresaw how long the war would last, how many lives would be lost nor what the result would be.

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Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

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Why does hawkish Trump object to sanctions?

February 8, 2018

President Donald Trump is resisting congressional mandates to punish Russian individuals through economic sanctions.

At the same time he is going along with sending advanced weapons to the Ukrainian government to use against Russia, and with keeping American troops in Syria where they may come in conflict with Russian troops.

And he acts as if he was getting ready for war with North Korea and Iran.

So why is he digging in his heels over this one thing?

I don’t see any fundamental conflicts of interest between Russia and the United states, except maybe in the Arctic, and none that are worth the risk of nuclear war.

Vladimir Putin is authoritarian and ruthless, but no more so than many other world leaders, including Boris Yeltsin, with whom the U.S. government got along and gets along with just fine.

The problem with economic sanctions directed against whole countries is that they harm the common people of a country without touching the leaders.  If American leaders want to use U.S. economic power to reward and punish, economic sanctions aimed at individuals are probably the least harmful and most effective of doing it.

But overuse of economic sanctions of all kinds will be harmful to the United States in the long run because foreign countries will protect themselves by disconnecting from U.S. banks and the U.S. dollar.

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‘Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia’

February 6, 2018

          Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia.  But there was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not sufficiently under control.
          Officially the change of partners had never happened.  Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.  The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
                          ==George Orwell, 1984

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney was criticized and even ridiculed for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”   President Obama said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for years.”

But now we’re told that Russia is waging war against the United States and always has been.   It’s a funny kind of war, though—more like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than “Red Dawn.”

No Russian troops are massing on U.S. borders.   The Russian government makes no threat against the United States.

The claim is that the Russians—either the Russian government or certain individual Russians—are exercising a kind of mind control over Americans.   Russian agents allegedly denied Hillary Clinton her due share of the 2016 President vote and allegedly manipulated President Trump into being less anti-Russian than he should be.

But even if all the Russiagate charges are true, which I doubt, what the Russians have done is no different from what the old Soviet Union did, and what the United States continues to do down to this day.  During the time Vladimir Putin has been in office, it is the United States, not Russia, that has announced policies of “regime change” against countries that never threatened Americans.

It’s interesting that congressional Democrats, who say that President Trump is an insane clown, an ignoramus, a would-be fascist and a puppet of Vladimir Putin, have no interest in restricting presidential powers to wage war or bypass due process of law.   The only limit they’ve imposed is limitation of his authority to lift economic sanctions against Russia.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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U.S. interventionism started long before Trump

January 15, 2018

Click to enlarge.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Donald Trump.  But American foreign policy was on the wrong track long before Trump took office.   It’s not enough to just put things back the way they were in 2016 and before.   It is necessary to abandon worldwide military intervention as a policy and worldwide military intervention as an achievable goal.

LINKS

U.S. Counterterrorism Forces Are Active in Many More Places Than You Know by Catherine Bateman and Stephanie Sowell for U.S. News.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler, He’s Another Obama by Caitlin Johnstone for Medium.

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand by Andrew J. Bacevich for The American Conservative.

The Duplicitous Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter for The American Conservative.

The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.

LINKS

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

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The doomsday machine was (and is) real

December 7, 2017

Daniel Ellsberg is famous for leaking The Pentagon Papers, a secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam.   Now he has written a new book, The Doomsday Machine, which reveals the history of how close the United States came to all-out nuclear war.

The war policy of President Eisenhower was “massive retaliation.”   That meant the only U.S. response to Soviet or Chinese aggression would be all-out nuclear war.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles went to the brink of war at least three times, Life magazine reported at the time.  There was even an argument during the Kennedy-Nixon debates as to whether nuclear war would be justified if the Chinese government took over the tiny coastal islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

That was known at the time.  What wasn’t known was that the authority to order a nuclear strike was delegated to military commanders in the field.   We the people thought the decision rested solely with the President.  That wasn’t so.

U.S. plans called for the complete destruction of every city in Russia and China.   Pentagon planners told Ellsberg that this would result in 325 million casualties in Russia and China, plus an additional 100 million in Communist-ruled countries in eastern Europe, 100 million in neutral countries and 100 million among western European allies.

As Ellsberg said, this is the equivalent of 100 Holocausts.  It doesn’t include the number who would die as a result of Soviet retaliation.

Evidently it was thought necessary to credibly threaten to destroy Europe in order to defend it.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s ideas about escalation during the Kennedy administration can be seen as an attempt to create an alternative to immediate massive retaliation.

But while, in a way, well-intended, McNamara’s ideas were illogical.  Once launching a nuclear war is an option, the logic of game theory says you should be the first and not the second to escalate to nuclear warfare.

Ellsberg said every Cold War President through Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan gave military theater commanders the authority to use nuclear weapons.   He doesn’t know the situation now.

One difference is that U.S. presidents now threaten nuclear attacks against countries without nuclear weapons—a crime against humanity in and of itself, even if you don’t consider the deaths of neutrals and allies.

The U.S. government should join with the Russian government to resume the process of gradual elimination of nuclear weapons that was begun in the Reagan-Gorbachev years.   In the meantime, Congress should enact a law to forbid a U.S. nuclear first strike without a formal declaration of war.

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Law should forbid U.S. nuclear first strike

November 24, 2017

Few Americans are still alive who have a living memory of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.   Maybe that’s why so little attention is paid to the danger of nuclear war, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s.

The purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter an attack by a foreign country with nuclear weapons, although the U.S. government has never renounced the option of a nuclear first strike, such as in the event of a Red Army invasion of western Europe.

But now President Donald Trump talks about using nuclear weapons to enforce his ultimatums against North Korea.  A nuclear attack on North Korea would be a crime against humanity.  An attack, or the threat of attack, might tempt North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, to pre-emptively attack the United States or its allies, figuring that he has nothing to lose.

Senator Ed Markey, D-MA, and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA, introduced bills in September, 2016, forbidding a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.   When they introduced those bills, it looked as if someone other that Donald Trump would be President in 2017, so they are more than merely anti-Trump.

Senator Bob Corker, R-TN, held hearings earlier this month on the possibility of a first nuclear strike by a U.S. President.   The best hope the witnesses could offer was that the military would not obey an illegal order.

A first strike would be a violation of international law, but the military chain of command might not regard international law as binding.   Legislation is needed to make a nuclear attack a legal crime as well as a moral crime.

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Bertrand Russell on war and utopia

November 11, 2017

The following is from Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916)

A great many of the impulses which now lead nations to go to war are in themselves essential to any vigorous or progressive life.  Without imagination and love of adventure, a society soon becomes stagnant and begins to decay. Conflict, provided it is not destructive and brutal, is necessary in order to stimulate men’s activities, and to secure the victory of what is living over what is dead or merely traditional.  The wish for the triumph of one’s cause, the sense of solidarity with large bodies of men, are not things which a wise man will wish to destroy.  It is only the outcome in death and destruction and hatred that is evil.  The problem is, to keep these impulses, without making war the outlet for them.

All Utopias that have hitherto been constructed are intolerably dull….[Utopians] do not realize that much the greater part of a man’s happiness depends upon activity, and only a very small remnant consists in passive enjoyment.  Even the pleasures which do consist in enjoyment are only satisfactory, to most men, when they come in the intervals of activity.  Social reformers, like inventors of Utopias, are apt to forget this very obvious fact of human nature.  They aim rather at securing more leisure, and more opportunity for enjoying it, than at making work itself more satisfactory, more consonant with impulse, and a better outlet for creativeness and the desire to employ one’s faculties.

Hat tip to Marginal REVOLUTION

Tulsi Gabbard gets what’s wrong with U.S. wars

November 2, 2017

Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, is a dedicated surfer and accomplished athlete, a Hindu and vegetarian and a member of the National Guard who volunteered for service in Iraq.

Not a typical background for an American politician!  But in my opinion, she represents the future of the Democratic Party—if it has one.

She understands something that most Democrats still do not, which is the futility of the 15-year U.S. policy of worldwide military intervention.  She understands that the first step in fighting radical Islamic terrorism is to stop subsidizing terrorists.   She acts on that understanding even though it is unpopular.

I read a good article about Gabbard in The New Yorker online this morning.   The things that the writer finds questionable about Gabbard’s record make her respect her even more.

Right after the election, she met with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss foreign policy, and came away hopeful that he might adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.   “Less hopeful now,” she is quoted as saying.

She traveled to Syria in January to talk to President Bashir al-Assad about the possibility of ending the Syrian civil war.

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Background on the North Korean crisis

October 20, 2017

The important things to remember about North Korea are:

  • North Korea for nearly 70 years has been under a totalitarian government which has indoctrinated its people with absolute loyalty and obedience.
  • Its ruling ideology—called Juche—is based on the principles of national independence, economic self-sufficiency, cultural purity and glorification of leaders.
  • Despite loss of an estimated 20 percent of its population during the Korean Conflict, and starvation in later eras, the leaders have never given in to threats.
  • Based on past actions of the U.S. government toward Iraq, Libya and Iran, North Korean leaders have good reason to think that giving up nuclear weapons would be suicidal.

The Hermit Kingdom

Korea at the dawn of the 20th century had little relation with the outside world, except for Christian missionaries.  Japan made it a protectorate in 1905 and annexed it in 1910.  The Korean language and culture were suppressed, and Korea was exploited for the benefit of the Japanese Empire.

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung was born in 1912 to Presbyterian parents.  His name, which is not his birth name, means “Kim became the sun.”  His birthday is a national holiday called “day of the sun.”

The Kim family fled the repressive Japanese regime and settled in Manchuria in 1920.  Young Kim supposedly founded something called the Down-With-Imperialism Union, dedicated to liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, in 1926, at age 14.

He joined the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930s and led a guerrilla band that fought the Japanese in Manchuria.  Ultimately defeated, he fled into the Soviet Union, where he became an officer of the Red Army.

As World War Two drew to a close, the USSR declared war on Japan, overran Manchuria and occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, with Kim as head of the North Korean Communist Party.   US forces occupied the southern party

Supposedly this was a temporary measure until Korea was unified, but an independent Republic of Korea was declared in the south in May, 1948, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with Kim as the head, in August of that year.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and nearly conquered the whole Korean peninsula before being driven back.  Max Hastings, a British military historian, said there had been considerable pro-Communist sentiment in South Korea, which might have led to a guerrilla movement as in South Vietnam.   But the brutality and mass executions carried on by North Korean troops soon changed their minds.

U.S. intervention turned the tide, and then Chinese intervention created a stalemate.  American air forces bombed North Korea until there were no targets left, and then they bombed the river dams, flooding the country’s sparse farmland.   General Curtis LeMay estimated that 20 percent of the North Korean population were killed.

The two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1953, in which the division of the country was frozen along existing battle lines.  Part of the armistice agreement was that neither sides would increase the size of its force or introduce new weapons.  That agreement was broken in 1958 when the U.S. brought nuclear weapons into South Korea.

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President Trump and his new axis of evil

September 20, 2017

President Donald Trump said this to say in his address to the United Nations yesterday—

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.  But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.

He went on to say—

Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

I think these would be excellent points, if only he had applied them to the United States as well as the rest of the world.

He called for an intensification of economic and diplomatic warfare against North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, his new axis of evil.

How is this in the interest of the American people?  How is this consistent with respecting national sovereignty?   Are not North Korea, Iran and Venezuela sovereign nations?

The United States has paid radical jihadist terrorists to overthrow the government of Libya and is attempting to use them to overthrow the government of Syria—two sovereign states that never have threatened the United States.   The result has been to reduce these two countries to chaos and misery, as the cost of thousands of innocent lives.

President Trump in that very speech threatened another nation with the most destructive weapons known to humanity—

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

He accused the North Korean government of starving and torturing its own people, and various other crimes, which were real though not necessarily current.  But then he threatened an even worse atrocity.

To be fair, it is not clear whether he is threatening North Korea with attack merely if it fails to disarm or whether he is threatening retaliation in the event of an attack, which is different.

This ambiguity may be deliberate on President Trump’s part; he may think keeping others guessing is a good negotiating strategy.   Where nuclear weapons are concerned, this is dangerous.  It may lead the other person to think he has nothing to lose by launching an attack.

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How strong is North Korea?

September 11, 2017

North Korea has the world’s fourth largest army.   It has nearly 1.2 million troops under arms, slightly less than the USA and behind India and China.

South Korea has about 655,000 active duty troops, more than Britain, France and Germany combined.  A war between North and South Korea would be catastrophic, even if the USA, China and Russia were not involved.

Click to enlarge

Some observers claim that South Korea is the stronger of the two, because, they say, North Korean troops are malnourished and South Korean troops are better trained and have better equipment.   I wouldn’t know.

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The shadow of the Korean War

September 11, 2017

Photo via The Intercept

We Americans remember and memorialize the Vietnam Conflict, and tend to forget the equally savage and lethal Korean Conflict.   I’m not sure why that is—maybe because the Vietnam fighting was stretched out over more years, maybe because Vietnam was the experience of the Baby Boom generation.

Be that as it may, the Korean War is not forgotten in Korea, and especially not in North Korea.   The North Koreans remember that they have endured the worst the United States and its allies could throw at them, short of attacks with nuclear weapons.   I think that if you remember this, it goes a long way to explaining why Kim Jong-un defies the United States.

For the record, it was the North Koreans, and not the Americans or their South Korean allies, who started the war in June 1950, when they crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the south. Nevertheless, “What hardly any Americans know or remember,” University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings writes in his book The Korean War: A History, “is that we carpet-bombed the north for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties.”

How many Americans, for example, are aware of the fact that U.S. planes dropped on the Korean peninsula more bombs — 635,000 tons — and napalm — 32,557 tons — than during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II?

How many Americans know that “over a period of three years or so,” to quote Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, “we killed off … 20 percent of the population”?

Twenty.  Percent.  For a point of comparison, the Nazis exterminated 20 percent of Poland’s pre-World War II population. According to LeMay, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

Every. Town.  More than 3 million civilians are believed to have been killed in the fighting, the vast majority of them in the north.

Source: The Intercept.

The total population of Korea in 1950 was slightly over 20 million, with 9 million in North Korea.

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Would President Al Gore have invaded Iraq?

September 11, 2017

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Almost all of my liberal Democratic friends think the United States would have avoided the Iraq War if Al Gore had been elected President in 2000.   I’m not certain that is so.

Gore voted in favor of the 1991 authorization to use military force in Iraq.   Bill Clinton chose him as vice president partly because he had a reputation as a war hawk and had served honorably in Vietnam.   Gore chose another war hawk, Joe Lieberman, to be his running mate.

He and John Kerry criticized George W. Bush not on the grounds that the war was wrong, but that the war effort was being bungled.   The timing was wrong, more effort should have been made to get UN support, more should have been done to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Later on there was an argument that the U.S. should have focused more on Afghanistan rather than Iraq, or Afghanistan first and Iraq later.

But the argument for invading so-called rogue states was not questioned.  I don’t criticize them so much for that because that is what I, too, thought at the time.   I think that I, unlike them, have learned better now.

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The US has tried negotiating with North Korea

September 10, 2017

The negotiations room at Panmunjom

North Korea is ruled by a murderous totalitarian government that has committed acts of terrorism.   But that government has been willing to make arms agreements with the United States in the past, and it is the U.S. government that has broken these agreements.

 The first agreement was the 1953 Armistice that ended the Korean Conflict.   Under this agreement, the two sides agreed to stop fighting, pull back, respect and demilitarized zone and not introduce any new weapons into the Korean peninsula, pending signing of a peace treaty.

That is, each side could replace weapons, rifle for rifle and tank for tank, but they couldn’t increase the total number of weapons or introduce new weapons.   The U.S. renounced that part of the treaty in 1958 by bringing atomic weapons to South Korea.

Now, you can make the argument that this action was necessary to preserve the balance of power.   And later on, the North Koreans were discovered to have dug tunnels under the DMZ for the purpose of sending spies and agents into South Korea.   But still: It was the United States, not North Korea, that broke the terms of the Armistice.

Sometime in the 1980s, North Korea began work on a nuclear bomb.  In 1994,  President Bill Clinton sent ex-President Jimmy Carter to North Korea, where he persuaded the North Korean government to shut down its plutonium test reactor and put it under the control of international inspectors.   In return, the North Koreans got shipments of oil for its power grid and two light water reactors built by an international consortium.   All this was supposed to lead to normal relations between the two countries—which didn’t happen.

In 2002, President George W. Bush canceled the agreement.   His administration claimed the North Koreans  were cheating, by working on a uranium bomb.   The evidence for this is unclear, and the North Koreans claimed that the U.S. hadn’t fulfilled its part of the agreement.

Be that as it may, the North Koreans sent the inspectors home and resumed their work on a plutonium bomb.   By 2007, they exploded their first nuclear device.   Ending the agreement accomplished nothing.

The Bush administration resumed negotiations and arrived at a new tentative agreement to freeze nuclear weapons development at the new level.   But President Barack Obama didn’t follow through.   Maybe he thought that he didn’t have enough political capital to try to make peace with Iran, Cuba and North Korea, too.

Instead the U.S. government tried to pressure North Korea by means of economic sanctions.   North Korea responded by doubling down on its nuclear weapons program.

Now President Donald Trump threatens “fire and fury”.   The government of North Korea says that it will never give up its nuclear weapons so long as the United States is hostile and threatens North Korea with its own nuclear weapons.   Which is a way of saying it might give up its nuclear weapons if the U.S. was genuinely willing to make peace.

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Why threatening Kim Jong-un is futile

September 7, 2017

Kim Jong-un tells the people of North Korea that they live in the most advanced and admired nation in the world, but that they are under threat by the United States.

Threatening North Korea reinforces the message that they have to unify behind their Supreme Leader.

Isolating North Korea helps shut out the knowledge that not everybody in the world is as regimented and poor as they area.

Recent history shows Kim that there is no safety in renouncing nuclear weapons.  Saddam Hussein renounced nuclear weapons,   Muammar Qaddafi renounced nuclear weapons.   That didn’t save them from being killed like animals following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and proxy invasion of Libya.

Kim Jong-un surely knows that a nuclear attack on the United States would be suicidal.   His nuclear weapons tests and missile demonstrations make sense as an attempt to deter attack.   Bear in mind that the United States  conducts military exercises in South Korea as if rehearsing for an attack on North Kora.

The real danger is if Kim Jong-un comes to believe that his country is going to be attacked, and that he has nothing to lose by firing nuclear missiles (assuming he actually has nuclear missiles).

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On the ground and in the air, two laws of war

September 7, 2017

Ben Mauk wrote a good article for Granta on how bombing from the air has changed the law of war.

There is a law of ground warfare, which treats targeting of civilians as terrorism, and a law of air warfare, which treats killing of civilians at worst as a purpose and at best as unavoidable collateral damage.

The Nanking Massacre of 1937 is considered one of history’s greatest atrocities.  As many as 200,000 or 300,000 Chinese civilians were bayoneted or machine-gunned by Japanese troops.

An estimated 100,000 Japanese civilians died in a single fire-bombing raid on Tokyo in 1945, which was one of many.   But, aside from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. bombing of Japan is not widely considered to be a war crime.   One you decide on a bombing strategy, civilian deaths are inevitable.

General William T. Sherman’s 1864 march through Georgia during the Civil War was regarded at the time as an atrocity.   He ordered the indiscriminate destruction of civilian property in order to break the Confederacy’s means and will to resist.   But he only destroyed property.  He didn’t massacre civilians.

Now imagine a Sherman not on horseback, but in the cockpit of an aircraft.   How could he have carried out his policy without large-scale killing of civilians?

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