Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

Hiroshima’s Shadow: crossing a moral line

March 24, 2015
Click to enlarge.

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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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War and peace: Links & comments 2/27/15

February 27, 2015

In Midst of War, Ukraine Becomes Gateway for Jihad by Marcin Mamon for The Intercept.

Failed states, where governmental authority has collapsed, are ideal venues for warlords, organized crime and terrorists.  Ukraine fits the profile.

Ready for Nuclear War Over Ukraine? by Robert Parry for Information Clearing House.  (Hat tip to Corrente)

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister said Kiev is preparing for “full-scale war” against Russia, and is unafraid of nuclear weapons.

The Cold War and Ukraine by William K. Polk for Counterpunch.

Russia sees NATO forces in Ukraine today as the United States saw Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 .

Germany’s army is so under-equipped that it used broomsticks instead of machine guns by Rich Noack for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Marginal Revolution)

What Is Russia’s Answer to Greece’s Plan B – Smile, Blow the Whistle, Pass the Red Card by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

In short, Russia does not intend to bail out Greece.

 

The ebb and flow of Russia in Europe

February 26, 2015
Russia in Europe 1914

Russia in Europe 1914

Since 1848, the United States has been secure within its present continental boundaries.  That’s not been true of all nations, and particularly not true of Russia and its European neighbors.  I’ve collected a series of maps from Google Image showing the ebb and flow of Russian power in Europe.

What they show is why, on the one hand, Russia’s neighboring countries would feel in need of protection and why, on the other hand, Russia would fear any hostile military power along its border, especially in Ukraine.

The Baltic states, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine did not exist as independent countries a century ago.  People who lived in these regions during the 20th century would have lived under several different governments, including some of the bloodiest regimes in history, without having moved from the place they were born.

1wk_brest_litowsk_vertrag_karte

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The Ukraine’s familiar scenario

February 16, 2015

image-811111-panoV9free-stvuSource: Der Spiegel

Ukraine’s problems can be summed up thusly:

  • A national army that’s unwilling to fight.
  • Out-of-control fanatic militias unwilling to make peace.
  • An economy in a state of collapse.

Every country is unique, and so is every situation, but this sounds an awful lot like the situations in Iraq and other countries in which the United States has intervened.

In these countries, all factions are willing and able to fight except the faction aligned with the United States.

Also similar is the position of the U.S. government.  The President doesn’t want to accept defeat, but neither does he want to send more young Americans to another foreign land to die in a war that probably isn’t winnable.

So he ponders are compromise measures, such as sending defensive weapons that supposedly won’t be used for offense, and technical advisers that supposedly are not actually going to fight themselves.

The best thing that could happen from the standpoint of the United States would be for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to negotiated a compromise peace.  This would involve home rule for eastern Ukraine, and a federal system in which the Russian speakers could veto Ukraine joining NATO.

That would leave Ukraine proper in hock to the International Monetary Fund.  Paying off the IMF would mean higher prices, higher taxes and sale of Ukrainian national assets at bargain prices.  If Washington was truly interested in helping the Ukrainian people, it would try to help free them from IMF debt bondage.

It’s interesting, by the way, that one party in what supposedly is a civil war is absent from the peace negotiations.  The negotiating parties are representatives of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, but not of the separatists in east Ukraine.  Presumably they will have no choice but to accept whatever Russia agrees to.

LINKS

Can Merkel’s diplomacy save Europe? by the Spiegel staff.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Putin couldn’t be a Hitler if he tried

February 16, 2015

In 1938, a ruthless autocrat named Adolf Hitler claimed to be protector of the Sudetenland, a border region of Czechoslovakia, in order to protect ethnic Germans who lived there.

In 2015, a ruthless autocrat named Vladimir Putin claims to be protector of the eastern border region of Ukraine in order to protect the ethnic Russians there.

putin.as.czarIs Putin another Hitler?  Would his next step be to conquer all Ukraine, as Hitler conquered all Czechoslovakia?  Would Poland be next, as it was for Hitler?

I don’t believe these are Putin’s intentions.  Everything he has done so far is consistent with his stated goal, which is for the world’s great powers to accept Russia as a peer and to take Russia’s vital interests into account.

But, for the sake of argument, suppose Putin’s aim is to reconquer eastern Europe or even all of Europe.  How could he carry it out?

The old Soviet Union was unable to pacify Afghanistan, and had to retreat in ignominious defeat.  Putin’s Russian Federation was barely able to crush the rebellion in tiny Chechnya.  How could he hope to conquer a nation as large as Ukraine?

Germany in Hitler’s time had world-class science, technology and industrial power, an efficient government and possibly the best army, man-for-man, in the world.

The Russian Federation is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy.  It lacks high-technology industry.  Its economy is based on exports of natural resources, like Venezuela’s or Iran’s.  The military potential of Putin’s Russia is not comparable to Hitler’s Germany

Russians would no doubt fight valiantly to protect their homeland, if invaded, as they always have.  They have succeeded in protecting their compatriots in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where most of the local people welcome them.   The Russian army could probably occupy Kiev as quickly as the U.S. army occupied Baghdad.

But then what?  The USA was able to quickly occupy Baghdad in 2003, but then became bogged down in a quagmire more.   A Russian conquest of Ukraine would be an even bigger quagmire.   The result would be a devastated Ukraine and a Russia that had been bled dry.

The Russian Federation has the power to destroy the USA with nuclear weapons, just as our government has the power to destroy them.  What neither country has the power to do is to defeat a determined insurgent force being armed by the other side.

Vladimir Putin is too intelligent and realistic to put Russia into such a situation situation.  I think that what he wants is a neutral and, if necessary, a neutralized Ukraine—to have enough of a foothold in that country, as in Georgia and Moldova, to prevent that country from allying itself to a hostile foreign power.

If that is his desire, I think it is completely reasonable—certainly not something for the USA to risk nuclear war over.

LINKS

What does Russia want? by James Meek for the London Review of Books.

Russian science is amazing.  So why hasn’t it taken over the world?, an interview of MIT’s Loren Graham for the Boston Globe.

Has the IMF Annexed Ukraine?, an interview of Michael Hudon for the Real News Network.  Ukraine faces other worse threats than Putin.

Don’t Arm Ukraine by John J. Mearsheimer for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey).

The Cookie Monster in the White House

February 11, 2015

cookies

Why would ‘boots on the ground’ even work?

February 10, 2015

Conservative and Republican leaders are calling on President Obama to put American “boots on the ground” to resist Putin in Ukraine and the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East.

And the President reportedly plans to ask for authorization to use military force against ISIS.  Since he does not consider aerial bombing, drone strikes or Special Operations missions to be military force, it must be “boots on the ground” that he has in mind.

troops-on-the-groundMy question is:  Given the failure of “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan and, before that, in Vietnam, why would you expect success this time?

Over the years, the American armed forces have taught insurgents in countries they occupy how to defeat us.  The Pentagon has not learned how to defeat insurgents.

The U.S. military has the power to attack virtually any nation except Russia or China and reduce it to chaos.  What is doesn’t have the power to do is to pacify the nation afterwards and make its people submit.

Or, as a friend of mine remarked during the Vietnam era, the United States had the power to kill all the North Vietnamese and kill all the South Vietnamese, but it didn’t have the power to make any Vietnamese do what the US wanted.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.  This insanity is the real Vietnam Syndrome.

LINKS

Boots on the Ground? Yes by Thomas Donnelly for The Weekly Standard.

John McCain: US Boots on the Ground Better Than ISIS on American Soil by Greg Richter for Newsmax.

Gov. Scott Walker Wouldn’t Rule Out U.S. Boots on the Ground in Syria by Jessica Puckett for ABC News’ The Note.

Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham at Odds Over ‘Boots on the Ground’ by David Knowles for Bloomberg Politics.   Interesting that Cruz resists being sucked into this.

Obama readying request to use force against Islamic State by Patricia Zengerle for Reuters.

It’s the lessons the U.S. didn’t learn from Vietnam that makes its loss there the real tragedy by Robert Freeman for Salon.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire).

Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War by Christian Appy for TomDispatch.

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Mercenary armies and the fate of nations

February 10, 2015

Kelly Vlahos wrote a disturbing article in The American Conservative about the Pentagon’s growing dependence on mercenary troops and about how mercenary companies are becoming just as important as regular troops worldwide.

Use of military contractors offers many short-term conveniences for governments and long-term dangers for the public.

authoritarianism9fd18cHiring mercenaries frees a government from the difficulties of recruitment or a military draft.   Mercenary companies are usually willing to do whatever they’re paid to do, without concern for such things as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Constitution, the Geneva convention or a sense of military honor.  Their activities are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The long-term danger is having your country’s national defense dependent on people whose services are for sale to the highest bidder.   That was the situation in the city-states of Renaissance Italy during the time of Machiavelli, and Sean McFate, a writer and former mercenary himself, thinks the world could be returning to that situation.  Very convenient—for the government in power.

The great sociologist Max Weber defined a sovereign government as the institution that had a monopoly on the legitimate use of lethal force within a given area.  But there is nothing that limits a military contractor to selling its services to a government.

Mercenaries can sell their services to anybody that can pay them, be they corporations, political parties, fanatic religious movements or international institutions.

Corporations nowadays operate like private governments and sometimes have the power to bend actual governments to their will, as the big banks are doing in Greece and Ukraine.  But while they have their own security forces, they as yet lack full-fledged armies.  If Vlahos and McFate are right, they might acquire them, too.

LINKS

A Blackwater World Order by Kelley Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Book Review: Sean McFate’s The Modern Mercenary for Scholars and Rogues Literary Journal.

Blackwater Convictions Don’t Mean the End of Mercenary War by Sean McFate for The New Republic.

The nature of a corporation and how it changed in the 1980s by Matt Stoller for Ian Welsh.  About corporations as private governments.

One Soviet sub officer averted World War Three

February 6, 2015

Hat tip to Washington’s Blog.

I probably owe my life, along with most Americans, Europeans and Russians who were alive on October 27, 1962, to Vasily Arkipov, a Soviet submarine officer whose name I’d never heard of until this morning.

During the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union sent four submarines with nuclear torpedoes to Cuban waters.   One of those submarines, the B-59, came under attack from depth charges from an American destroyer.

These were dummy charges, intended to make the submarine surface, but Valantin Savitsky, the sub commander, did not know this.   He ordered a nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing at the USS Randolf, a giant aircraft carrier leading the blockade of Cuba.

The submarine officers were allowed to launch nuclear weapons on their own initiative.  The only condition was that all three senior officers agree.  One officer, Vasily Arkipov, refused permission.  But for him, World War Three would have begun.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis vividly.   I was not afraid because it seemed to me that it was all bluff.  I did not think either John F. Kennedy nor Nikita Khrushchev would be so crazy as to begin a nuclear war.  Only later did I realize how great the danger really was.

There have been more close calls since then, when war was averted only by the good judgment of an American or Soviet officer on duty at the time.   As long as both countries have nuclear weapons, the danger exists.   We can’t count on being lucky every time.  We only have to be unlucky once.

The USA is now flirting with war with Russia over Ukraine.   I do not think either Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin would be so crazy as to begin a nuclear war—not intentionally.  But the risk of war is just as great now as it was then.

LINKS

Thank you, Vasily Arkipov, the man who stopped nuclear war by Edward Wilson for The Guardian.

A Man You’ve Never Heard of Saved Your Life by “George Washington” for Washington’s Blog.

What Stephen F. Cohen & Other Liberals Get Wrong About Obama & Ukraine’s War by Eric Zuesse for Washington’s Blog.

Failed policy and declining U.S. military morale

January 2, 2015

Morale in the U.S. military is declining for many reasons, but I think the underlying problem is that men and women in the armed forces lack a clear mission that is related to the defense of the nation, and that the American public understands and supports.

Americans supported the troops during World War Two because Japan attacked us and Germany threatened us.  Americans had trouble understanding “limited” war in Korea (although I think the American defense of South Korea was necessary) and counterinsurgency warfare in Vietnam.

The Pentagon’s solution was to end the draft so that wars could be fought without the support of the American public.  But the volunteer troops, like the draftees of an earlier era, still need a reason why their risk and sacrifice is necessary to protect the nation, and it matters to them whether they have the support of the public.

The men and women in the U.S. armed forces are well able to defend their country against attack, and are capable of destroying the armed forces and government of any weak country such as Iraq or Libya.   What U.S. military leaders have never learned how to do is to subdue a resistance force operating in its home country.

∞∞∞

AMERICA’S MILITARY: a force adrift by Hope Hodge Seck for Military Times.

The Real Reason For The Poor State of Military Morale by Carl Forsling for Task & Purpose.


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