Tag Archives: Iraq war

High expectations

TW: military occupation, civil war

Before anything else, I wanted to quickly apologize for the relatively low number of posts in the past few months. I have been experimenting with several new sources, with the aim of broadening the types of coverage that inform my writing here and elsewhere. One of those has been the World Review, which has an interesting reporting style. Their stated goals paint a picture of news that is fact-driven, values importance over mainstream appeal, and free of editorializing – all admirable aspects to their reporting they generally deliver on. That said, this often comes at the price of context (in spite of promises that their objectivity is shored up by expert analysis). The past two week’s news, as far as I’m concerned, underscores this sort of can’t-see-the-forest-through-the-trees effect, that leaves them a very useful news source, but only for a sort of immediate, fact-establishing reporting.

Last week, they published an article that helpfully highlighted the paradox at the heart of modern Iraq – that there is enormous mineral wealth in that country, but that its concentration in certain circles has led to resentment and instability rather than general prosperity and even investment in a shared future. What’s surprising is actually that this is surprising. The article itself treats this as something of a shock, quite literally elevating it to the opening hook of – “Iraq is now a failed state despite its great oil riches which provide more than 90 per cent of government revenue”.

From a historical perspective, there could be little doubt that Iraq’s wealth would remain concentrated even if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wasn’t interested in Shia-dominance in government, business, and society in general. The (sometimes literal) infrastructure of an insular elite has nearly a century of legacy to lean on – beginning with the UK-backed Kingdom of Iraq, then the US-backed Ba’athist regime, and most recently the US occupation famous for its focal points of tight security and economic power. Iraqi governance has been geared towards inegalitarian political and economical realities through decades of foreign influence and subsequent machines in local politics.

Beyond that though, the reality of 90 percent of the government’s revenue coming mineral extraction and export hardly seems like a counterbalance to that very real and very recent history of inequality. While shared resources are not necessarily a definitive source of conflict, the “resource curse” perspective on productive areas of the world remains fairly common. That’s with good reason, not only because of the instability that seems to linger in most parts of the world economically-centered on mineral extraction, but because of how those industries work. Some labor is required, but rarely enough to do more than make a portion of the population see the benefits of successful extraction and exportation.

The primary goal of states, companies, and individuals dependent on the success of those sorts of local economies tends to be security against any ill-wishers from the rest of society. An Iraq dotted with Bremer Walls and compounds of the well-to-do is one that only biases them more towards that sort of security-focused strategy, with profits even furthered maximized by keeping them contained within an incredibly small population. The very rhetoric of the Sunni-supremacist insurgency in northern and western Iraq reflects that reality, as since 2012 they have called for “destroying the walls” – meaning not only the ushering in of a post-state neo-caliphate (destroying many border boundaries), but the current targeting of these islands of security and wealth in Iraq (and groups seen as politically aligned with them, or simply their coreligionists).

(Bremer Walls in Iraq, from here.)

In short, the history of Iraq and its current dependency on resource extraction and export for income aren’t at odds with each other by a long shot, but have worked together to reinforce an inherently unequal political, economic, and social reality. That modern Iraq is an example of that which can’t absorb the subsequent sectarian and ethnic hostility or negotiate a new sort of society is the actual issue here. With a recent article whose title just gushes with excitement that newly discovered gas deposits in Mozambique will create a brighter future for the country (but which ironically the article itself admits is “at the mercy of a weak and corrupt government” concentrated in a completely different part of the country from the gas-rich region), it’s unclear that the World Review has learned its lesson about high expectations and extraction-based economies.

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The news that might not seem like news

TW: Iraq-Iran War, Syrian Civil War, chemical warfare, war crimes, US imperialism, neocolonialism

Given how it’s been widely known (just rarely acknowledged) that the US was involved in providing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime with chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran War, at first glance the revelations reported by Foreign Policy might seem unremarkable. But the devil in this case is very much so in the details.

(The shaded portions of Iraq and Iran were occupied by the other country during the 8 year war, and were likely sites of chemical attacks on civilians and Iranian forces by the Iraqi government.)

As Shane Harris and Matthew Aid explained in their article:

U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

In other words, the US did more than simply provide illicit materials, it made certain that those chemical weapons would be used with maximum effectiveness, to guarantee a winner in the war. What was just strongly shown was how true many of the long-standing complaints about that war were. It was transformed from a local war into a larger proxy conflict through the US’s and other military powers’ involvement. A blind eye was turned towards war crimes during it. It is an iconic example of flawed US foreign policy in the Muslim world.

This revelation has the obvious political impact of revealing the US hypocrisy in beginning to intervene in Syria in response to chemical weapons use during the revolution-turned-civil-war in that country. I suspect someone will soon point out that many of the Syrian casualties have been non-combatant civilians, unlike during the Iraq-Iran War. Never mind that the CIA’s own 1983 documents concluded that “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border” (emphasis added).

During the drive towards the Iraq invasion under the more recent Bush administration, the chemical weapons massacres of Kurds and Shia protesters in Iraq were seen as an entirely separate set of events from the more neutral events of the Iraq-Iran War, but that entire framing was clearly, by our own government’s assessment, inaccurate. There was a clear connection between the use of chemical weapons on Iranian troops and their use on Iraqi civilians (as well as Iranians as well) suspected on the basis of their communal identities to be sympathetic to the Iranians.

We knowingly created conditions highly similar to those in play today in Syria. There’s no other way of explain this.

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What have we learned?

TW: war crimes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Iraq war

Yesterday was the sixty-eighth anniversary of the US military’s detonation of the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and this Friday will be the same for the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki with “Fat Man”. Together, those two attacks, which are the only uses of nuclear weapons in the history of human conflict, are variously estimated to have potentially killed as many as 246,000 people, which approaches the estimates for the total population of Nagasaki prior to the bombing.

(White doves were released at the memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, this year, from here.)

This November will mark the eighth anniversary of the US military unintentionally admitting to illegally using White phosphorus as a napalm-like incendiary during the Iraq War (specifically the siege of Fallujah). Sixty years and a few months separate those incidents, but the chilling modus operandi of the US military in Iraq suggests that virtually nothing was learned from our actions in Japan.

I think this week should serve as a time of meditation on that distressing fact.

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How many dead

TW: islamophobia, mass killings, genocide

So, of course, in the wake of the Boston Bombings, this happened:

(Erik Rush responded to being asked if he was blaming Muslims for the Boston attacks by saying “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”)

I think after the decades of the US being at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and arguably secretly too in Yemen and Pakistan, people in this country have gotten accustomed to extreme displays of violence towards (presumed) Muslims. I don’t think the actual magnitude of this statement, which frequent Fox News guest Erik Rush walked back as “sarcasm”, has sunk in for many people.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. That’s nearly a quarter of the entire world’s population. Killing every single one of them, as Rush cavalierly suggested (oh sorry, “joked”) would be equivalent to more than 200 times the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. That’s more than 145 times the total deaths in the Holocaust. That’s more than 66 times the military deaths in World War II. That’s almost 39 times the military deaths in both World Wars. That’s still about double the largest estimates for deaths under Mao Zedong’s governance in China (which were primarily from starvation, but also included several million political killings). To call the number of people Rush joked about killing staggering seems like an understatement.

The sort of mass killing Rush referenced seems to fit more effectively into eradications that history textbooks describe as occurring across continents and over centuries: the colonization of the Americas, the “settlement” of Australia, the exploitation of Africa. Even compared to those, Rush’s “sarcastic” remark falls short: indigenous peoples saw their lives destroyed on an unimaginable scale in each of those historical processes, but there were survivors. In a very real way, what Rush “joked” about was a level of murder unprecedented even in those cases, that would have lead to the depopulated path leading from the western coast of Africa into central Asia.

(Percentage of the population in a given country that’s Muslim. The darkest color, which is most prevalent in North Africa and the Middle East, represents that at least 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Click to enlarge.)

In spite of how much this remark, if translated into action, would be a new chapter in an already bloody history, it’s actually shocking how well it fits certain legal language: that of genocide. To the surprise of some, the legal definition of genocide is actually quite narrow, since it was written by the US (which had just used nuclear weapons against enemy civilian populations), the UK (which still had it’s empire, including the brutal local governments in south Asia and south Africa), France (which had brutally repressed its colonial subjects in Algeria and would do so again after the war), the USSR (who at that time was governed by Stalin), and China (what was in the midst of a massive civil war that would lead to Mao’s death-happy rule). The hands that conceived a legally actionable idea of what were and weren’t crimes against humanity were careful to make sure their past and future actions weren’t themselves quite within the boundaries of the definition.

In light of that it’s something of a shock how easily Rush’s comments fit into this deliberately narrow definition: the intent or act of killing in whole or in part an ethnic, religious, or racial group. Muslims are pretty clearly a religious group, which he quite clearly advocated killing of in whole. With so little wiggle room, the only defense he has that he didn’t advocate genocide is to claim “sarcasm” – and lo and behold he has.

While I don’t intend to suggest we should limit speech half as much as we do now, it seems like the US public and Fox News in particular could make clear that we aren’t on the same page as Erik Rush. So, I hope you’ll consider signing this petition which requests that Fox News cease hearing from him permanently.

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And you’ll like it!

TW: anti-Roma violence

So a few people have been abuzz over the recent Hungarian constitutional changes. There’s pretty clearly a precarious political situation developing in that country, as the inability to use existing hate crimes laws to prosecute anti-Roma hate crimes shows (sorry it’s only available in pdf format). I have significant qualms about the agendas pushed at times by Der Spiegel (which has supported the politicized aid stipulations put upon Greece) and by Human Rights Watch (which had many high-ranking members lobby for the Iraq War), but their reporting puts together a rather worrisome picture of Hungary’s current trajectory. Ignoring their prescriptions to the problem (since both organizations have proven all too fallible in terms of determining the correct course of action), their descriptions (which are corroborated elsewhere) tackle very different dimensions of the developing problems.

(A 2012 vigil for a 2009 killing of a Roma man and his son in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary, from here.)

Der Spiegel’s coverage is quite clear: one issue is how Hungary is effectively creating an incentive for those educated there to stay and work there for at least a few years following their post-university entrance into the labor force. As Der Spiegel puts it, it’s a “measure meant to curb the emigration of highly-educated workers and academics”. That seems imminently reasonable for a comparatively small country with highly liberalized immigration laws that allow workers to be easily poached by other EU nations. The article briefly lays out a few other changes in the same section of new laws that the parliament has now effectively written into the constitution, but it doesn’t exactly dwell on their purpose or function.

That’s where the Human Rights Watch’s piece comes into play. It doesn’t actually examine the impacts on immigration much at all, and instead cuts straight to the heart of how life within Hungary will be impacted by the assorted other changes. In short, the results don’t sound very good. A few Fidesz (the currently governing party) officials have put out English language explanations which I won’t link to provide them any more coverage, but suffice it to say, they’re claiming that new language defining families with explicit references to sexual reproduction are no cause of concern for queer Hungarian families. They’re claiming that the Hungarian state’s preservation of a vague commitment to provide housing makes up for the de facto criminalization of homelessness. They’re pretending that preferential support of certain religious groups over others is something other than religious establishment. They’ve passed over the fact that among the new changes also allow the National Judicial Office to transfer cases (particularly political corruption cases) to inexperienced rural courts that are rarely reported on.

Many politically-active Hungarians have been raising the alarm for some time now that a tide of antisemitic and anti-Roma sentiment was rising, but that seems to have been part of a larger vision among conservative Hungarians of a better Hungary with “proper” families, no undesirable homeless, and no corruption (within eyesight or earshot). An apparent lack of Jews or Roma was merely one facet of how society needed to be reformed in their view. But what’s more, that vision comes along with laws designed to keep many younger Hungarians stuck there with them. You’ll partake in their utopia, and supposedly, you’ll like it too.

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More straight people feels

It’s my birthday, so I’ll just briefly state that the parade of straight people’s feelings on queer families and marriage equality is continuing for the moment. Over at The Beast, Megan McCardle, who in the past gleefully imagined the violence that could have been doled out against Iraq War protesters, has a lot of concerns over whether marriage equality would coercively assimilate queer couples into a nightmarish middle class hellscape of manicured suburban lawns and homeowners’ associations. It’s adorable how she assumes that queer families won’t exist until poof the law allows them to. It’s difficult to say if this is the result of flawed descriptions of “legalizing” or “banning” those marriages, rather than acknowledging the kinship systems that many queer families have used for decades if not centuries that are easily accommodated by existing laws.

But, as I suggested yesterday, the discussion she sets up carefully avoids much analysis of actual queer people – they’re discussed as a group, faces in a crowd, a monolith, even while dropping conservative, straight politicians’ names and specific sexual histories at the drop of a hat. The legal freedoms of and social mores governing queer people are merely barometers to popular perceptions of monogamy apparently. Her eventual point is evidently this: “One can imagine a Republican politician fifty years hence ruining his career when he throws over his husband and children for a younger man.” The bad part of this is… decidedly unclear. McCardle seems incapable of understanding duplicitous or disrespectful sexual habits from non-marital and polyamorous ones, and mixes all of that together with queer sexualities.

(Neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive: polyamory, queer sexualities, and sexual ethics. Also Batman. From here.)

Meanwhile, from the purportedly more accepting camp, Brian Palmer (who was still married to his wife in the eyes of both New York state and the federal government as of 2012) at Slate decided to play what we in the business call “Oppression Olympics” with interracial and same-sex/same-gender marriage rights. For instance, were you aware that in Loving v Virginia, racists “didn’t merely critique the parenting skills of interracial couples—the state attacked their very mental stability“? Gosh, because if there’s one group of people that aren’t talked about as being categorically mentally unwell, it’s queer people, right? And it’s not like there was a concerted effort to fabricate results to prove that queer couples were categorically not only “bad” but actively damaging parents? One of the factors in that study was specifically that being raised by a queer family increased the risk of children to experience physical abuse (but note, they didn’t bother to ask if it was the parents who would have done that violence or if they would have tolerated it).

Straight people: actually experts on life experiences they’ve never had.

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Maddows gotta Maddow

I’m currently traveling, so I’ll keep this quite brief. I’ll just point out that Rachel Maddow is doing an excellent news series starting this coming Monday on the way the US was led into the Iraq War under false pretenses. If her promo for it last night is any indication, it’ll be unfortunately all too relevant with regard to false or misleading information being used to legitimize a strike on Iran or Syria.

(The imaginary tunnel mockingly used to explain Romney’s comments during the debates last year that Syria is Iran’s “pathway to the sea”, from here.)

I might end up live blogging that, so be sure to check my twitter Wednesday night to see if I find any parts of it worth repeating or elaborating on there.

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Drones are cheaper – I mean, save lives

TW: drone strikes

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that noticed President Obama’s understated reference to drone strikes during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, as Professor Lisa Hajjar provided an excellent analysis of the issue over at Al Jazeera. There’s a number of different issues that she covers, but I think one of the cores of Hajjar’s argument is that while the security improvement for US soldiers is obvious, the ostensible reduction in civilian casualties is little more than hypothetical. She explains-

What distinguishes drones from other killing technologies employed in war is that drones are unmanned. For proponents of drone warfare, that is their greatest advantage. They also tout that drones are highly accurate, precision weapons capable of taking out targets and nothing else. That contention, while popular in the halls of power in Washington, manifests as the disputable claim that civilian casualties are rare.” (link and emphasis in original)

She’s written this as a direct retort to how the initial concern driving the switch to drone strikes is presented as reducing the risks to US personnel. She quotes Obama from Tuesday, who said, in the talking-about-drones-without-saying-drones section of the address:

We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

Part of the problem with that argument is the way it prioritizes the safety of US service members to the eclipsing of the safety of civilian non-combatants in the assorted countries whose skies the United States evidently now patrols. Hajjar excellently breaks apart that whole argument, and I recommend that anyone interested in the use and impact of drone strikes should read her analysis. That being said, that argument that this is for the troops, is honestly quite the distraction.

It’s been part of the conversation, but less obviously that drones are, from a certain economic perspective, much cheaper than the use of ground troops and other alternatives. The reasons for that are complex, from the fact that nation-wide occupation requires far more people to be involved (and hence, paid) to the almost nonexistent risk of US service members who pilot drones to become injured on the job compared with actual soldiers on the ground (and thus, the injured compensated in addition to the training and fielding of a replacement).

In fact, the Democrats have long touted the use of drones, since the Clinton era actually, because of that politically useful combination of benefiting service members while cutting costs. As far back as in his 2003 book, now Senator Al Franken defended Clinton’s military spending and policies, explaining, that his administration had “invested so heavily” in these new technologies which collectively could be “called Network Centric Warfare” and which Clinton “brought to fruition”. He treated that as (in addition to the end of the Cold War) the explanation for why the Clinton era had seen militaries with fewer high-cost military investments. Franken explained, that for a typical drone strike “take a look at how many tanks were involved: 0. Ships: 0.”

Franken went on to compare on the same page the purportedly “$100,000 each” missiles typically used during the first Gulf War with the missiles used by the Clinton administration as part of their new military strategy which were typically a fifth of that cost. The overall message was thrift, and any additional security for US troops as a result of using drones was pretty much incidental.

(A US drone that crashed in Djibouti before reaching the US base there, in 2011. Fortunately, no one was harmed by its crash into a vacant lot. From here.)

To his credit, Franken does mention the use of drones and related technologies as having benefited the troops, but in the context of having given them “a foundation in ‘stability support ops'”. He specifies that that means avoiding the worst impacts from paramilitary forces and similar combatants in asymmetrical warfare, but he doesn’t exactly explain the causality. Presumably, training in how to dispose of non-state combatants while in the Balkans proved useful to our troops who needed to dispose of non-state combatants in Afghanistan and later Iraq (and subsequently throughout the world). A decade ago, this technology was already impacting warfare, but no one felt the need to present it in terms of preventing casualties among our troops – instead it was merely efficient and cost effective.

The ramifications of drones in terms of our troops security seems to have been invisible until it started to be pointed out that it had a clear impact on the safety of civilian non-combatants throughout the world. Why could we only perceive of that ethical benefit only after the technology’s major ethical failings were made apparent?

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Object permanence, how does it work?

If anyone tells you in the next few months that MSNBC is a den of liberal vipers, show them this clip. Sure, many of it’s commentators are opposed to virulent conservatism, but they love the idea of the Republicans being just a hair less extreme. The politicians championed last night were former Senator Richard Lugar, who at many points has supported assault weapons bans, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, because he’s currently calling for Republicans to act like adults. Never mind if Lugar was once known as Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor, and only began to show skepticism against against the Iraq War in 2007, right on schedule with other proclaimed moderates like Senator Chuck Hagel. Never mind if Bobby Jindal pushed soft creationism. They’re moderates! Why? Because someone said so!

(This is an often overlooked part of the theory of the Overton Window – that by calling the proponents of ideas moderate, do we in some sense “make” them and their ideas moderate?)

In fact, Ezra’s willing to cede the title of moderate to Representative Paul Ryan of all people, since he’s willing to back down some of the time on the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling if the deals are far enough to the right. Again, we’re apparently going to sweep the whole effectively-illegalizing-abortion-and-fertility-procedures thing under the rug, even if that was going on at the same time. Ezra admits almost ten minutes into the segment that maybe this is primarily rhetorical and so the quiet overturning of established principles by “moderate” Republicans is more perceived as different from the Tea Party than actually is different.

So, thanks Klein for admitting that this entire discussion is effectively meaningless, but that doesn’t exactly undo the damage of labeling Ryan, Lugar, and Jindal moderates because they say so. That’s precisely the problem actually – there exists a pretty intense effort to make that argument, that conservative politics, as long as they’re not in actual Klansmen hoods, are moderate because that “feels” accurate.

How many times more do we have to go through discovering that those “moderate”, “sensible” Republicans are actually pretty extreme? We’ve gone through people being shocked that Midwestern Republican Governor after Midwestern Republican Governor (and so on) has tried to shut down unions, especially public sector ones. And in the cases where it’s truly undeniable, we’ve simply ignored that present radicals used to be called moderates. And the residual moderate status of politicians like Senator McCain and new moderate status of Jindal, Lugar, and perhaps even Ryan makes Ezra Klein’s skepticism towards an increasingly nonsensical stock conservatism into virulent liberalism in comparison. With one motion, to be even a centrist progressive becomes a radical perspective and to rewrite the country’s legal definition of person as beginning at conception is an almost moderate stance.

Every once in a while, some one says something unhinged enough that you might realize that this isn’t moderate. But will we actually put together what it means when that’s happened with almost every prominent conservative? How many times do we have to be fooled before we’re ashamed…

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Greenwald and Hagel

There’s many different critical responses that could be and in some cases have been launched against Glenn Greenwald’s recent article on how former Senator Hagel would be an acceptable Secretary of Defense because he says nice things about Palestinians (never mind doing anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and even if he’s part of the “Washington Consensus” so are all Democrats everywhere. Which is interesting because the evidence for how Hagel’s a part of that Washington Consensus suggests it’s more of a Republican Consensus which he’s been part of. As Greenwald discusses it, the consensus he disagrees with is “America’s posture of endless war and militarism, and ceasing our antagonizing of the entire Muslim world (and large parts of the rest of the world)”.

He ties this repeatedly to the carte blanche often awarded to Israel in wars of aggression with other nations that are predominantly Muslim, implying that Hagel has opposed such things. This of course overlooks Hagel’s controversial support of a 1998 Senate bill which protested UN examinations of violence against Palestinian people experienced with the support or permission of the Israeli state (and referred to such investigations as “inequality” faced by Israel, seriously). If you look at the break down on that controversial bill (which passed by a single vote, say, Hagel’s), it was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and overwhelmingly opposed by Democrats. Some bipartisan consensus, eh?

And that was the major vote on Israel during Hagel’s tenure – an act of support for precisely what Greenwald is convinced he’s against. This isn’t a single comment about a potential ambassador being “militantly” gay that everyone can pretend wasn’t actually a big deal. This is Hagel’s legislative record that Greenwald has essentially denied as being what it patently is.

Of course, if we look at slightly more recent national security votes instead of those Greenwald purportedly found convincing, you look at early post-9/11 votes on national security issues, there sure does seem to be a bipartisan consensus that civil liberties need to be scaled back to fight the islamist menace and while we’re at it we should just bomb a few countries because we felt like it. “Moderate” Republicans like Hagel, the fire breathers, and Democrats all agreed with one voice to be the horrifying militarists that Gleenwald thinks they still all are.

(Behold the damning vote on our right to invade Afghanistan, as tabulated here.)

Of course, not only was this bipartisan consensus unrelated to Hagel’s apparent exception on Israel that Greenwald’s hallucinated, it didn’t last. Only slightly more than a year later, as the Senate debated showing support for a preemptive invasion of Iraq, the Democrats split and the Republicans forged ahead. The result was the passage of the bill, but with clear Democratic distaste for it:

A few years even later still, the Senate was forced to vote on whether we should explicitly work to avoid using cluster munitions, especially in fighting near urban areas densely populated with civilians. This was clearly of import to how we would wage the war in Iraq which was on-going and growing more heated in many Iraqi cities. It failed but with a significant minority of Democrats (and not a single Republican) supporting it:

One year later than that, the Senate would vote on whether we should begin drawing down troops in Iraq, spurred by the new Democratic majority in the House that it might be possible to end the war by voting in large enough majorities that President Bush wouldn’t or couldn’t veto the bill. They thought they could count on the support of “moderate” Republicans like Hagel. They thought wrong, and the bill failed in the Senate by two votes with clear party preferences on it:

Hagel voted in favor of actually all of the previous bills, except for the more mindful use of cluster munitions, which he voted against. He voted with his party every single time, defining in many of these crucial votes how the US would wage the “War on Terror” both at home and abroad for most of the Bush years. Yes, the Democrats are terrible people that caved in the aftermath of 9/11 and still cave a little too much – but many of them have been voting against the “DC consensus” as Greenwald calls it for years now, but he just knows in his heart of hearts, “they hug policies of militarism far more eagerly and unquestioningly than Chuck Hagel ever would”.

Of course, these comparisons might be groundless since we have many new faces in the legislature and a new president at that. Likewise, Hagel is no longer present to provide a voting record. That being said, the death of the consensus lives on, with the Senate Democrats trying to ban things like indefinite detentions of US citizens, and having a few too many of their party cross over to the other side and a few too few of the “moderate” Republicans come over to theirs. Still, to say there’s no difference means having some strange inability to understand the percentages of support for and against the bill:

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What do we commemorate today?

Every year in the United States, the eleventh day of the eleventh month eventually rolls around, often a little lost in the haze following the march back to school and the showiness of Halloween. If not that, then it’s forgotten in the progressively earlier build-up to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the winter holidays, New Years, and if you have any energy or interest left at the end of that marathon, Epiphany.

But in this country, as we grind further into the longest sustained conflict in which we have ever participated, the day has gained new symbolic importance. It is no longer something that should be noted by politicians, the press, and everyone else, but that cannot be denied. We are still at war – and that means we are still transforming thousands of people yearly into veterans. Ostensibly this is a day to recognize that such a process has occurred. In typical practice, we commemorate today to taking notice that veterans, well, exist. But is that actually how we should spend today? Is it really a “Veteran’s Day” if we honor the day in such a manner?

In fact, some of the most vocal critics of similar practices have been veterans themselves. It’s not enough to have parades and for at least one day of the year acknowledge that veterans are people who, again, exist. That doesn’t help the veterans who feel exploited or abandoned now that their time of service has come to an end. Stopping there fails to fully embrace the needs and desires of many veterans, so it’s obviously pertinent to ask whose goals are advanced by commemorating the day in such a way.

Today, for any residents of the US or other countries the commemorate such a day, I propose a different approach to Veteran’s Day. You can go to the parades, you can enjoy the ceremonies, and you can watch the whole spectacle of it all, but do something more for the rest of the day that you’ll (hopefully) have off. If you haven’t already, read what Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans’ groups have said about how they’re affected by political policies.  Look at what kinds of volunteer positions the charity for Disabled American Veterans is asking for, and what legislation they’ve taken note of. And for the many veterans who feel like the military has become exploitative, listen to what they have to say over at Veterans for Peace.

The unemployment rate for young veterans is twice as high as their peers who did not enlist
(Originally from here.)

It’s obvious that whoever you are, you won’t agree with everything you read from those places. It’s actually impossible to do so, since every so often those organizations disagree with each other. Likewise, it’s not as though I always have and always will agree with any veteran who crosses my path. More importantly though, that’s besides the point – to substantively look at the needs and wants of veterans, rather than treat them as props that establish a patriotic feeling. Don’t just acknowledge the existence of veterans one day of the year – but actually set aside at least one day of the year to hear their concerns and takes on key issues.

Commemorate Veterans’ Day with conversation with rather than observation of veterans.

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Romney is ensnared in militarism and he doesn’t even know it

TW: Afghanistan war, Iraq war, militarism, refugee detention, forced relocation

Romney’s performance at the third debate jarred nearly everyone. He used the words “peace” or “peaceful” 12 times, while President Obama and the moderator Bob Schieffer didn’t use either at all. Needless to say the so very objective media noticed and thought Romney was profound for making statements like, “America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed them from dictators.” Still, even if Romney is obviously picking up obviously nationalistic arguments from the Obama administration, can’t we take him at his word?

No, actually, we can’t because of the magic of militarism.

(Image from The Rachel Maddow Show, showing different plans for future military spending compared to historical amounts, controlling for inflation and excluding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which were “emergency spending”.)

If Romney is to be assumed as always telling the truth, which is quite the assumption, he wants us to not be at “war” or in “conflict” (however those terms are defined) but still wants a mushrooming of military spending. Taking those are separate parts of an internally cohesive proposed policy, Romney wants the US to have beyond unmatched military capacity (or failing that “investment”)  for use as a determent. It’s not for use, unless absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, from recent analyses of US military history to commonplace explanations of how World War I came about, this strategy has proven flawed. Emergency military powers easily become commonly exercised. Sizable military forces created solely to serve as a liability should another nation attack frequently become a reason and tool for preemptive war.

Simply look to Israel today, in fact, and the same process appears to be playing out, as the Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a lengthy complaint about the new idea of not forcibly detaining thousands of mainly Eritrean refugees. He insisted that the camps the ethno-religious minority would forced into “weren’t built in vain in order to be ghost towns,  [but] rather, as facilities to house infiltrators before they are removed from the country”. A plan that should be antithetical to the principles of a state founded in the wake of the Holocaust has become unthinkable not to implement, since it’s already ready for action. That’s the power militarism can have if not grounded.

Do you trust Romney to place strict limits on the military, even while showering them (or contractors?)  with previously unimaginable wealth?

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What are the US and Israel partners in?

TW: excessive use of force by the police, voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement

Why are the United States and Israel allies? As that connection seems increasingly dependent on both nations tolerating blowback for the other’s policies (with the US endangering Israel with the long-term impacts of “regime change” and Israel possibly dragging the US into war with Iran), it seems worth investigating why the United States is still bothering with this. Israel is much more politically isolated, so the answers are much more straightforward.

If you listen to advocates of a close relationship between the two nations, some of whom are even quite liberal, it’s almost impossible to get through the explanation without a certain word coming up: democracy. Now one of the US Senators from Minnesota, former comedian Al Franken wrote during the Bush Administration, “Neo-cons support the Jewish state for the same reasons I do: because it is the only democracy in the region”. You see, the US apparently has to support some threshold number of governments in the region, so we might as well go with supporting the democracies.

This investment in Israel’s democratic bona fides as legitimizing the unique relationship between the United States and Israel is a noticeable media phenomenon in both countries. It’s seemingly reached the point where any uncertainty that the  political system of Israel is as democratic as it should be has come to be labeled as criticizing the positive relations between the two nations. Deriving the good relationship from the shared democracy has grown more difficult as of late.

Anti-Israeli-Arab Police BrutalityPolice Brutality against US student protesters
(Left, Israeli police attacking an Israeli-Arab family during an eviction last year. Right, pepper spray of illegal strength being used on protesting UC Davis students by US police. Photos from here and here.)

If nothing else, the recent realization that several hundred thousand Jerusalem residents and millions of Americans will be effectively disenfranchised should shake this vision of Israel and the United States as partners in democracy.

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Broader skepticism towards some

TW: islamophobia, impact of sanctions, Iraq war, Bush-era impunity, drone strikes in Pakistan

One of the amazing turns of a phrase from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal article published a few weeks ago spoke to the very core of systemic bias. His examination of the continuing anti-Black racism in the US even into the Obama era questions the idea of racism as an easily challenged certainty in certain people’s inferiority, speaks instead of a racism that’s a “broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others”. A similar dynamic has become painfully obvious since early September with regard not only to race, but also religion, with a groundswelling of anti-Islamic bias.

Just over two weeks ago, it was reported that Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi American, was sentenced to three years in prison for violating the United States sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s former regime in Iraq. During the mid and late 1990s and first two years of the Bush administration, Shakir began sending funds through an intermediary bank account in Jordan to relatives who remained in Iraq, who were unable to buy basic medical supplies and trapped in cyclic poverty. He organized similar transfers for his wife’s family and families of close friends, ultimately funneling close to a quarter million dollars over a decade to at least fourteen Iraqi families, allowing them to access necessary goods from antibiotics to having greater food security. It’s worth noting, as reported, “[n]obody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance”.

But as a person who prominently criticized the looming Iraq War while Muslim, Dr. Hamoodi fell under suspicion and was investigated by the FBI. He plead guilty to having sent funds into Iraq during the years the sanction was in effect, and consequently is now serving multiple years in prison. In contrast, other individuals who participated in economic exchanges with Iraqis during those years, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have not been charged with the same crime, despite clear documentation of it (under the section labeled “Halliburton”). Purportedly the fact that Cheney’s a Methodist, rather than a Muslim, has no bearing on the issue.

Over the past year, similar stories of major discrepancies have surfaced repeatedly. Most shockingly, the United States has silently (and rightly) stood behind the government of Israel for shooting down a drone in its airspace with unclear but almost undoubtedly unsavory intentions. It was an entirely different story for Pakistan, and when the origin of the drones established to have killed non-combatant civilians was known to be the United States. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insisted earlier this year that the drone strikes were legitimated by Americans’ need “to defend ourselves” which connects worryingly with the common practice of categorically labeling all casualties as among combatants. The only way to be sure they weren’t terrorists apparently was to kill them. Many of Israel’s neighbors would undoubtedly feel the same concern for their security and consequently justification for drone strikes on Israel (just read the section in this report titled “Threat perceptions”). Does the mere suspicion of intent to kill justify preemptive strikes across borders? Or only if the targets are presumably Muslim? There’s many key differences that could be seen between these situations, but it seems salient that one country is predominantly Muslim and another is predominantly Jewish.

Drone strike wreckage in Janikhel, Pakistan
(Wreckage from a drone strike in Janikhel, Pakistan, from here.)

Why is the right of Pakistani civilians to not have death ran down on them from above up for discussion? Why is circumventing US sanctions only important if the criminal is Muslim? Why do we hold broader skepticism towards Muslims around the world, compared to broader sympathy for others?

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Gary Johnson: after all this time?

TW: references to domestic violence, abilism, 9/11 attacks, Iraq War and occupation, and Katrina

It’s hard to believe it at first, but Gary Johnson, in spite of being supportive of same-sex marriage, has the potential to spoil the 2012 election for Romney in spite of being so far to his left. He’s arguably also to Obama’s left on certain issues – namely the death penalty and the on-going occupation of Afghanistan – yet he’s still threatening to siphon off just enough of the vote from Romney in a few key swing states that he could clearly impact the election.

Between his third party presidential candidacy and the seemingly endless stream of scandalous Republican gaffes, there’s been an uptick in anti-Republican views. The details of each incident vary, but it’s the same inevitable horribleness each time. Republican Walter Jones was the first congressional representative to appear as a guest on a disturbingly popular White Nationalist radio program.  Republican supporter Pat Robinson joked that a man should move his family to Saudi Arabia so he could discipline his wife with domestic violence. “Birther” attorney Orly Taitz is now suing any state or person that she can for the flimsiest of reasons. Republican Virginia Legislator Bob Marshall has insisted that God punishes women who abort their first born with disabled children. And today, the Republican Presidential Candidate has politicized the murder of the American ambassador to Libya. All of that has come to pass in merely the last few weeks following the major parties’ conventions.

In this cesspool of Republican hatred, it’s easy to see why former New Mexican Governor Gary Johnson wants to run as a Libertarian, rather than Republican. You see, it’s a recent thing, all the terrible policy-influencing nonsense the Republicans have started peddling. As a result, it makes sense that he initially ran as a Republican in the primaries this spring. As he mentioned in a recent interview:

“I don’t feel represented by the Republican Party. I have always had to defend the social side of the Republican Party by saying that it’s not the majority, that it’s not their focus, when everything suggests just the opposite.” (emphasis in original)

Of course, his argument is less coherent when earlier in the same interview Johnson explains,

“They [Republicans] have a huge demographic problem. The notion [is] that most people in this country are fiscally responsible and socially accepting, I don’t see the Republican Party matching up with those demographics at all. I see the demographics increasing, and by that I mean the notion of social acceptance is growing, not decreasing; I think the notion of fiscal responsibility is growing, not decreasing. And Republicans seem to be moving further away from those two categories [of voters] than closer.”

So how much of this move is calculated? How much of his sudden allegiance to the Libertarian Party is because he sees, much like the extremists remaining in the Republican Party, an unstable if not inadequate electoral coalition? The sudden “foot-in-mouth” epidemic facing Republicans is relatively new, but it follows years of failure. Did Johnson support the socialists who alone called the 2000 electoral debacle a constitutional crisis? Did he counter his party on its disregard for the security of the American people? Did he call out the Bush Administration for building the case for an illegal war with known forgeries? Did he even join the mass outrage over the countless drowned in the utter failure to prepare or respond to Hurricane Katrina? Did he break from his party because of its role in destroying the United States’ economy? Did he defect when the Republicans made clear that their first priority was undermining and criticizing the Obama Administration rather than fixing the crises their policies had created?

No. He didn’t. He switched parties after someone offered him a Presidential bid and he realized that his current party was an electoral dead end. He remained a member of an institution while it was responsible for negligence and demagoguery that cost thousands of lives, but he later switched allegiances, because he wanted an electoral future that the Republicans couldn’t offer him.

If you want a brave, third party truth teller who recognized the events of the past decades for what they were, try Jim Jeffords. Or better yet, Bernie Sanders.

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