Tag Archives: war on terror

There shall be no next war

TW: nuclear war, colonialism

“[T]here shall be no next war” is what President Truman remarked 71 years ago to the day. He announced that publicly after having approved a second nuclear strike against Japan. He was motivated by leaked Japanese intelligence suggesting they were unlikely to agree to unconditional surrender in the nightmarish aftermath of Hiroshima on August 6th.

History makes a mockery of that sentiment, of course, as Truman used that speech to lay the groundwork for a US military presence around the world that has remained to this day. That is a presence that exacerbated Cold War tensions and ignited several proxy conflicts. It is a presence that today has morphed into the bulwark against terrorism and other inheritors of the not-so-long-lived forever war against communism. They are among the bases from which drones today take off and at which they land, having done their deadly work in unmanned skies.

In many ways, the US has seen nothing but war after Truman’s pronouncement.

800px-Nagasaki_1945_-_Before_and_after_(adjusted)(Nagasaki, Japan – before and after nuclear bombing.)

To attribute this militarization of the US to that single decision by Truman – to use nuclear weapons to force a total, complete, and unconditional surrender by Japan – is to inflate it unrealistically. But, still, it seems a notable stop along our way into the modern situation. This was the beginning of the presidency as a position that has a finger eternally perched on top of a button labeled “end the world.”

It was already pushed once with no adequate justification – 71 years ago today. Hiroshima, of course, only has paper thin excuses, of ignorance, of the heat of battle, of the seeping paranoia of a rising Soviet Union. But what happened 71 years ago today, in Nagasaki, followed the tearing down of all of those weak claims. The president by that time had the information key to understanding the pointless inhumanity of nuclear strikes, yet strike he did.

The risk the world faces in November is not our arsenal falling into unwise hands, but it returning to them. We have been here before, and tens of thousands of civilians died in one of the worst ways imaginable.

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The Afghanistan made by the US

In the wake of a recent attack on US service members in Afghanistan, the long ignored issue has come to the fore in national discussions. For the many in mainstream media who particularly highlight veterans’ and military issues, like Rachel Maddow, this was an opportunity to ask if we’re still an occupying presence in Afghanistan (technically, no; effectively, maybe).

Even in reporting focused beyond the experiences of US military, there’s a looming expectation. The attacks on not only the few US service members remaining in the country but also on religious and ethnic targets, namely the Hazara minority, are presented as the alternative to a larger US military presence. The implication is that they’re on the ends of a fulcrum, with US presence dampening the terrorism and related violence, which proliferates in our absence.

Another, more seldom presented, way of understanding the situation is that perhaps the recent attacks – against Hazara and US military – are themselves the result of the way that US became involved in the country. Far from opposites, they essentially encourage each other.

Long before the US’s presence there under the auspices of the War on Terror, the funding of counter-Soviet jihadists armed radical Sunni groups in Afghanistan to the teeth. Long hostile to Hazara and other ethnic groups who are predominantly Shia, this already threatened to tip the already militarized balance of ethnic power within the country against the Hazara and others. The Soviet invasion was, of course, a colonial nightmare, like most of the Soviet escapades through central Asia. This one, however, has reached even more nightmarish heights because of how another power, the US, perpetuated the internal conflicts.

Even as the Cold War melted away and new global struggles captured the US’s interest, Afghanistan remained a site of proxy war. A number of ethnic groups, including the Hazara to some extent, were the backbone of the Northern Alliance, the primary opponents to Taliban rule – the ultimate state-like incarnation of those same radical Sunni circles. Supported by many neighbors, primarily those further north and with similar ethnic compositions, this and other groups fighting against the Sunni supremacist and largely Pashtun-run Taliban were effectively off the US’s radar until Sunni supremacists hit here. Suddenly, those same largely Pashtun Sunni supremacists transformed from militants upsetting another empire to militants striking within the heart of ours.

With the overwhelmingly US-driven NATO presence then arriving in Afghanistan, you might expect the US’s alignments to change. Not so, as Pashtun politicians rode the wave of US-backed democratization into a new form of power. Even outside of positions explained by the formidable Pashtun voting bloc, they tended to rise to the top. Hamid Karzai, later the president of Afghanistan, rose to power first as an appointed interim leader at least to some extent condoned by the US military occupation.

The most notable exception to that trend was Mohammed Fahim – a prominent leader within the Northern Alliance and a non-Pashtun. His exceptional status is dampened somewhat when it’s pointed out that he was Tajik, not Hazara, and like many Tajiks, he was a Sunni Muslim, and at that one who studied Sunni Islamic law. What’s more, his role within the nominally moderate Karzai administration was to find as much common ground as possible with radical Sunnis and draw them back into non-violent politics. He died of natural causes just before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.

Beyond the political world as well, the part Pashtun Khaled Hosseini captured the US’s interest with The Kite Runner. While not fully Pashtun and quite vocally in favor of expanding the opportunities for Hazara and other ethnic minorities, his non-Pashtun ancestry is apparently Tajik, like Fahim. In his most prominent of several well-received stories, he painted a sympathetic picture of the Hazara as a uniquely constrained minority within Afghanistan, even as he at once embodied the greater attention paid by the US to the other groups within and from the country.

Perhaps most iconically however, there’s Sharbat Gula, better known the world over as simply “the Afghan girl”:

Sharbat_GulaSteve McCurry’s “The Afghan Girl” taken in December 1984.

She is also Pashtun, and like a large number of Pashtun people in the part of the world, even though not a Taliban supporter, she was sympathetic to their causes and was essentially open to their return. As she put it, quite accurately for many Sunni Pashtuns in all likelihood, under the Taliban “there was peace and order”.

That Pashtun-designed peace and order disintegrated with the US shifting from Cold War proxy support, to 1990s disinterest, to War on Terror occupation. The many modern militant groups currently threatening Hazara and US military members alike, are all committed to recreating some small slice of that in an era in which US drones can and regularly do coldly strike their villages along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It’s a rather indirect path from US intervention to a toxified Afghanistan, in which the political choices are often between Pashtun-dominated/Sunni supremacist rule and an anemic centrist government that regularly negotiates with that precise political bloc. That said, there are recurrent patterns here – about whom the US chooses to arm, to fund, to advance, and otherwise to support. Our relationship with the many different Pashtun communities in the world is one riddled with inconsistency, but that stands in sharp contrast to a monolithic disinterest towards all things Hazara, which clearly extends out into higher standards for other non-Pashtuns too.

There are other, more common ways of noting that the US presence isn’t necessarily a check against extremism. If nothing else, our military presence anywhere in the Islamic world serves as a reason to radicalize. Beyond that, however, there’s a very simple question of which people in Afghanistan have been the recipients of our resources.

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The featured image for this article is an ethnographic map of Afghanistan, from here.

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Freedom and Force of Will

TW: war on terror, indefinite detention, indefinite warfare

If you haven’t already, you should peruse over the President’s speech on Thursday, which contained this interesting tidbit after being interrupted by a woman in the audience who wanted him to consider not only releasing the detainees in Guantánamo but provide restitution to them as well for their years lost:

I think that — and I’m going off script, as you might expect here. The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said.  But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.

When that judge sentenced Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, he went on to point to the American flag that flew in the courtroom.  “That flag,” he said, “will fly there long after this is all forgotten.  That flag still stands for freedom.”

So, America, we’ve faced down dangers far greater than al Qaeda.  By staying true to the values of our founding, and by using our constitutional compass, we have overcome slavery and Civil War and fascism and communism.  In just these last few years as President, I’ve watched the American people bounce back from painful recession, mass shootings, natural disasters like the recent tornados that devastated Oklahoma.  These events were heartbreaking; they shook our communities to the core.  But because of the resilience of the American people, these events could not come close to breaking us.

He elaborated on this point about resiliency before concluding:

Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground.  Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns at a President.

The quiet determination; that strength of character and bond of fellowship; that refutation of fear — that is both our sword and our shield.  And long after the current messengers of hate have faded from the world’s memory, alongside the brutal despots, and deranged madmen, and ruthless demagogues who litter history  — the flag of the United States will still wave from small-town cemeteries to national monuments, to distant outposts abroad.  And that flag will still stand for freedom.

Now, as Obama suggested, it’s not clear where the “off the cuff” remark ends and the rehearsed speech begins again, but he smoothly transitioned back into clearly something larger which he was more prepared for. What he came to deliver was at least in part that message: freedom is expressed through survival. In essence, he wholeheartedly believes that the goals of his government should be to protect immigration, recreation, commerce, and free speech, but that he considers those to be best promoted through this war, which he suggested would last at least another decade.


(Now why does this sound familiar? From here.)

Even quoting Orwell here feels a touch out of place. Obama didn’t actually say the word “peace” but rather framed the issue as basic survival against natural phenomena – terrorism has apparently no more social cause than a tornado. Likewise, survival is not discussed as a “peace” but as tenacity, daring, or even strength. The Obama Administration is often discussed as being quite technocratic, so it makes sense that ignorance would be out, but to then pair strength and war together is to miss the point of the Orwellian exercise. Peace, he hoped, would sell better than either of those two. It’s up to us now to decide if Orwell was right about that.

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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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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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