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Thursday, May 14, 2020

In a Pandemic, Military Spending is an Extravagant Waste

















In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose whether they make guns or vaccines.


By Conn Hallinan
Foreign Policy in Focus

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”— Albert Camus, “The Plague”

May 13, 2020 - Camus’ novel of a lethal contagion in the North African city of Oran is filled with characters all too recognizable today: indifferent or incompetent officials, short-sighted and selfish citizens, and lots of great courage. What not even Camus could imagine, however, is a society in the midst of a deadly epidemic pouring vast amounts of wealth into instruments of death.

Welcome to the world of the hypersonic weapons, devices that are not only superfluous, but which will almost certainly not work. They will, however, cost enormous amounts of money. At a time when countries across the globe are facing economic chaos, financial deficits, and unemployment at Great Depression levels, arms manufacturers are set to cash in big.

A Hypersonic Arms Race

Hypersonic weapons are missiles that go five times faster than sound — 3,800 mph — although some reportedly can reach speeds of Mach 20, 15,000 mph. They come in two basic varieties. One is powered by a high-speed scramjet. The other, launched from a plane or missile, glides to its target. The idea behind the weapons is that their speed and maneuverability will make them virtually invulnerable to anti-missile systems.

Currently there is a hypersonic arms race going on among China, Russia, and the U.S., and, according to the Pentagon, the Americans are desperately trying to catch up with its two adversaries.

Truth is the first casualty in an arms race.

In the 1950s, it was the “bomber gap” between the Americans and the Soviets. In the 1960s, it was the “missile gap” between the two powers. Neither gap existed, but vast amounts of national treasure were nonetheless poured into long-range aircraft and thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The enormous expenditures on those weapons, in turn, heightened tensions between the major powers and on at least three occasions came very close to touching off a nuclear war.

In the current hypersonic arms race, “hype” is the operational word. “The development of hypersonic weapons in the United States,” says physicist James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “has been largely motivated by technology, not by strategy. In other words, technologists have decided to try and develop hypersonic weapons because it seems like they should be useful for something, not because there is a clearly defined mission need for them to fulfill.”

They have certainly been “useful” to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms manufacturer in the world. The company has already received $3.5 billion to develop the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (Arrow) glide missile, and the scramjet-driven Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (Hacksaw) missile.

The Russians also have several hypersonic missiles, including the Avangard glide vehicle, a missile said to be capable of Mach 20. China is developing several hypersonic missiles, including the DF-ZF, supposedly capable of taking out aircraft carriers.

“No Advantage Whatsoever”

In theory hypersonic missiles are unstoppable. In real life, not so much.

The first problem is basic physics: speed in the atmosphere produces heat. High speed generates lots of it. ICBMs avoid this problem with a blunt nose cone that deflects the enormous heat of re-entering the atmosphere as the missile approaches its target. But it only has to endure heat for a short time because much of its flight is in frictionless low earth orbit.

Hypersonic missiles, however, stay in the atmosphere their entire flight. That is the whole idea. An ICBM follows a predictable ballistic curve, much like an inverted U and, in theory, can be intercepted. A missile traveling as fast as an ICBM but at low altitude, however, is much more difficult to spot or engage.

But that’s when physics shows up and does a Las Vegas: what happens on the drawing board stays on the drawing board.


Without a heat deflecting nose cone, high-speed missiles are built like big needles, since they need to decrease the area exposed to the atmosphere. Even so, they are going to run very hot. And if they try to maneuver, that heat will increase. Since they can’t carry a large payload, they will have to be very accurate — but as a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, that is “problematic.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

US Sends Navy Ships to Caribbean in ‘Anti-Drug’ Mission Targeting Venezuela














A map produced by the US Southern Command shows the main drug-smuggling routes in Latin America connecting Colombia and Ecuador with Guatemala and Mexico via the Pacific Ocean.


Venezuela denounced an attack on one of its naval vessels in recent days.


By Ricardo Vaz and Lucas Koerner
Venezuelanalysis.com

Mérida, April 2, 2020 - The Trump administration is dispatching US Navy warships to the Caribbean Sea in an effort to turn up the pressure on Venezuela.

The initiative was announced by President Donald Trump and other high ranking officials in a press conference Wednesday.

The move is allegedly part of a wider “anti-narcotics” operation in the region, which in addition to Navy destroyers will reportedly involve AWAC surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces units. The Associated Press reported that the operation is one of the largest in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

“We must not let malign actors exploit the [coronavirus] situation for their own gain,” Trump said.

The military deployment came on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) levying “narco-terrorism” charges against top-ranking Venezuelan officials, as well as a “democratic transition” plan unveiled by the State Department.

On March 26, the DoJ accused President Nicolas Maduro, National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello and several other officials of conspiring with FARC rebels to “flood” the US with cocaine.

Critics have pointed to the dearth of concrete evidence implicating top Venezuelan leaders and to the fact that data from US agencies shows that only a small fraction of drug routes pass through Venezuela, with most cocaine entering US territory via Central America and Mexico.

On Tuesday, the State Department unveiled a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela,” calling for Maduro’s resignation and the establishment of a transition government headed by opposition and Chavista officials to oversee new elections.

The Trump administration pledged to lift sanctions against Venezuelan individuals and key economic sectors, but only after Maduro left office and all security agreements with Russia and Cuba were terminated.

The US has vowed to ramp up unilateral sanctions until the Maduro administration accepts the deal.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Trump’s Afghanistan Deal Prioritizes Bragging Rights Over Lasting Peace
















U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign a peace agreement during a ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

March 4, 2020 - It’s true that the Trump administration signed a “peace deal” with the Taliban — something that eluded both George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but a closer look at the agreement reveals it to be riddled with conditions that are fraught with obstacles.

The terms of the deal suggest that Trump is more interested in boasting that he’s fulfilling his campaign promise to bring the troops home than he is committed to achieving real peace in Afghanistan. This fact has also been noted by Trump’s former national security aides, some of whom have said that the president “is far less interested in an actual Afghan peace” than in claiming he is making good on his vow to withdraw the U.S. troops.

The agreement announced on February 29 should not rightly be called a “peace deal,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said in a statement. Although the agreement “is a step forward,” Lee noted, “It leaves thousands of troops in Afghanistan and lacks the critical investments in peacebuilding, human-centered development, or governance reform needed to rebuild Afghan society.”

Afghan women activists Mary Akrami, Sahar Halaimzai and Rahela Sidiqi criticized the agreement and the process leading to it in USA Today: “Afghan women and representatives from civil society and other minority groups should have been at the table for the U.S.-Taliban talks that led to this agreement, but we were not.”

Trump’s “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” sets forth a plan for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan, a mutual release of prisoners, Taliban prevention of attacks against U.S. and allied forces from Afghan soil, and negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Although it claims to be “a comprehensive peace agreement,” as Lee points out, “this so-called ‘peace deal’ is anything but.”

Withdrawal Timeline for All Foreign Forces

The agreement establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. It says the “United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting service personnel” no later than 14 months after the agreement is announced.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The United States’ Perpetual War in Afghanistan


Why Long Wars No Longer Generate a Backlash at Home


By Tanisha M. Fazal and Sarah Kreps
Foreign Affairs 

Aug 20, 2018 - In October, the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan will turn 17 (now 18, --ed). The human and material costs of what has become the United States’ longest-ever war are colossal. More than 2,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed and over 20,000 have been injured. The UN estimates that nearly 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and another 50,000 injured since 2009 alone. The United States has spent some $877 billion on the war. The Trump administration’s recent initiative to seek direct peace talks with the Taliban—a first since the start of the war in 2001—highlights that Washington is actively looking for new ways to wind down its involvement in the conflict. But why has the U.S. intervention lasted so long in the first place?

Part of the answer is that Afghanistan’s toxic mix of “state collapse, civil conflict, ethnic disintegration and multisided intervention has locked it in a self-perpetuating cycle that may be simply beyond outside resolution,” as Max Fisher and Amanda Taub summarized in a New York Times post. But their diagnosis does not speak to a critical dimension of the conflict: namely, how the relative indifference of the U.S. public has allowed the war to drag on.

In theory, leaders in a democracy have incentives to heed public preferences or risk being voted out of office, which means that public opposition to a war makes its continuation untenable. Yet when it comes to Afghanistan, the U.S. public has favored the status quo at best and expressed deep ambivalence at worst. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why the Pentagon Says It Needs Low-Yield Nukes

The W76-2 warhead is a new, low-yield nuclear weapon. The Pentagon believes other countries—especially Russia—could use low-yield nukes early in a conflict, so it needs its own.The W76-2 has an explosive yield of 10 kilotons, or 10,000 tons of TNT, or less.



From the Dept of Very Bad Ideas: The military thinks a smaller bomb is essential for deterring—and fighting—adversaries.

By Kyle Mizokami
Popular Mechanics

Dec 5, 2019 - The Pentagon reaffirmed its determination to field a new nuclear weapon designed to allow the U.S. to match Russian and Chinese nukes on the battlefield. In an interview with Seapower magazine, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood stated that the nukes are necessary to counter Russian plans to use low-yield nuclear weapons early in a conflict, frightening its enemies into a ceasefire. According to Seapower:

“Rood said the need for the new low-yield weapons came from intelligence reports of Russian emphasis on the use of nuclear weapons earlier in a conflict, “and the mistaken belief that they have the ability to use a low-yield nuclear weapon earlier in the conflict in a way to deter response.” He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public statements advocating the early use of low-yield nuclear weapons “as a way of deterring an adversary.”

What kind of scenario is Rood thinking about? Imagine Russia launched a blitzkrieg-style attack on Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania. Russia quickly conquers all four countries before NATO can effectively muster a response. While NATO assembles a reaction force, Russia explodes a small, low-yield nuclear weapon at the Polish border. The detonation would serve warning that Russia was now prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its conquest, forcing NATO to choose between standing down or using nukes of its own.

The Pentagon thinks that having small, low-yield nuclear missiles like the W-76-2 would allow NATO to match Russia’s first use of a low-yield device, meeting Moscow small nuke for small nuke. The current lack of a smaller, missile-launched nuclear weapon means that the alliance would be forced to consider using a larger nuke to retaliate, escalating the crisis.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

With Turkey’s Invasion, Trump Helped Create Humanitarian Catastrophe


















Syrian refugees fleeing the Turkish incursion in Rojava receive bedding materials as they arrive at the Badarash IDPs camp on October 17, 2019, in Dohuk, Iraq.BYRON SMITH / GETTY IMAGES

By Daniel Falcone 
Truthout

Nov 2, 2019 - In this interview, professor of politics and international studies Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco argues that the U.S. and Turkey are indeed responsible for the Kurds’ slaughter. He points out the deleterious results of the current administration’s foreign policy and how President Trump has dramatically increased the number of U.S. combat troops in the Middle East. Zunes argues that when Trump gave the green light to Turkey’s invasion by lifting U.S. sanctions, he created a humanitarian catastrophe. Trump, according to Zunes, has both bolstered his relationship with Turkey in line with his business pursuits and shows no signs of bringing U.S. troops home.

Zunes also argues it’s important for the progressive left to consider how to conceptualize a foreign policy that stands with the Kurds, while resisting the idea that armed force is the best way to protect human rights. Lastly, he points out the importance of a sound oppositional foreign policy in the upcoming Democratic primaries that could have lasting impacts on the world.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on Trump’s foreign policy in regard to Syria and how it is unfolding at the present time? What do you expect to be the immediate and long-term outcomes?

Stephen Zunes: Giving the green light to Turkey’s invasion and completely lifting the U.S.’s half-hearted sanctions once Turkish occupation forces had consolidated their control and ethnically cleansed … thousands of Kurds from their homeland in northern Syria has indeed been as bad a humanitarian catastrophe as reported, if not worse.

The bombing of civilian targets and the extrajudicial killings by the allied Syrian Arab militia (including elements of the Free Syrian Army now allied with Turkey) against progressive, secular civilian leaders underscore the severity of these U.S.-backed war crimes. Thanks to U.S. support, it appears that the Turks have established a “security zone” or “buffer zone” — a euphemism for military occupation along a 30 kilometer-wide strip on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, comparable to what Israel established in southern Lebanon for 22 years (1978-2000), which resulted in the rise of Hezbollah. Despite 10 United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw unconditionally, the U.S. blocked enforcement of these resolutions, with former President Bill Clinton having his ambassador to Israel press the Israelis to continue the occupation in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Israeli public.

This time, regarding Turkey, the United States has prevented the UN Security Council from passing any resolution, and it’s doubtful that Turkey will feel any real pressure to end the occupation, unless global civil society effectively mobilizes against it and forces their governments to place major sanctions against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime.

Trump is vilified by the mainstream media and establishment liberals for failing to show U.S. “resolve” and a strong show of force. Can you talk about how Trump is actually escalating global conflicts?

For reasons I’ve outlined earlier, U.S. forces should indeed withdraw from Syria. However, it should have been done in an orderly and thoughtful manner after consultations with military, intelligence and diplomatic officials, as well as the Kurds themselves. From all accounts, Trump’s decision was an impulsive one following a phone call with the right-wing autocratic Turkish president, with whom Trump has developed a close relationship, in part because of his business ties to that country.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Gun Culture: Why Michael Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine' Matters Now More Than Ever












Great satirical films hold up over time. Their messages keep resonating because the flaws they diagnose persist

By Sophia A. McClennan
Salon.com

OCT 19, 2019 - On Saturday, October 19 at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC aired a special screening of Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” followed by a live interview between Moore and Ari Melber, host of “The Beat.” 

Originally released in 2002, one year after the 9/11 attacks, the film explores the circumstances leading up to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the violent culture that fostered it.

The film is worth watching (or re-watching) for the simple fact that it drives home the painful reality that our nation has failed to act to reduce gun violence. As Moore explained in an interview preceding the special screening, “The day the Columbine shooting happened, that afternoon, my crew and I decided we have to do something about this. We have to make a documentary about this and we have to make sure that there is not another — I remember saying this that day — that there is never another school shooting. Sadly, now we are some 17 years later and there was more than one Columbine.”

At the time, the focus of the film was the gun culture that spawned the Columbine shootings. As the film opens, it sets the scene for the Columbine shootings by describing it as a “typical day.” The message is clear: Columbine was not an anomaly; it was a predictable consequence in a society that glorifies guns more than human life.

In scene after scene, from a bank that hands out guns to a mom who thinks the only way to protect her kids is by being armed, the film digs into the disturbing ways that gun culture has been not just justified, but normalized in the United States. Moore conducts a series of interviews with a wide range of gun owners — militia members, suburban housewives, farmers and more — all of whom are happy explain that they only feel safe if they have weapons.

In Moore’s artful style of satire, he often lets his interviewee reveal the flaws in their own logic. After a Lockheed Martin executive explains that he thinks the problem at Columbine was anger management, Moore asks, “You don’t think our kids think to themselves, well gee, dad goes off to the factory every day and he builds missiles, these were weapons of mass destruction. What’s the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?” When the executive responds that he doesn’t see the connection, he makes Moore’s ironic point for him. At other times, he gently asks a reasonable question that underscores irrational, illogical, or incomprehensible actions: After he gets a gun from a Michigan bank handing them out to new customers, he asks, “Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?”

Great films hold up over time. They are worth watching for the art of their style, for their messages, and for the ways that they remind us of their context. Satirical films also help us think through moments when society was caught up in habits and behaviors that were profoundly irrational, destructive or delusional. Their messages continue to resonate because the flaws they diagnose persist. Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove, Or How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” for example, continues to offer poignant commentary on toxic military masculinity.

“Bowling for Columbine” is worth screening today for all of those reasons.

But now, 17 years later, the film has another message. Watching the film today it becomes abundantly clear that our problem isn’t gun culture; the problem is that we have failed to do anything about it. Every message and every argument about the problems of U.S. gun culture appear in the film. They are all there.