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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The US Cult of Bombing and Endless War



For many of the U.S.'s decision makers, air power has clearly become something of an abstraction.

By William J. Astore
TomDispatch

June 4, 2019 - From Syria to Yemen in the Middle East, Libya to Somalia in Africa, Afghanistan to Pakistan in South Asia, an American aerial curtain has descended across a huge swath of the planet. Its stated purpose: combatting terrorism. Its primary method: constant surveillance and bombing — and yet more bombing. 

Its political benefit: minimizing the number of U.S. “boots on the ground” and so American casualties in the never-ending war on terror, as well as any public outcry about Washington’s many conflicts. 

Its economic benefit: plenty of high-profit business for weapons makers for whom the president can now declare a national security emergency whenever he likes and so sell their warplanes and munitions to preferred dictatorships in the Middle East (no congressional approval required). Its reality for various foreign peoples: a steady diet of “Made in USA” bombs and missiles bursting here, there, and everywhere.

Think of all this as a cult of bombing on a global scale. America’s wars are increasingly waged from the air, not on the ground, a reality that makes the prospect of ending them ever more daunting. The question is: What’s driving this process?

For many of America’s decision-makers, air power has clearly become something of an abstraction. After all, except for the 9/11 attacks by those four hijacked commercial airliners, Americans haven’t been the target of such strikes since World War II. 

On Washington’s battlefields across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, air power is always almost literally a one-way affair. There are no enemy air forces or significant air defenses. The skies are the exclusive property of the U.S. Air Force (and allied air forces), which means that we’re no longer talking about “war” in the normal sense. No wonder Washington policymakers and military officials see it as our strong suit, our asymmetrical advantage, our way of settling scores with evildoers, real and imagined.

In a bizarre fashion, you might even say that, in the twenty-first century, the bomb and missile count replaced the Vietnam-era body count as a metric of (false) progress. Using data supplied by the U.S. military, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that the U.S. dropped at least 26,172 bombs in seven countries in 2016, the bulk of them in Iraq and Syria. Against Raqqa alone, ISIS’s “capital,” the U.S. and its allies dropped more than 20,000 bombs in 2017, reducing that provincial Syrian city to literal rubble. Combined with artillery fire, the bombing of Raqqa killed more than 1,600 civilians, according to Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, since Donald Trump has become president, after claiming that he would get us out of our various never-ending wars, U.S. bombing has surged, not only against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq but in Afghanistan as well. It has driven up the civilian death toll there even as “friendly” Afghan forces are sometimes mistaken for the enemy and killed, too. Air strikes from Somalia to Yemen have also been on the rise under Trump, while civilian casualties due to U.S. bombing continue to be underreported in the American media and downplayed by the Trump administration.

U.S. air campaigns today, deadly as they are, pale in comparison to past ones like the Tokyo firebombing of 1945, which killed more than 100,000 civilians; the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year (roughly 250,000); the death toll against German civilians in World War II (at least 600,000); or civilians in the Vietnam War. (Estimates vary, but when napalm and the long-term effects of cluster munitions and defoliants like Agent Orange are added to conventional high-explosive bombs, the death toll in Southeast Asia may well have exceeded one million.) 

Today’s air strikes are more limited than in those past campaigns and may be more accurate, but never confuse a 500-pound bomb with a surgeon’s scalpel, even rhetorically. When “surgical” is applied to bombing in today’s age of lasers, GPS, and other precision-guidance technologies, it only obscures the very real human carnage being produced by all these American-made bombs and missiles.

This country’s propensity for believing that its ability to rain hellfire from the sky provides a winning methodology for its wars has proven to be a fantasy of our age. Whether in Korea in the early 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s, or more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the U.S. may control the air, but that dominance simply hasn’t led to ultimate success. 


Sunday, May 5, 2019

CODEPINK Ranks the 2020 Presidential Candidates on War, Peace and Military Spending















By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies
CodePink

Forty-five years after Congress passed the War Powers Act in the wake of the Vietnam War, it has finally used it for the first time, to try to end the U.S.-Saudi war on the people of Yemen and to recover its constitutional authority over questions of war and peace. This hasn’t stopped the war yet, and President Trump has threatened to veto the bill. But its passage in Congress, and the debate it has spawned, could be an important first step on a tortuous path to a less militarized U.S. foreign policy in Yemen and beyond.

While the United States has been involved in wars throughout much of its history, since the 9/11 attacks the US military has been engaged in a series of wars that have dragged on for almost two decades. Many refer to them as “endless wars.” One of the basic lessons we have all learned from this is that it is easier to start wars than to stop them. So, even as we have come to see this state of war as a kind of “new normal,” the American public is wiser, calling for less military intervention and more congressional oversight.

The rest of the world is wiser about our wars, too. Take the case of Venezuela, where the Trump administration insists that the military option is “on the table.” While some of Venezuela’s neighbors are collaborating with US efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government, none are offering their own armed forces.

The same applies in other regional crises. Iraq is refusing to serve as a staging area for a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi war on Iran. The US’s traditional Western allies oppose Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and want peaceful engagement, not war, with Iran. South Korea is committed to a peace process with North Korea, despite the erratic nature of Trump’s negotiations with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jung Un.

So what hope is there that one of the parade of Democrats seeking the presidency in 2020 could be a real “peace candidate”? Could one of them bring an end to these wars and prevent new ones? Walk back the brewing Cold War and arms race with Russia and China? Downsize the US military and its all-consuming budget? Promote diplomacy and a commitment to international law?

Ever since the Bush/Cheney administration launched the present-day “Long Wars,” new presidents from both parties have dangled superficial appeals to peace during their election campaigns. But neither Obama nor Trump has seriously tried to end our “endless” wars or rein in our runaway military spending.

Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and vague promises for a new direction were enough to win him the presidency and the Nobel Peace Prize, but not to bring us peace. In the end, he spent more on the military than Bush and dropped more bombs on more countries, including a tenfold increase in CIA drone strikes. Obama’s main innovation was a doctrine of covert and proxy wars that reduced US casualties and muted domestic opposition to war, but brought new violence and chaos to Libya, Syria and Yemen. Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, the fabled “graveyard of empires,” turned that war into the longest US war since the US conquest of Native America (1783-1924).

Trump’s election was also boosted by false promises of peace, with recent war veterans delivering critical votes in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But Trump quickly surrounded himself with generals and neocons, escalated the wars in Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, and has fully backed the Saudi-led war in Yemen. His hawkish advisers have so far ensured that any US steps toward peace in Syria, Afghanistan or Korea remain symbolic, while US efforts to destabilize Iran and Venezuela threaten the world with new wars. Trump’s complaint, “We don’t win any more,” echoes through his presidency, ominously suggesting that he’s still looking for a war he can “win.”

While we can’t guarantee that candidates will stick to their campaign promises, it is important to look at this new crop of presidential candidates and examine their views – and, when possible, voting records – on issues of war and peace. What prospects for peace might each of them bring to the White House?

Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders has the best voting record of any candidate on war and peace issues, especially on military spending. Opposing the oversized Pentagon budget, he has only voted for 3 out of 19 military spending bills since 2013. By this measure, no other candidate comes close, including Tulsi Gabbard. In other votes on war and peace, Sanders voted as requested by Peace Action 84% of the time from 2011 to 2016, despite some hawkish votes on Iran from 2011-2013.

One major contradiction in Sanders’ opposition to out-of-control military spending has been his support for the world’s most expensive and wasteful weapon system: the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet. Not only did Sanders support the F-35, he pushed – despite local opposition – to get these fighter jets stationed at the Burlington airport for the Vermont National Guard.

In terms of stopping the war in Yemen, Sanders has been a hero. Over the past year, he and Senators Murphy and Lee have led a sustained effort to shepherd his historic War Powers bill on Yemen through the Senate. Congressman Ro Khanna, whom Sanders has chosen as one of his 4 campaign co-chairs, has led the parallel effort in the House.

Sanders’ 2016 campaign highlighted his popular domestic proposals for universal healthcare and social and economic justice, but was criticized as light on foreign policy. Beyond chiding Clinton for being “too much into regime change,” he seemed reluctant to debate her on foreign policy, despite her hawkish record. By contrast, during his current presidential run, he regularly includes the Military-Industrial Complex among the entrenched interests his political revolution is confronting, and his voting record backs up his rhetoric.

Sanders supports U.S. withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria and opposes US threats of war against Venezuela. But his rhetoric on foreign policy sometimes demonizes foreign leaders in ways that unwittingly lend support to the “regime change” policies he opposes – as when he joined a chorus of US politicians labeling Colonel Gaddafi of Libya a “thug and a murderer,” shortly before U.S.-backed thugs actually murdered Gaddafi.

Open Secrets shows Sanders taking in over $366,000 from the “defense industry” during his 2016 presidential campaign, but only $17,134 for his 2018 Senate reelection campaign.

So our question on Sanders is, “Which Bernie would we see in the White House?” Would it be the one who has the clarity and courage to vote “No” on 84% of military spending bills in the Senate, or the one who supports military boondoggles like the F-35 and can’t resist repeating inflammatory smears of foreign leaders? It is vital that Sanders should appoint genuinely progressive foreign policy advisors to his campaign, and then to his administration, to complement his own greater experience and interest in domestic policy.

Tulsi Gabbard

While most candidates shy away from foreign policy, Congressmember Gabbard has made foreign policy – particularly ending war – the centerpiece of her campaign....

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Ex-Mossad Agents Harass US students, BDS Activists


















Congress is failing to protect US citizens from espionage and threats aimed at intimidating supporters of Palestinian rights. (Joe Catron)

By Kristian Davis Bailey 
The Electronic Intifada  

March 9, 2019 - In September 2017, Palestine Legal attorneys received nearly 30 emails from students, teachers and even librarians who were justifiably concerned about an anonymous message they had received.

The emails contained threats from outlawbds.com that recipients had been “marked” and “identified as a BDS promoter” and had a “limited window of opportunity to cease and desist or face the consequences of your actions in legal proceedings.”

The origin of the attack was a mystery.

Thanks to February exposés in The New Yorker, however, we now know the origin – Psy-Group, a defunct Israeli private intelligence firm.

Additionally, we have further confirmation that former Israeli intelligence agents were paid to spy on US students and activists engaged in BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – campaigns.

The organization responsible compiled dossiers on activists and published a Canary Mission-like blacklist site, as well as defamatory sites that attempted to discredit Muslim activists, among others.

The New Yorker first published an article by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow on Psy-Group, which used former Israeli military, intelligence and governmental advisers to influence politics around the US.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Modest Proposal: Don’t Start a Nuclear War
















By Olivia Alperstein
OurFuture.org

March 13, 2019 - In a matter of minutes, as easily as sending a tweet, a sitting U.S. president could decide to launch a nuclear attack, without anyone else’s approval or authorization. In a matter of minutes, millions of lives would be lost, and millions of futures halted permanently.

At my organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility, we believe that we must prevent what we can’t cure. And there’s no cure for a nuclear war.

No nation on earth, including the United States, would have an adequate emergency response in the event of a nuclear exchange. Most Americans don’t want us to ever engage in a nuclear war, and the vast majority of us certainly don’t want the United States to be the ones to start a nuclear war.

The United States, like every other nation, has a vested interest in avoiding a nuclear conflict.

Yet unlike other countries, we currently have no policy against starting a nuclear war — or what experts call a “No First Use” policy.

This opens the door to a possible preemptive nuclear strike. That weakens our national security, and it puts all our health and safety at risk — for a nuclear war no one (except maybe President Donald Trump and John Bolton) wants.

Luckily, some people in Congress are looking to change the reckless status quo. This year, Rep. Adam Smith and Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation that would establish a “No First Use” policy for nuclear weapons in the United States.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Trump’s Efforts to Oust Maduro Are Illegal and Will Kill More Venezuelans
















Mark Weisbrot turns the table on "common sense" to analyze Venezuela in the international landscape.


By Mark Weisbrot
The Sacramento Bee

Jan 31 2019 - If Russia, China and North Korea decided to recognize Nancy Pelosi as the president of the United States, would Americans go along with that?

I mean, the ones who don't like Trump, think he is a real threat to the country, and even not a legitimately elected president? I don't think so. But Trump, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton all think that the United States should be able to choose a new president for Venezuela.

So does "ouster in chief" – as the New York Times recently described him – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). And this sordid bunch has just recruited Elliot Abrams, who many believe should have been convicted as a war criminal in the 1980s, to help make their dream come true.

How could this go wrong? Well we do have some 21st century experience with U.S.-sponsored "regime change" and it has ranged from murderous to horrific.

Iraq, Syria, Libya, Honduras – all have led to a lot of killing and suffering, mostly of civilians including children.

Many of the migrants fleeing Honduras in the caravans that Trump has recently demonized and manipulated politically were escaping from misery caused by the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup in that country.

Not to mention the much larger wave of migrants upending European politics, most of them escaping from the mess that the U.S. government created with its regime change wars in the Middle East.

We can put aside the fanciful notion that the Trump regime change operation in Venezuela has something to do with promoting democracy.

Trump is still good buddies with MBS in Saudi Arabia – that's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman or Mister Bone Saw, as he was called after his underlings killed and chopped up a Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident.

And the murderous Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, who has killed thousands in his own country; or Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, who stole his re-election last year in broad daylight. And so on.

But President Nicolas Maduro has to go, they say. So Juan Guaido, a little-known Venezuelan congressman, anointed himself after a phone call from Mike Pence the night before.

What do the Trump administration and its allies want in Venezuela, besides the world's largest oil reserves for American oil companies?

Mostly they want power in the region, where just a few years ago left governments who were quite friendly with Venezuela presided over the majority of the region.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Green Future is One Without War









The Green New Deal Is Also a Peace Issue

By Robert Koehler
Counterpunch

Jan 14, 2019 - Donald Trump and his base — the leftover scraps of Jim Crow, the broken shards of racist hatred that once were the American mainstream and made the country seem “great” to those who weren’t its victims — have, it appears, a crucial role to play in our future.

President Trump is the increasingly naked truth. He’s what we have wound up with: a raw, uncensored scapegoating and fear-mongering that’s too much for most of the American public. And thus the political center, the military-industrial-media consensus that has ruled the country for the past four and a half decades, pushing progressive values to the margins of American politics, is unraveling. Centrist compromise, which birthed the Trump presidency, can’t mask the truth anymore.

It’s time to evolve.

If we don’t, we’re stuck in the mire of racism, exploitation, empire and war. We’re stuck in the dead past, which has given us the current state of Planet Earth: a planet at war with itself in multiple ways. We’re stuck in a dead past and a dying future.

This is the context, I believe, in which we should evaluate the Green New Deal, which may well be the most brightly shining political ideal to emerge on the national horizon in my Boomer lifetime. Here’s how one of the Deal’s arch enemies, Justin Haskins of the Heartland Institute, described it recently in the Washington Examiner:

“Make no mistake about it: This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States. If we don’t stop the Green New Deal, our economy may not survive. This isn’t a battle we can afford to lose.”

So it must be good! If nothing else, it’s a piece of potential legislation with real traction that transcends Democratic centrism and timidity — its instinct to cave to well-funded right-wing criticism and avoid upsetting the military-industrial applecart — that became de rigueur party behavior since the defeat of George McGovern in 1972.

But the GND needs to go further than it does. Since it’s already being pilloried as the most radical piece of legislation in modern history, it might as well open itself up to become just that: the cornerstone of a truly sustainable national and global future. The Deal should take on militarism and war as well as climate change and poverty; they are all linked. Our near-trillion-dollar military budget, and the endless and needless wars it funds — not to mention the ongoing development of our nuclear arsenal — can’t be quietly, politely ignored as we envision a sane tomorrow.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Peacemakers, Warmongers and Fence Sitters: Who Represents You















Yet as early voting gets under way across the country, Congressional campaigns have focused mainly on domestic issues and personality politics, with almost nothing to say about the war in Yemen or other critical questions of war, peace and record military spending. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

By Nicolas J. S. Davies 
Common Dreams 

Oct 23, 2018 - As a foreign policy crisis explodes over the apparent Saudi assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the failure of the U.S. Congress to assert its constitutional war powers over three years of illegal U.S. military action in the war on Yemen and booming U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners is finally coming home to roost.

The UN already reported two years ago that a child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen, wracked by the war and its consequences, including malnutrition, diphtheria, cholera and other preventable diseases.  Data already showed that more than a third of Saudi-led airstrikes were hitting schools, hospitals, markets, mosques and other civilian sites. But none of the dire warnings by UN agencies and NGOs could trigger the constitutionally required debate and decisive action by the U.S. Congress.  Even now the Trump administration is trying desperately to salvage its blood-soaked arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The elephant in the room that none of them want to discuss is that Congress keeps handing more than 60% of discretionary federal funds over to a military industrial complex whose recent wars have only succeeded in plunging half a dozen countries into intractable violence and chaos, leaving vital domestic priorities permanently underfunded.

Yet as early voting gets under way across the country, Congressional campaigns have focused mainly on domestic issues and personality politics, with almost nothing to say about the war in Yemen or other critical questions of war, peace and record military spending. The elephant in the room that none of them want to discuss is that Congress keeps handing more than 60% of discretionary federal funds over to a military industrial complex whose recent wars have only succeeded in plunging half a dozen countries into intractable violence and chaos, leaving vital domestic priorities permanently underfunded.

To fill this dangerous vacuum and help voters make critical decisions at the voting booth, the CODEPINK 2018 Peace Voter's Guide and Divestment Record has gathered data on arms industry campaign contributions from Open Secrets and the peace voting records of every Member of Congress from Peace Action, and published them all in one place for easy reference. 

We invite voters to check out the Peace Voter's Guide to see where your Senators and Representatives stand on critical issues of war and peace.  How much money have your representatives collected from the arms industry in this election cycle? How have they voted on critical bills and amendments for war, peace, weapons and military spending during their time in Congress?

You can use the Guide to compare your representatives with their colleagues. You can check out the differences between Democrats and Republicans, and see who are the real hawks and doves in each party.

Figures show that arms companies, including their PACS, have contributed about equally to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate in this election cycle, giving an average of over $180,000 to each Senator. In the House, however, they have given more to Republicans (an average of $46,000 each) than to Democrats ($31,000 each).

The Senators who are most indebted to the arms industry tend to be high-ranking members of committees key to Pentagon funding. In 2017-18, the senator receiving the most weapons industry contributions, $969,550, was Richard Shelby (R-AL). Shelby chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, the committee that allocates funding for all federal agencies.