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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Necessity of Imagining an Unimaginable War



By Lisa Fuller 
Waging Nonviolence

Dec 9, 2017 - The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea has repeatedly been described as "unimaginable" -- and in fact, most of us have literally failed to imagine it. As the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof points out, "We're complacent -- neither the public nor the financial markets appreciate how high the risk is of a war, and how devastating one could be."

Admittedly, with biological, conventional and nuclear weapons expected to kill millions, the scenario is genuinely difficult to comprehend. We struggle to translate such high numbers into pictures of individual men, women and children suffering.

Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to be in denial. Top military and political experts warn that the risk of war is at an all-time high, the threat is imminent and the impact would be catastrophic. Even before North Korea's latest missile test, former US Army General Barry McCraffrey, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick all estimated that the risk of war was 50 percent. General McCaffrey expects that war will breakout by summer 2018.

There is a significant risk that a war would escalate beyond a regional conflict. China has warned that it would intervene on behalf of North Korea in the case of a US preemptive strike, and international security experts Nora Bensahel and David Barno argue that China may launch attacks on "US bases in the region or possibly even the US homeland, especially since radiation would inevitably blanket some of its territory." China has been carrying out military drills near the Korean peninsula since July, and tested an ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States on November 6. Russia also recently publicly warned that it is preparing for war as well.

Even if the war was confined to the Korean peninsula, however, it has the "potential to cause mass starvation worldwide," as a result of nuclear winter, according to nuclear experts Alan Robock and Owen Toon.

In other words, World War III is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies -- it may be right around the corner.

With such high stakes, it is critical that we voluntarily imagine the "unimaginable," as uncomfortable as it may be. Those who do imagine war are much more likely to take action to prevent it. Journalist and author Jonathan Schell advocated for this position in his 1982 book The Fate of the Earth, writing that "Only by descending into this hell in imagination now can we hope to escape descending into it in reality … the knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take measures that can actually protect us."

It is no coincidence that members of Congress who are war veterans have been some of the most outspoken and active in raising the alarm over the crisis in North Korea.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Peace Movement And Electoral Politics



By Lawrence Wittner
Common Dreams

Dec 4, 2017 - Although the U.S. peace movement has been on the wane for about a decade, it remains a viable force in American life. Organizations like Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jewish Voice for Peace and numerous others have significant memberships, seasoned staff and enough financial resources to sustain their agitation in communities around the country. If they currently lack the power to mobilize the mass demonstrations that characterized some of their past struggles, they continue to educate Americans about the dangers of militarism and influence a portion of Congress.

Even as the movement declined during the Obama presidential years, it managed to eke out some occasional victories, most notably a treaty (New START) reducing the number of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, modest cutbacks in the U.S. military budget, the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba.

But the total takeover of the U.S. government by the Republican Party, occasioned by the GOP sweep in the 2016 elections, has produced a disaster for the peace movement?and for anyone concerned about building a peaceful world. In less than a year in office, the Trump administration has escalated U.S. military intervention across the globe, secured a massive increase in U.S. military spending, issued reckless threats of war (including nuclear war) against North Korea, and forged close partnerships with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Nor is the peace movement growing significantly in response to this disaster?probably because progressive activists, the peace movement’s major constituency, are so overwhelmed by the government’s sweeping rightwing assault that they are preoccupied with desperately defending social and economic justice, civil liberties, and environmental sustainability.

As long as this situation continues, it seems unlikely that the peace movement is going to win many victories. With hawkish, rightwing Republicans controlling the federal government, the peace movement’s educational campaigns, small-scale demonstrations, and Congressional lobbying will probably have little effect on U.S. public policy.

But there is a promising way to change the federal government. A likely outcome of the November 2018 Congressional elections is that the Republicans will retain control of the U.S. Senate, thanks to the large number of Democratic incumbents running for the 33 contested seats. Even so, the Democrats have a good chance to retake control of the House of Representatives, where every seat is up for grabs. For over 6 months, generic ballot polls about the House elections have shown Democrats with a lead ranging between 8 and 12 points over their Republican opponents. Many analysts believe that this significant a lead will produce a “wave election”?one that will sweep the Democrats into power. And with one branch of Congress in the hands of the Democrats, U.S. foreign and military policy could shift substantially.

Would it, though? After all, despite significant differences with the GOP on domestic policy, aren’t Congressional Democrats just as hawkish as the Republicans on foreign and military policy?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What If? An Alternative Strategy for Sept.12, 2001















The attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001. "Just about every Bush-era policy that followed 9/11 was an unqualified disaster," writes Sjursen. What should we have done instead? (Photo: Getty)


A generation born after 9/11 will vote in the next presidential election.  They’ve never known peace.  Will they even bother to demand it?


By Danny Sjursen
Tom Dispatch

“Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.” -- Thucydides

Nov 17, 2017 - You’ve heard the platitude that hindsight is 20/20. It’s true enough and, though I’ve been a regular skeptic about what policymakers used to call the Global War on Terror, it’s always easier to poke holes in the past than to say what you would have done. My conservative father was the first to ask me what exactly I would have suggested on September 12, 2001, and he’s pressed me to write this article for years. The supposed rub is this: under the pressure of that attack and the burden of presidential responsibility, even “liberals” -- like me, I guess -- would have made much the same decisions as George W. Bush and company.

Many readers may cringe at the thought, but former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has to be taken seriously when she suggests that anyone in the White House on 9/11 would inevitably have seen the world through the lens of the Bush administration.  I’ve long argued that just about every Bush-era policy that followed 9/11 was an unqualified disaster.  Nevertheless, it remains important to ponder the weight piled upon a president in the wake of unprecedented terror attacks.  What would you have done?  What follows is my best crack at that thorny question, 16 years after the fact, and with the accumulated experiences of combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Taking It Personally

9/11 was an intimate affront to me.  It hit home hard.  I watched those towers in my hometown burn on televisions I could glimpse from my plebe (freshman) boxing class at West Point.  My father worked across Church Street from Manhattan’s World Trade Center.  Only hours later did I learn that he’d safely escaped on the last ferryboat to Staten Island.  Two uncles -- both New York City firemen -- hopelessly dug for comrades in the rubble for weeks.  Stephen, the elder of the two, identified the body of his best friend, Captain Marty Egan, just days after the attacks. 

In blue-collar Staten Island neighborhoods like mine, everyone seemed to work for the city: cops, firemen, corrections officers, garbage men, transit workers.  I knew several of each.  My mother spent months attending wakes and funerals.  Suddenly, tons of streets on the Island were being renamed for dead police and firefighters, some of whom I knew personally.  Me, I continued to plod along through the typically trying life of a new cadet at West Point.

It’s embarrassing now to look back at my own immaturity.  I listened in as senior cadets broke the news of war to girlfriends and fiancées, enviously hanging on every word.  If only I, too, could live out the war drama I’d always longed for.  Less than two years later, I found myself drunk with another uncle -- and firefighter -- in a New York pub on St. Patrick’s Day.  This was back when an Army T-shirt or a fireman’s uniform meant a night of free drinks in that post-9/11 city.  I watched the television screen covetously as President Bush delivered a final, 48-hour ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.  I inhaled, wished for a long war, and gazed at the young, attractive lead singer of the band performing in that pub.  She was wearing a patron’s tied-up New York Fire Department uniform blouse with a matching cap cocked to the side.  It was meant to be sexy and oh-so-paramilitary.  It might seem unbelievable now, but that was still my -- and largely our -- world on March 17, 2003.

By the time I got my “chance” to join America’s war on terror, in October 2006, Baghdad was collapsing into chaos as civil war raged and U.S. deaths were topping 100 per month.  This second lieutenant still hoped for glory, even as the war’s purpose was already slipping ever further away.  I never found it (glory, that is).  Not in Iraq or, years later, in Afghanistan.  Sixteen years and two months on from 9/11, I’m a changed man, inhabiting a forever altered reality.  Two wars, two marriages, and so many experiences later, the tragedy and the mistakes seem so obvious.  Perhaps we should have known all along.  But most didn’t.

How to Lose A War (Hint: Fight It!)

From the beginning, the rhetoric, at least, was over the top.  Three days after those towers tumbled, President George W. Bush framed the incredible scope of what he’d instantly taken to calling a “war.”  As he told the crowd at a Washington national prayer service, “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”  From the first, it seemed evident to the president: America’s target wasn’t anything as modest as the al-Qaeda terrorist network, but rather evil itself.  Looking back, this was undoubtedly the original sin.  Call something -- in this case, the response to the acts of a small jihadist group -- a “war” and sooner or later everyone begins acting like warriors. 

Within 24 hours of the attacks, the potential target list was already expanding beyond Osama bin Laden and his modest set of followers.  On September 12th, President Bush commanded his national counterterror coordinator, Richard Clarke, to “see if Saddam did this... look into Iraq, Saddam.”  That night, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the president and the entire cabinet, “You know, we’ve got to do Iraq... There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan... We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong...” 

Nonetheless, Afghanistan -- and its Taliban rulers -- became the first military target.  Bombs were dropped and commandos infiltrated. CIA spooks distributed briefcases of cash to allied warlords and eventually city after city fell.  Sure, Osama bin Laden escaped and many of the Taliban’s foot soldiers simply faded away, but it was still one hell of a lightning campaign.  Expected to be brief, it was given the bold name Operation Enduring Freedom and, to listen to the rhetoric of the day, it revolutionized warfare.  Only it didn’t, of course.  Instead, the focus was soon lost, other priorities (Iraq!) sucked the resources away, venal warlords reigned, an insurgency developed, and... and 16 years later, American troop levels are once again increasing there.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Trump Doctrine: Making Nuclear Weapons Usable Again

















By Michael T. Klare
TomDispatch

Nov 19, 2017 - Maybe you thought America’s nuclear arsenal, with its thousands of city-busting, potentially civilization-destroying thermonuclear warheads, was plenty big enough to deter any imaginable adversary from attacking the U.S. with nukes of their own. Well, it turns out you were wrong.

The Pentagon has been fretting that the arsenal is insufficiently intimidating.  After all -- so the argument goes -- it’s filled with old (possibly unreliable) weapons of such catastrophically destructive power that maybe, just maybe, even President Trump might be reluctant to use them if an enemy employed smaller, less catastrophic nukes on some future battlefield.  Accordingly, U.S. war planners and weapons manufacturers have set out to make that arsenal more “usable” in order to give the president additional nuclear “options” on any future battlefield.  (If you’re not already feeling a little tingle of anxiety at this point, you should be.)  While it’s claimed that this will make such assaults less likely, it’s all too easy to imagine how such new armaments and launch plans could actually increase the risk of an early resort to nuclear weaponry in a moment of conflict, followed by calamitous escalation.

That President Trump would be all-in on making the American nuclear arsenal more usable should come as no surprise, given his obvious infatuation [1] with displays of overwhelming military strength.  (He was thrilled [2] when, last April, one of his generals ordered, for the first time, the most powerful nonnuclear weapon the U.S. possesses dropped [3] in Afghanistan.)  Under existing nuclear doctrine, as imagined by the Obama administration back in 2010, this country was to use nuclear weapons [4] only “in extreme circumstances” to defend the vital interests of the country or of its allies.  Prohibited was the possibility of using them as a political instrument to bludgeon weaker countries into line.  However, for Donald Trump, a man who has already threatened [5] to unleash on North Korea “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” such an approach is proving far too restrictive. He and his advisers, it seems, want nukes that can be employed at any potential level of great-power conflict or brandished as the apocalyptic equivalent of a giant club to intimidate lesser rivals.

Making the U.S. arsenal more usable requires two kinds of changes in nuclear policy: altering existing doctrine to eliminate conceptional restraints on how such weapons may be deployed in wartime and authorizing the development and production of new generations of nuclear munitions capable, among other things, of tactical battlefield strikes.  All of this is expected to be incorporated into the administration’s first nuclear posture review (NPR), to be released by the end of this year or early in 2018.

Its exact contents won’t be known until then -- and even then, the American public will only gain access to the most limited version of a largely classified document.  Still, some of the NPR’s features are already obvious from comments made by the president and his top generals.  And one thing is clear: restraints on the use of such weaponry in the face of a possible weapon of mass destruction of any sort, no matter its level of destructiveness, will be eliminated and the planet’s most powerful nuclear arsenal will be made ever more so. 

Altering the Nuclear Mindset

The strategic guidance provided by the administration’s new NPR is likely to have far-reaching consequences.  As John Wolfsthal, former National Security Council director for arms control and nonproliferation, put it [6] in a recent issue of Arms Control Today, the document will affect “how the United States, its president, and its nuclear capabilities are seen by allies and adversaries alike.  More importantly, the review establishes a guide for decisions that underpin the management, maintenance, and modernization of the nuclear arsenal and influences how Congress views and funds the nuclear forces.”

With this in mind, consider the guidance [7] provided by that Obama-era nuclear posture review.  Released at a moment when the White House was eager to restore America’s global prestige in the wake of George W. Bush’s widely condemned invasion of Iraq and just six months after the president had won [8] the Nobel Prize for his stated determination to abolish such weaponry, it made nonproliferation the top priority.  In the process, it downplayed the utility of nuclear weapons under just about any circumstances on just about any imaginable battlefield.  Its principal objective, it claimed, was to reduce “the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in U.S. national security.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Explained: Alt-right, Alt-light and US Militias

 














A white supremacist wearing symbols of the Traditionalist Worker Party bangs marches in Charlottesville on August 12 [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

By Al-Jazeera News

Oct 13, 2017 -With the rising prominence of groups such as the alt-right throughout US President Donald Trump's campaign and election, differentiating between the various currents that comprise the American far right has become challenging.


Media outlets and political commentators have struggled to define the parameters, often inaccurately labelling high-profile far-right figures as part of the alt-right.

Al Jazeera has broken down some of the factions of the American far right, explaining their similarities and differences. 


Alt-right


The alt-right is a loosely knit coalition of far-right groups that includes populists, white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis. Many alt-rightists promote various forms of white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The term "alt-right" was first coined by US white supremacist Richard Spencer in 2008 to provide an alternative to the neoconservative politics that dominated the Republican Party establishment in recent decades.

Shortly after Trump's November 2016 victory in the presidential elections, the movement became a household name in the US when Spencer led an audience in chants as they performed Nazi-like salutes. Spencer roared: "Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!"
Richard Spencer's appearance at Texas A&M University in December prompted counter-protests.


The movement promotes what it calls "white identitarianism", a worldview that advocates European racial and cultural hegemony. Alt-rightists often cite racial science as vindication for their views.

Researchers and experts note that sexism is as integral to the alt-right as racism, pointing out that there are few females among the cadres of the movement. One exception is Brittany Pettibone, a contributor at AltRight.com and Red Ice, a Sweden-based white nationalist video and podcast platform.

Among the groups involved in the movement are: Spencer's think tank, the National Policy Institute; the National Socialist Movement; the neo-Confederate League of the South; Identity Evropa, the white supremacist group and, among others, the neo-Nazi organisation Vanguard America.

Online organising made the alt-right's success possible.

The key websites are: AltRight.com; the Occidental Dissent blog; the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website; Radix Journal; the Counter-Currents website and the Right Stuff blog, among others.

The alt-right has many connections to groups in Europe, many of which predate the movement.

Some prominent figures within the alt-right are: Daily Stormer's Andrew Anglin; the Right Stuff's Mike Peinovich; Identity Evropa's Nathan Damigo; former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; Traditional Worker Party's Matthew Heimbach and Swedish businessman Daniel

The alt-light is a term used to describe a comparably moderate group of far-right figures, organisations and websites.

Unlike the alt-right's call for a white ethnostate, the alt-light promotes a hardline version of American nationalism and often eschews the openly racist and white supremacist politics advocated by the alt-right. Much of the alt-light's positions are predicated on support for President Trump.

The most prominent website on the alt-light is Breitbart News, a far-right blog headed by Steve Bannon, who briefly served as Trump's top strategist. Another increasingly important alt-light publication is Rebel Media, a Canada-based website founded by right-wing media figure Ezra Levant.

Some of the most important personalities within the alt-light include: provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; media personality Gavin McInnes; journalist and activist Lauren Southern; social media figure Mike Cernovich; media personality Alex Jones and conspiracy theorist Jack Prosobiec.

Yiannopoulous used to be the technology editor at Breitbart News, but he was fired after public uproar over comments he made defending pedophilia. Recently, he has hosted anti-Muslim rallies and "free speech" events. He often verbally attacks immigrants, trans people and feminists.

McInnes co-founded Vice Media and later left the company in 2008. Most recently, he hosted a Rebel Media online programme. He also founded the Proud Boys, a far-right group that describes itself as "Western chauvinist" and opposes feminism. The Proud Boys often brag about seeking out physical confrontations with anti-fascists, known as Antifa.

There are also several conspiracy theory websites that fall within the sphere of the alt-light. The most well-known is InfoWars, hosted by Alex Jones. In 2015, Trump, who was a presidential candidate at the time, appeared on InfoWars and was interviewed by Jones.

Many alt-light groups argue against the alt-right, while others have participated in the same rallies and events as alt-rightists.


Militia groups

Most militia organisations describe themselves as "patriot" groups. The largest and most active of the militia groups are the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. Member of these groups often attend rallies armed with assault rifles and wearing bullet proof vests.

While it is difficult to know the exact number of people involved in these organisations, the Oath Keepers claims to have tens of thousands of members nationwide.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Military Times Poll: What You Really Think about Trump



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By Leo Shane III
Military Times


Oct. 24, 2017 -  Trump enjoys far stronger support among members of the military than the American public at large, according to the latest scientific Military Times poll.

Yet while Trump is especially popular among enlisted troops, officers have a much lower opinion of him.

And women and minorities in the ranks share similar skepticism.
Overall, about 44 percent of all troops surveyed in the Military Times poll have a favorable view of Trump, while roughly 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. That’s a stark contrast to opinion polls of the general public, which have shown Trump’s popularity at less than 40 percent and an unfavorable rating as high as 56 percent.

Yet, the poll of more than 1,100 active-duty troops, conducted in September, shows a deep divide over service members’ opinions of the commander in chief, whose first nine months in office have been marked by military policies that have drawn both praise and concern from Pentagon leaders.

While almost 48 percent of enlisted troops approve of Trump, only about 30 percent of officers say the same, the poll shows.

When asked specifically about Trump’s handling of military policies, about 55 percent of all troops surveyed rated Trump’s policies as favorable, versus 26 percent unfavorable.
The poll was conducted before the latest controversy surrounding Trump’s handling of phone calls to the families of fallen service members.

Troops’ views on Trump have changed very little since he was elected last year.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The U.S. is Ready to ‘Fight Tonight’ but South Koreans Reject War as the Solution to North Korean Threats

Endless tension and the threat of conflict may make politicians sound tough and boost defense stocks, but many in South Korea are deeply tired of all this.

By Jon Letman
The Daily Beast

July 12, 2017 - SEOUL— Strolling the gingko tree-lined side streets of central Seoul it’s easy to see why the prospect of war with North Korea is so unappealing. Generations of hard-working South Koreans have transformed theirs into a nation nothing short of remarkable. Koreans have overcome 35 years of Japanese colonialism, the devastating Korean War, dictatorships, and episodic political violence to build a hyper-modern nation with thriving arts, education, science, and hi-tech industries that rival anywhere in East Asia.

After surviving one of democracy’s greatest tests—the peaceful but forced removal of a corrupt head of state—the Republic of Korea (ROK) emerged from its candlelight revolution with a new liberal president and a sense of hope: a shining yang to the isolated North’s yin.
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To ponder war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is to consider the destruction of all the South has built in spite of 70 years of division. A military conflict between the two would be, even by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ own admission, “catastrophic... the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

But even as Pyongyang accelerates the pace of testing increasingly deadly weapons and the means to deliver them and as Washington refuses to budge on provocative U.S.-ROK war games that include “decapitation strikes” and responds to North Korean threats with long-range heavy bomber flyovers, a significant number of South Koreans are militantly anti-military, and want their leaders to flex their diplomatic muscles, not their missiles.

Although largely under-reported in Western media, South Korea has a highly energized peace movement that continues to push back against the U.S.-ROK military alliance preparing for war.

On May 24, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, five South Korean NGOs organized a women’s peace symposium in Seoul that drew around 80 (mostly Korean) women and a handful of men together to discuss alternatives to war and how to shift the paradigm away from permanent war footing.

In 2015, an international peace group, Women Cross DMZ, held similar symposia in Pyongyang and in Seoul and again in Seoul in 2016. The 2017 symposium was followed by a march of around 800 people along a barbed wire-lined trail following the Imjin River which flows through the DMZ north of Seoul. “This event [was] for Korean unification—life, peace, and co-existence,” said organizer Ahn-Kim Jeong-ae.

Aiyoung Choi, a member of Women Cross DMZ, who has participated all three years, said the primary goal of the march was to raise awareness of “the increasingly urgent need for peace on the Peninsula through a genuine peace treaty.” Dressed in symbolic all white, Choi added, “Where [there] is no peace, you begin to think you are being threatened all the time.”