Sunday, February 22, 2015

The US is Heading Into a Heavily Militarized Future

By Tom Englehardt
Beaver County Peace Links via TomDispatch

Feb 17, 2015 - I never fail to be amazed -- and that’s undoubtedly my failing.  I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the west? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 -- bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe -- as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. 

Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.”  It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns -- unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown.  The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York.  By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism.  Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests.  A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”)  Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the west, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons.  The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015.  After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields -- assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns -- to local police departments around the country.  Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess.  (Ferguson, for instance, had a “Bearcat,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Since 2013, the Pentagon has transferred for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various “qualified law enforcement agencies.” Police departments in rural areas like Walsh County, North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the campus police department at Ohio State University.  It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life. (Continued)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bill O'Reilly and Fox News Call for Holy War Against ISIS

By Zaid Jilani
Beaver County Peace Links via AlterNet

Feb 18, 2015 - Last night, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly finally gave ISIS what it wants: a declaration that the West and Middle East are, indeed, in a holy war.

In a segment titled, “The Holy War Begins [3],” O'Reilly used the recent murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians to slam President Obama's approach to ISIS, and quoted a list of religious leaders, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who warned that ISIS threatens “civilization, everything that is decent and noble about humanity. It is a worldwide crisis that cannot, must not, be ignored.”

O'Reilly then ran through the gamut of this week's right-wing complaints about Obama. These ranged from critiques of the State Department's Marie Harf's statement [4] that ISIS cannot be defeated solely with military means, to a bizarre critique [5] that the White House somehow did not recognize that the 21 Egyptians murdered by terrorists were Christian. He concluded with the statement that “the Holy War is here and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last one to acknowledge it.”

His comments seem to be the climax of weeks of agitation [6] from Fox News and other right-wing commentators about Obama avoiding the phrase “Islamic extremism” when talking about ISIS and other terrorists. “Say it, Obama, 'Islamic,'” instructed [7] Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin. Fox contributor Todd Starnes invoked the biblical [8] “Lake of Fire” in counter-terrorism strategy. Christian evangelist Franklin Graham appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show to explain [9] that Obama just had too much affinity for Islam:

    His mother was married to a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. Then she married a man from Indonesia. He was raised in Indonesia. Went to Islamic schools. I assume she was a Muslim. So his whole life, his experiences have been surrounded by Islam. He only knows Islam. And he has given a pass to Islam. He is refusing to understand the evil that is in front of him

What O'Reilly and others at Fox seem to be missing is that there's a pretty good reason no world leader here in the West or in the Middle East has accepted the frame that we're in a “holy war”: it's exactly what ISIS wants.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Uncle Sam: Anti-Terror Leader or Terrorist Breeder?

By Luo Jun

Feb17, 2015 - On the world stage, the United States has assumed anti-terror leadership since the deadly Sept. 11 attack in 2001, yet underneath its glossy surface, Uncle Sam seemed to have a secret identity as a terrorist breeder.

In a display of leadership and power, the White House will convene an international conference on fighting violent extremism on Thursday, bringing together government officials from around 60 countries.

The summit aims to "highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the U.S. and abroad to commit acts of violence."

That all seemed right and proper, given the rising threats of terrorism and violent extremism across the world and the deadly attacks in Western countries in recent months, but the key to realizing the goal of such a summit is missing.

Washington paid little attention to exploring the root causes of terrorism, which should be deemed intriguing, as the latest villain on its black list, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, originated not in Iran or the DPRK, both "enemies" of Washington, but in Iraq, a state "freed" and "democratized" by the U.S. itself.

It is also thought-provoking that the IS militants drew much of their fighting experience from the West-involved war in Syria, where the Western bloc has supported rebels in their efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It would be a never ending war on terror if Washington failed to find and eliminate the root causes of terrorism and extremism.

To admit it or not, Uncle Sam has effectively played the role of a terrorist breeder, when the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria turned the region into a burning battleground with no peace, security and stability in sight.

The U.S. military operation might be clean and swift, but its political plan for those states dragged into a civil war was awkward, which backfired and created dangerous swamps of turmoil that provided breeding ground for terrorism.

It is high time that Washington take the opportunity of Thursday's conference to discuss with global partners and review past counter-terrorism strategies and policies, so as to reflect upon past mistakes and improve the ability to address such threats.

Any violent and extremist acts targeting civilians should be condemned in the strongest term and perpetrators brought to justice.

As counter-terrorism has become a responsibility of the international community as a whole, closer global cooperation, based on the United Nations Charter and a unified standard, is necessary to jointly secure regional and global peace and security.

Monday, February 2, 2015

War Is the New Normal


Seven  Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist

By William Astore

Feb 1, 2015 - It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.  Pentagon insiders called it “the long war [4],” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent.  It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation [5] of that disaster as well.  Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day [6]” kind of repetition.  Just when you thought it was over (Iraq [7], Afghanistan [8]), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again [9].

Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition.  Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch on the seven reasons [10] why America can’t stop making war.  More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America.  In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).

1.  The privatization of war: The U.S. military’s recourse to private contractors [11] has strengthened the profit motive for war-making and prolonged wars as well.  Unlike the citizen-soldiers of past eras, the mobilized warrior corporations [12] of America’s new mercenary moment -- the Halliburton [13]/KBRs (nearly $40 billion [14] in contracts for the Iraq War alone), the DynCorps [15] ($4.1 billion to train 150,000 Iraqi police), and the Blackwater/Xe/Academis [16] ($1.3 billion in Iraq, along with boatloads of controversy [17]) -- have no incentive to demobilize.  Like most corporations, their business model is based on profit through growth, and growth is most rapid when wars and preparations for more of them are the favored options in Washington.

"Freedom isn’t free," as a popular conservative bumper sticker puts it, and neither is war.  My father liked the saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and today’s mercenary corporations have been calling for a lot of military marches piping in $138 billion in contracts for Iraq alone, according to [18] the Financial Times.  And if you think that the privatization of war must at least reduce government waste, think again: the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in 2011 that fraud, waste, and abuse accounted for up to $60 billion [19] of the money spent in Iraq alone.

To corral American-style war, the mercenaries must be defanged or deflated.  European rulers learned this the hard way during the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century.  At that time, powerful mercenary captains like Albrecht von Wallenstein [20] ran amok.  Only Wallenstein’s assassination and the assertion of near absolutist powers by monarchs bent on curbing war before they went bankrupt finally brought the mercenaries to heel, a victory as hard won as it was essential to Europe’s survival and eventual expansion.  (Europeans then exported their wars to foreign shores, but that’s another story.)

2.  The embrace of the national security state by both major parties: Jimmy Carter was the last president to attempt to exercise any kind of control over the national security state.  A former Navy nuclear engineer who had served under the demanding Admiral Hyman Rickover [21], Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber and fought for a U.S. foreign policy based on human rights.  Widely pilloried for talking about [22] nuclear war with his young daughter Amy, Carter was further attacked for being “weak” on defense.  His defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 inaugurated 12 years of dominance by Republican presidents that opened the financial floodgates for the Department of Defense.  That taught Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council [23] a lesson when it came to the wisdom of wrapping the national security state in a welcoming embrace, which they did, however uncomfortably.  This expedient turn to the right by the Democrats in the Clinton years served as a temporary booster shot when it came to charges of being “soft” on defense -- until Republicans upped the ante by going “all-in” on military crusades in the aftermath of 9/11.

Since his election in 2008, Barack Obama has done little to alter the course set by his predecessors.  He, too, has chosen not to challenge Washington’s prevailing catechism of war [24].  Republicans have responded, however, not by muting their criticism, but by upping the ante yet again.  How else to explain House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March [25]?  That address promises to be a pep talk for the Republicans, as well as a smack down of the Obama administration and its “appeasenik [26]” policies toward Iran and Islamic radicalism.

Serious oversight, let alone opposition to the national security state by Congress or a mainstream political party, has been missing in action [27] for years and must now, in the wake of the Senate Torture Report fiasco (from which the CIAemerged [28] stronger, not weaker), be presumed dead.  The recent midterm election triumph of Republican war hawks and the prospective lineup of candidates for president in 2016 does not bode well when it comes to reining in the national security state in any foreseeable future.