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President Obama’s High-mileage, Stupid New War

By: joe shikspack Tuesday September 16, 2014 1:39 pm

3_presidentsWould you purchase a used war from one of these men?

Three previous American presidents, Bush the elder, Bill Clinton and Bush the younger have all bombed Iraq, declared victory and moved on to lucrative post-presidencies.

President Obama, who called it a “dumb war” long before he developed the foreign policy doctrine, “Don’t do stupid shit,” has now purchased the stupid Iraq war.

Is this war really necessary?

After watching this war repeated over and over, so many things now seem familiar. Remember the bipartisan hype about Saddam’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and how the proof of it could come from a mushroom cloud?

Compare to this:

But as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a yearslong military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.

Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a ‘farce,’ with ‘members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.’

With each successive administration’s military interventions in Iraq, the place seems to become increasingly unstable. After seeing the similar instability left behind in Libya, which is for most intents and purposes a failed state and the decline of Syria, it doesn’t instill much confidence in Mr. Obama’s similar proposed strategery for Operation Son of the Return of the Monster from the Land Between the Rivers.

As Andrew Bacevich put it in a recent post:

Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. …

All the military power in the world won’t solve those problems. Obama knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary — mostly because he and his advisers don’t know what else to do. Bombing has become his administration’s default option.

Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.

This war is headed for failure

Why is it that President Obama is the fourth consecutive American president to declare wa…er, military action on Iraq? Why is it that Obama and the previous 3 presidents just can’t seem to get the job done there?

Consider this wisdom from Aristotle:

It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace. — Aristotle

A century ago “peace” was organized in the Middle East by the colonial powers. Britain and France organized in a way that perpetuated their power and allowed them to loot the region. Their power was maintained by defeating any movement toward independence and self-determination by the people of the region – especially secular nationalist regimes. This article has an excellent summary of the history, including this:

In 1915, the imperial powers’ major goal in the Middle East was to smother any expression of Arab nationalism and prevent any unified resistance to the designs of Paris and London. …

The French put the minority Christians in charge of Lebanon to keep down the majority Sunnis and Shiites. They recruited the minority Alawite Shiites in Syria to head up the army that ruled over the majority Sunnis, while the British installed a Sunni king in Iraq to rule over the country’s majority Shiites. In Palestine the British used Zionism much as they were using Protestantism in Northern Ireland to keep down the native Catholic Irish and keep both communities divided. Communities ended up fighting one another rather than their imperial masters, which, of course, was the whole point of the matter. [...]

But chaos has always been an ally of imperialism. ‘The agenda has always been about imposing division and chaos on the Arab world,’ wrote long-time peace activist Tom Hayden. ‘In 1992, Bernard Lewis, a major Middle East expert, wrote that if the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity…the state then disintegrates into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties.’ And that is just the kind of disintegration that foreign powers have sought to exploit.

As the years have passed in the century since the ascendant imperialist powers organized the peace, new western powers have risen to compete for dominion and resources in the region. Puppets, dictators and nationalist regimes have come and gone and representatives of various sects have strived for and acquired power, but the division of the Middle East created by the colonial powers has remained:

 

Engelhardt: The Great Concentration or the Great Fragmentation

By: Tom Engelhardt Wednesday July 27, 2011 11:04 am

Power Drain 
Mysteries of the Twenty-First Century in a Helter-Skelter World 
By Tom Engelhardt

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet — and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder.

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States. After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed — great inland empires — that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John Le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it.

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter.  And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet.  It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”

Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet

As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone.  Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted.

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached – and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

For almost a decade, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were, no bones about it, in the era of “the Washington consensus” and “globalization.”  The Earth was flat and we were all One, swimming in a sea of giant swooshes, golden arches, action movies, and Disney princesses.  What a moment to dream — and though it took a decade, you’ll remember the dreamers well.  Having prepared the way as a kind of shadow government, in 2000 they took over the White House (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court). After a single devastating terrorist attack (the “Pearl Harbor” of the twenty-first century), they were soon dreaming on a global scale as befit their new vision of power.  They imagined a “wartime” that would last for generations — some of them even called it World War IV — during which they would establish a full-scale military protectorate, including monster bases, in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and a Pax Americana globally aimed at preventing any other great nation or bloc of nations from arising to challenge the United States — ever.

Over Easy: Letty Owings, Age 89, Recalls More New Orleans History

By: Crane-Station Wednesday September 17, 2014 4:09 am
Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls history, customs and experiences in New Orleans in 1958-1959.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

No chapter on New Orleans would be complete without something about the Mardi Gras experience. We knew about the big parade, but beyond that we knew nothing of the festival. The secrets and functions of the city that revolves around a carnival remain obscure to outsiders. Mardi Gras is not just a celebration, it is a way of life meshed with social structure and status. Anyone who is anyone belongs to a krewe, an organization built on social status, occupation and ancestry. All year long each krewe prepares for the season which ushers in the balls and the parades.

The first balls begin on New Year’s Eve. Generally the functions closest to the New Year have the least prestige. That statement has many variations, so I should not be dogmatic with my pronouncement about the worst first. The parades, mostly at night, happen more and more frequently as the weeks approach the “real” Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As an aside — “Shrove” days are set aside for celebration and excesses not allowed during Lent.

The date of Mardi Gras is strictly governed by the length of Lent in any given year. As Lent approaches, the parades pick up both in number as well as in prestige. People line the streets to view the floats and catch the trinkets thrown to the crowd by masked revelers. Why a cheap pair of beads thrown from a float takes on the mark of a status symbol is hard to say. It all has to do with the spirit of the occasion when good sense gets exchanged for excitement. I have still in a box somewhere the beads and trinkets we caught from the parades.

After a season of fever-pitch excitement and parades and balls, the Tuesday before Lent comes at last. This is the Mardi Gras tourists know about. Two Krewes are left to do their thing, Rex and Comus. Both Krewes parade in their finery, and their awesome collection of real jewels and royal robes. All participants remain masked until the Rex and Comus ball when the King (Rex, of course) and Queen are revealed to the public. Always the distinctive honor goes to well-known socialites of New Orleans. Few people ever get invited to the Rex and Comus affair. In fact, few outsiders or non-members of krewes ever get to go to one of the balls. Essentially they are closed affairs.

After the revelry and costuming and marching bands and drunkenness in the streets, at the stroke of midnight when Tuesday turns to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the doors close and the ball stops. The celebration is over until next New Years Eve. But even at that time, many are beginning to plan the next year’s floats and balls.

Most persons outside New Orleans who go to the city to experience Mardi Gras, see only the last day parades and the wild confusion. That is not all there is, but in order to see the real thing, residence in the city for a time is a necessity. Even then, the rituals and preparations are mostly kept from outsiders. We were fortunate in that our quarreling neighbors who belonged to a krewe wanted our oldest daughter to experience the real thing. I made her a formal and off she went. At the balls, all men are masked. The women have a card signed by different gentlemen who care to dance with them.

A flood

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

By: David Swanson Thursday June 30, 2011 1:18 pm
A soldier hands supplies to Afghan child refugees.

“Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.”

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live.  (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.) Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees. Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.

Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.  The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.

Start here.

Star Spangled Birthday

By: Elliott Monday July 9, 2012 7:18 am

 

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner.

Bursting in Air

Richard Armour gives us the background:

In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and when, by the dawn’s early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror.

To celebrate here’s Whitney Houston, you gotta admit she nailed it.

 

And Jimi Hendrix nails it as only Hendrix can.

 

Not surprisingly Baltimore went all out for the bicentennial with a week long celebration, tall ships and all. And fireworks.

(Speaking of flags, what happens to the Union Jack if Scottish independence queues up Auld Lang Syne?)

 

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday September 16, 2014 8:05 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “All Night Long” performed by Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers at Bluesfest in Gaildorf, Germany.

‘America’s Hottest Accordion’ winner, Dwayne (Dopsie) Rubin, plays a unique, high energy style of zydeco. Dwayne hails from one of the most influential Zydeco families in the world. Although inspired by tradition, he has developed his own high energy style that defies existing stereotypes and blazes a refreshingly distinct path for 21st century Zydeco music. This singer/songwriter and accordionist has performed all over the world since debuting his band, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, at age 19.

Dwayne, born March 3, 1979 in Lafayette, Louisiana, was the last of eight children. Dwayne attributes his musical ablilities to his father, Rockin’ Dopise, Sr., a pioneer of Zydeco music. As a small child, Dwayne was interested in the washboard, but quickly realized he had incredible talent with an accordion. He has played the accordion since age seven and states, ‘This is my calling – Zydeco music is in my blood and it is my heart and soul.’ As a tribute to his late father, the most influential person in his life, Dwayne plans to record an album of his Dad’s greatest Zydeco hits.

Dwayne Dopsie holds his accordion in front of an outdoor stage.

Dwayne Dopsie raised Zydeco hell in San Antonio, Texas Saturday at the Arneson River Theater at La Villita.

Like Tsuumi Sound System, Dwayne Dopsie is another artist I saw at International Accordion Festival. The group had an intense energy that got the crowd to their feet. The theater was crowded and the efforts of two police officers to keep a walkway clear turned fruitless when Dopsie and his wickedly talented washboard player Paul Lafleur came into the audience to close out their set with a dance off. Everybody but the police was smiling and enjoyed this little bit of Louisiana hellraising in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Is writing good for your health? Rachel Grate of Arts.Mic has compiled a collection of science that seems to support this idea.

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

It turns out writing can make physical wounds heal faster as well. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. The adults wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76% of the group that wrote had fully healed. Fifty-eight percent of the control group had not recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.

Even those who suffer from specific diseases can improve their health through writing. Studies have shown that people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.

But does writing about the cancerous corruption in America make us more optimistic about our political prospects, too?

Thanks to Rachel Hurley for this link.

Bonus: Radical Librarians are protecting patrons privacy, via Boing Boing

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Strange Logic of the ISIS War

By: Nat Parry Monday September 15, 2014 3:50 pm
A caricature of John Kerry

John Kerry: “We are at war with ISIL but I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that.”

Officials in Washington are inadvertently providing some insight into the strange logic of their nebulous war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in contradictory and puerile statements about whether the military action should be called a war, or perhaps something else.

Backtracking on an earlier statement that the action against ISIS is simply a “counterterrorism operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry clarified in an interview on Sunday that it is, in fact, a “war.”

“In terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word ‘war’ with, yeah, we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense. But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that,” Kerry said, adding that there’s “kind of tortured debate going on about terminology.”

On one hand, Kerry may be right that these semantic arguments are something of a distraction, since the debate should be more properly focused on whether the policies of airstrikes are effective, legal, moral and justified, not whether they are called a “war” or a “counterterrorism operation.”

On the other hand, the very fact that we are having this public dispute about which of our military actions qualify as “wars,” which ones are “counterterrorism operations,” and which ones are just run-of-the-mill bombing campaigns should sound the alarm that our political culture of perpetual war is out of control, having reached a bizarre and perilous point about which Americans are increasingly confused and the Constitution is ill-equipped to handle.

Indicative of this strange new normal was a poll released Sept. 4 revealing that few Americans actually know which countries the U.S. is currently bombing. Only about one third of Americans, according to the YouGov survey, knew that the U.S. has not yet conducted strikes in Syria, while 30 percent thought that it has, and the remainder admitted they were unsure.

At the same time, just a quarter of Americans knew that the U.S. military has carried out strikes in Somalia and Pakistan during the past six months, and only 16 percent were aware of strikes in Yemen.

It’s hard to imagine another country on earth in which the citizens could be so confused about which countries were currently being bombed by their government, but then again, no other country on earth is bombing so many other countries so regularly.

When it comes to the strikes targeting ISIS, when administration officials are not arguing about what to call the operation, they seem to be crafting flimsy legal foundations for the strikes by dusting off the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.

These rationales have not been terribly convincing, with the New York Times pointing out that the 2001 law applied specifically to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaeda more broadly, but since ISIS is not affiliated with al-Qaeda, the law clearly doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“The fact that al-Qaeda has disavowed ISIS, deeming it too radical, does not seem to prevent the administration from ignoring the logic of the law,” the Times noted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has not even bothered to provide a justification for the strikes under international law.

It has instead asserted without elaboration that borders present no constraints to U.S. military action. “We are lifting the restrictions on our air campaigns,” a senior administration official told reporters during a recent background briefing. “We are dealing with an organization that operates freely across a border, and we will not be constrained by that border.”

Under international law, however, borders most certainly do pose constraints. The sanctity of borders is enshrined in the UN Charter in fact, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

One reason for the administration’s silence regarding the international legal basis for the possible use of force against ISIS in Syria is that none exists, since the Bashar al-Assad regime has not consented to the use of force in its territory.

As John Bellinger writes at Lawfare, “This will leave the administration to cobble together a variety of international legal rationales.” Some of these might include the argument that ISIS is part of al-Qaeda and therefore part of the U.S. armed conflict, or perhaps some sort of co-belligerency theory, or perhaps collective self-defense.

“Ultimately,” Bellinger speculates, “the administration may choose not to articulate an international legal basis at all, and instead to cite a variety of factual ‘factors’ that ‘justify’ the use of force, as the Clinton administration did for the Kosovo war. But it would be much preferable for the administration to provide legal reasons.”

Extended Surveillance Bill in Turkey: Legal but not Lawful

By: GREYDOG Wednesday November 19, 2008 8:24 am
Cartoon Erdogan holding a Twitter bird.

Erdogan signed more restrictions on Internet freedom into law.

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Just days after Turkey hosted thousands of delegates from around the world for the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul and boasted about policing and pressuring Internet freedoms in the country, a law has been passed in urgency, almost like escaping from fire. The new law allows the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) – which consists mainly of former spies and about which there was talk of disbanding it to make it an office under the national secret service – to carry out surveillance operations and block access to Web sites without a court order. The law now includes the clauses that were rejected by President Gül when the last update was made in February 2014.

The bill came at a surprise moment when it was not being talked of in the media and was definitely not debated at all. Just days before it was passed at 4 a.m., there was criticism of Turkey’s approach to digital rights and liberties, and while activists were expecting a loosening of censorship, surveillance, and profiling activities by the government and secret service, it just happened to get even worse.

Concerns and worries were expressed by an anonymous EU diplomat based in Ankara, and the Turkish EU minister criticized him/her saying “this is not that person’s business.” The minister continued his remarks, saying “This is only in times of national security, not on a regular basis,” referring to the clause of the new bill that states that “this bill can be applied in matters related to national security, public order, and prevention of crimes” yet failed to address exactly what constitutes a breach of national security. One can remember the 2013 Gezi Uprising and how it was labeled a “coup attempt,” activists were declared “traitors,” and the millions who supported the uprising were called “terrorists.”

From Miners to Censorship

Drafting of the reform package began upon the death of 302 miners in a terrible mining tragedy, due to lack of security precautions; yet the draft bill evolved to address censorship, surveillance, and profiling cases. President Erdoğan approved the bill on the 34th anniversary of the 1980  military coup, Friday September 12 – thus initiating a new level of obstacles to rights and liberties.

Raiding of the TIB

The TIB was raided last February and several top managers were replaced after some phone conversations were leaked on the Internet revealing the biggest corruption scandal in history involving the Turkish government. Now the new team will probably be using the “server-ville” facilities just nearby the capital city, where all telecommunications data are being stored. When combined with the plans to install the NetClean and Procera software throughout the country’s telecommunications backbone, this new bill allows the Turkish secret service to become nothing less than a digital Gestapo. It may be legal to carry out such actions in Turkey, but for sure it is not lawful.

Russian-Style Tight Control

Turkey now prepares for yet another stranglehold on digital rights and freedoms. In October there will be a new bill in the parliament which will address Internet and press publishers. The new law is much like the Russian bloggers’ bill, requiring all digitally published content creators to reveal their names, addresses, and contact details on the Web site, make all content available for at least a year without the possibility of deletion, and comply with already tightened media laws in the country. The new bill is set to mainly target citizen journalism platforms, including bloggers.