You are browsing the archive for wars.

World Has No Idea How U.S. Decides on Wars

10:12 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

People from Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere have told me, and have testified in the U.S. Congress, that they have a hard time convincing their neighbors that everyone in the United States doesn’t hate them.  There are buzzing killer robots flying over their houses night and day and every now and then blowing a bunch of people up with a missile with very little rhyme or reason that anyone nearby can decipher.  They don’t know where to go or not go, what to do or not do, to be safe or keep their children safe.  Their children have instinctively taken to crouching and covering their heads just like U.S. children in the 1950s were taught to do as supposed protection from Soviet nuclear weapons.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War
The good news is that, of course, we don’t all hate Yemenis or Pakistanis or Somalis or Afghans or Libyans or any of the other people who might suspect us of it.  The bad news — and the news that I’m afraid would be almost incomprehensible to many millions of people around the world — is that most of us have only the vaguest idea where any of those countries are, some of us don’t know that they ARE countries at all, and we pay far greater attention to our sports and our pets than to whom exactly our government is killing this Tuesday.

This obliviousness comes into sharpest relief perhaps when we elect the officials who are legally called on to decide on our wars.  The extent to which Congress has handed war making over to presidents is also brought out by observing Congressional elections.  It is not at all uncommon for U.S. Congressional candidates’ platforms to entirely ignore all questions of war and peace, and to win support from either Democrats or Republicans despite this omission — despite, in particular, taking no position on the area funded by 57% of the dollars they will vote on if elected, namely wars and war preparations.

Here in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, a man named Lawrence Gaughan recently announced as a Democratic candidate for Congress.  I’d never heard of him, so I took a look at the “Issues” section of his website.  Not only WAS there such a section (some candidates campaign purely on their biography without taking positions on anything), but Gaughan’s site had clear forthright statements on a number of important issues.  He backed labor unions despite their virtual nonexistence in his district.  He admitted the existence of climate change.  He backed Eisenhower era tax rates (!!).  And his statements made commitments: “I will not vote for any tax cuts for those making over 250,000 dollars a year.” “I support the Dream Act.” “I would vote for any legislation that would bring back jobs in construction, manufacturing and production.” Either this guy had real principles or he was just too new for anyone to have explained to him how to make his promises vague enough not to commit himself to any specific actions.

All too typically, however, when I scrolled through the “Issues,” I noticed a gap.  I sent this note off to the candidate’s staff:

“Your candidate has some of the best and clearest positions on domestic issues that I’ve seen, and dramatically superior to Congressman Hurt’s, but judging by his website as it stands today he seems to have no position on foreign policy whatsoever, or even on that 57% of discretionary spending that, according to the National Priorities Project, goes to militarism.  For people who support domestic social justice AND peace in the world in this district, we are put in a bind by our history. Congressman Perriello voted for every war dollar he could, and has made a career of pushing for new wars since leaving office.  Congressman Hurt is a disaster on other issues but listened to us and took a stand against missile strikes on Syria. He even listened to us on lawless imprisonment and voted against a “Defense” Authorization Act on one occasion. Helpful as it is to know what Lawrence Gaughan thinks of 43% of the budget, some of us are really going to have to know what he thinks of the larger part.  Would he cut military spending? Would he oppose new wars? Does he oppose drone strikes? Would he repeal the authorization to use military force of ’01 and that of ’03? Would he support economic conversion to peaceful industries on the model now set up in Connecticut? Would he advance a foreign policy of diplomacy, cooperation, actual aid, and nonviolent conflict resolution? Are there any foreign bases he would close?  Does he think having U.S. troops in 175 nations is too many, too few, or just right? Does he support joining the ICC? Thanks for your time!”

A couple of days later, Gaughan called me on the phone.  We talked for a while about foreign policies, wars, peace, militarism, the economic advantages of converting to peaceful industries, the danger of handing war powers over to presidents.  He said he opposed wars. He said he wanted to take on the influence of the military industrial complex.  He didn’t seem particularly well informed, but he seemed to be coming from a fairly good place or to at least be willing to get there.

He proposed allowing military veterans to never pay any taxes.  That’s not exactly the sort of resistance to militarism that President Kennedy had in mind when he wrote that wars would continue until the conscientious objector has the honor and prestige of the soldier.  Gaughan offered no tax cuts for conscientious objectors.  Still, he said he’d get some good statements on foreign policy added to his website right away. He also said he’d be willing to debate the other candidates, including the incumbent, on foreign relations, should peace groups create such a forum and invite him.

Lo and behold, the next day, this appeared on Gaughan’s website: Read the rest of this entry →

Hubris Isn’t the Half of It

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

As our government was making a fraudulent case to attack Iraq in 2002-2003, the MSNBC television network was doing everything it could to help, including booting Phil Donahue and Jeff Cohen off the air.  The Donahue Show was deemed likely to be insufficiently war-boosting and was thus removed 10 years ago next week, and 10 days after the largest antiwar (or anything else) demonstrations in the history of the world, as a preemptive strike against the voices of honest peaceful people.

From there, MSNBC proceeded to support the war with mild critiques around the edges, and to white-out the idea of impeachment or accountability.

But now MSNBC has seen its way clear to airing a documentary about the fraudulent case it assisted in, a documentary titled Hubris.  This short film (which aired between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Monday night, but with roughly half of those minutes occupied by commercials) pointed out the role of the New York Times in defrauding the public, but not MSNBC’s role.

Yet, my primary response to that is joy rather than disgust.  It is now cool to acknowledge war lies.  Truth-tellers, including truth-tellers rarely presented with a corporate microphone, made that happen.

MSNBC host and Obama promoter Rachel Maddow even introduced Hubris by pointing to another war lie — the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn’t — and a war lie started by a Democrat in that case.  Similar lies can be found surrounding every war that has ever been, which is why I wrote War Is A Lie.  We have to stop imagining that “bad wars” are a subset of wars.

But, of course, using Maddow as the presenter and narrator of a film about Republican war lies during a period of unacknowledged Democratic war lies unavoidably gives the thing a partisan slant.  Watching Hubris, I was reminded of something that Michael Moore tweeted last Friday: “Senate Repubs: U started 2 illegal wars that broke the treasury & sacrificed the lives of thousands of our troops & countless civilians.”

Of course, the Senate that gave us the two wars in question was in reality controlled by Democrats, and the war lies were pushed hard by Senators Kerry, Clinton, and their comrades.  Hubris touches on this reality but not with sufficient clarity for most viewers — I suspect — to pick up on it.

The film presents a great deal of good evidence that the war on Iraq was based on lies.  Unavoidably, endless terrific bits of such evidence were not included.  Less excusably, also left out was an analysis of the evidence that only dishonesty — not incompetence — explains the propaganda that was produced.

Hubris is the wrong word for what took the United States into war with Iraq.  The forces at work were greed, lust for power, and sadistic vengeance.  The word “hubris” suggests the tragic downfall of the guilty party.  But the war on Iraq did not destroy the United States; it destroyed Iraq.  It damaged the United States, to be sure, but in a manner hardly worthy of mention in comparison to the sociocide committed against Iraq.

Hubris, the film, provides a reprehensibly ludicrous underestimation of Iraqi deaths, and only after listing U.S. casualties.

It was not pride but a disregard for human life that generated mass murder.  Congressman Walter Jones, who voted for the war, is shown in Hubris saying that he would have voted No if he had bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate that very few of his colleagues bothered to read.

Another talking head in the film is Lawrence Wilkerson.  He is, of course, the former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Wilkerson is shown explaining that the reason not to attack Iraq was that doing so would take a focus away from attacking Afghanistan.  Clearly this was not a reason that led to Wilkerson or Powell taking any kind of stand.

Wilkerson says in this film that he and Powell knew the war was based on lies, that the claims were junk, that no WMDs were likely to be found, etc.  Yet, when confronted last week by Norman Solomon on Democracy Now! with the question of why he hadn’t resigned in protest, Wilkerson claimed that at the time he’d had no idea whatsoever that there were good arguments against the war.  In fact, he blamed opponents of the war for not having contacted him to educate him on the matter.

The Hubris version of Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold.  Powell was not a victim.  He “knowingly lied.”

The same goes for Bush, Cheney, and gang.  According to Hubris it may have just been incompetence or hubris.  It wasn’t.  Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: “What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”

What’s the difference?  In a society based on the rule of law, the difference would be a criminal prosecution.  MSNBC and Hubris steer us away from any ideas of accountability.  And no connection is drawn to current war lies about Iran or other nations.

But the production of programs like this one that prolong Americans’ awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq are the best hope Iran has right now.  MSNBC should be contacted and applauded for airing this and urged to follow up on it.

Photo Courtesy of Charles Haynes released under Creative Commons License

Wars That Aren’t Meant to Be Won

10:22 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Untitled

War Forever

In War Is A Lie I looked at pretended and real reasons for wars and found some of the real reasons to be quite irrational.  It should not shock us then to discover that the primary goal in fighting a war is not always to win it.  Some wars are fought without a desire to win, others without winning being the top priority, either for the top war makers or for the ordinary soldiers.

In Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them, David Keen looks at wars around the world and discovers many in which winning is not an object.  Many of the examples are civil wars, many of them in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, some of them dragging on for decades.  Wars become sources of power, wealth, and prestige.  Exploiting civilians can take precedence for both sides over combatting each other.  So can exploiting international “aid” that flows as long as wars are raging, not to mention the international permission to commit crimes that is bestowed upon those fighting the communists or, more recently, the terrorists.  Of course a “war on terror” is itself blatantly chosen as an unwinnable goal around which to design a permanent emergency.  President Obama has just waived, again, sanctions on nations using child soldiers.  Those child soldiers are on our side.

“The weak (or nonexistent) criticism by aid agencies of human rights abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq in the context of a ‘war on terror’ — for example, the massacres of prisoners of war in Afghanistan in November 2001 and the torture at Abu Ghraib — was used by the government in Sri Lanka (as well as by governments in Russia, Colombia, Algeria and Pakistan) as evidence of ‘double standards’ on the part of aid agencies that tried to criticise them.”

Keen treats Western wars with the same analytical eye as any other wars, and with similar results.  The wars to combat “terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq have actually increased terrorism.  If the overriding goal were to reduce terrorism, we wouldn’t continue making war on Muslim nations.  Killing Afghan farmers for supporting the Taliban turns more of them to the Taliban.  And so, more of them are killed.  Paying for safe passage for U.S. materiel funds the Taliban.  Humanitarian aid is tied to the military occupation and resisted as such, fueling corruption and resentment rather than good will.  It also fuels an interest in prolonging a war without end on the part of locals profiting from it.

Is winning the objective?  Sometimes appearing to be winning in the short term overrides and actually impedes the work of winning in the long term.  One reason this goes unnoticed, I think, is that there is no coherent concept of what winning would look like.  We’re less aware, therefore, of not having reached it.  Rather than winning or losing, we think of wars as merely “ending.”  And if they end following a “surge” by our side, we imagine they’ve ended well, even while averting our eyes from the results.

Do U.S. war makers want their wars to end?  Perhaps if they can end without slowing the flow of war spending, and if they can end violently — that is, in a manner seeming to justify war.  Leading up to the recent NATO war on Libya, a U.S. weapons executive was asked by NPR what would happen if the occupation of Afghanistan ended.  His reply was that he hoped we could invade Libya.  During President Clinton’s second term, this ad was posted on a wall in the Pentagon:

“ENEMY WANTED: Mature North American Superpower seeks hostile partner for arms-racing, Third World conflicts, and general antagonism.  Must be sufficiently menacing to convince Congress of military financial requirements.  Nuclear capability is preferred; however, non-nuclear candidates possessing significant bio chemical warfare resources will be considered. . . .”

Jokes?  No doubt.  But not funny ones and not meaningless ones.

Drastic increases in U.S. military spending in the early 1950s, early 1980s, and early 2000s all followed economic recessions.  Money could have been spent on schools or solar panels or trains, and the economy would have benefited significantly more, but that would have been Socialism.

One reason for the U.S. bombing of Laos: the halting of the bombing of North Vietnam left a lot of planes and bombs without targets.  One reason that Keen offers for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait: Iraq had an oversized military in desperate need of a war.  And when the U.S. occupation recklessly disbanded that military, fuelling the resistance, the goal may not have been to fuel the resistance, but clearly an irrational drive to de-Baathify took precedence over achieving peace.

Beyond profits, wars create support for rightwing politics, and excuses to eliminate civil rights.  This is true at home, but also abroad.  Sanctions on Iran are moving the Iranian government away from where liberal reformers claim to want it.  Providing limited aid to a hopeless opposition in Syria that does not aim for democracy won’t produce democracy, but it will produce war.  And not just immediately, but lastingly.  U.S. backing of jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s fueled war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines, and the attacks of 911, just as the recent war in Libya is fueling war in Mali.

What lessons can be drawn?  Aid should go first and foremost to places free of war.  Rather than prioritizing the militarization and bombing of areas suffering human rights abuses (militarizing Bahrain when it backs the Pentagon, bombing Libya when it doesn’t), our top priority should be disarmament and demilitarization, that is to say: conversion of economies and societies to peaceful sustainable production.  One part of this work should be the enforcement of laws against war.  This week we can look to Guatemala and Italy for signs of hope, and to Washington for evidence that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Read the rest of this entry →