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Our Twisted Politics of Grief

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

9/11 Smoking WTC Tower

Our politicized grief over 9/11 continues to cost lives worldwide.

Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal—yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.

The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.

The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.

For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent.

Drones became a key weapon—and symbol—of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones—integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA—has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.

Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement—when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior—notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.

The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot—exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.

However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.

In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.”

A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” A daring leap for a white American assessing race in 1865. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.

*****

We might say ’twas ever thus: countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand—like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans—is vital. And grievously incomplete.

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Renouncing the “War on Terror”

2:44 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

As a perpetual emotion machine — producing and guzzling its own political fuel — the “war on terror” continues to normalize itself as a thoroughly American way of life and death. Ongoing warfare has become a matter of default routine, pushed along by mainline media and the leadership of both parties in Washington. Without a clear and effective upsurge of opposition from the grassroots, Americans can expect to remain citizens of a war-driven country for the rest of their lives.

Across the United States, many thousands of peeling bumper stickers on the road say: “End this Endless War.” They got mass distribution from MoveOn.org back in 2007, when a Republican was in the White House. Now, a thorough search of the MoveOn website might leave the impression that endless war ended with the end of the George W. Bush presidency.

MoveOn is very big as online groups go, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem among an array of left-leaning organizations that have made their peace with the warfare state. Such silence assists the Obama administration as it makes the “war on terror” even more resolutely bipartisan and further embedded in the nation’s political structures — while doing immense damage to our economy, siphoning off resources that should go to meet human needs, further militarizing society and undermining civil liberties.

Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)

Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe . . . with more on the drawing boards.

On Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on “targeted killing,” the proceedings underscored the great extent of bipartisan overlap for common killing ground. Republican super-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham lauded President Obama for “targeting people in a very commander-in-chief-like way.” And what passed for senatorial criticism took as a given the need for continuing drone strikes. In the words of the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, “More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for those attacks.

This is classic tinkering with war machinery. During the first several years of the Vietnam War, very few senators went beyond mild kibitzing about how the war could be better waged. In recent years, during President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan that tripled the U.S. troop levels in that country, senators like John Kerry (now secretary of state) kept offering their helpful hints for how to fine tune the war effort.

The “war on terror” is now engaged in various forms of military intervention in an estimated two-dozen countries, killing and maiming uncounted civilians while creating new enemies. It infuses foreign policy with unhinged messages hidden in plain sight, like a purloined letter proclaiming “What goes around won’t come around” and telling the world “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Political ripple effects from the Boston Marathon bombings have only begun. While public opinion hasn’t gotten carried away with fear, much of the news media — television in particular — is stoking the fires of fear but scarcely raising a single question that might challenge the basic assumptions of a forever “war on terror.”

After a city has been traumatized and a country has empathized, a constructive takeaway would be that it’s terribly wrong to set off bombs that kill and maim. But that outlook is a nonstarter the moment it might be applied to victims of U.S. drones and cruise missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The message seems to be that Americans should never be bombed but must keep bombing.

The death of Richie Havens days ago is a loss and reminder. Each of us has only so many days ahead. We may as well live them with deeper meaning, for peace and social justice. To hear Havens performing the song “Lives in the Balance” written by another great musician, Jackson Browne, is to be awakened anew:

I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

The Orwellian Warfare State of Carnage and Doublethink

12:50 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

After the bombings that killed and maimed so horribly at the Boston Marathon, our country’s politics and mass media are awash in heartfelt compassion — and reflexive “doublethink,” which George Orwell described as willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”

In sync with media outlets across the country, the New York Times put a chilling headline on Wednesday’s front page: “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim, Officials Say.” The story reported that nails and ball bearings were stuffed into pressure cookers, “rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast.”

Much less crude and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, CBU-87/B warheads were in the category of “combined effects munitions” when put to use 14 years ago by a bomber named Uncle Sam. The U.S. media coverage was brief and fleeting.

One Friday, at noontime, U.S.-led NATO forces dropped cluster bombs on the city of Nis, in the vicinity of a vegetable market. “The bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market, bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets of Serbia’s third-largest city with shrapnel,” a dispatch in the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 8, 1999.

And: “In a street leading from the market, dismembered bodies were strewn among carrots and other vegetables in pools of blood. A dead woman, her body covered with a sheet, was still clutching a shopping bag filled with carrots.”

Pointing out that cluster bombs “explode in the air and hurl shards of shrapnel over a wide radius,” BBC correspondent John Simpson wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare.”

Savage did not preclude usage. As a matter of fact, to Commander in Chief Bill Clinton and the prevailing military minds in Washington, savage was bound up in the positive attributes of cluster bombs. Each one could send up to 60,000 pieces of jagged steel shrapnel into what the weapon’s maker described as “soft targets.”

An unusually diligent reporter, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times, reported from Pristina, Yugoslavia: “During five weeks of airstrikes, witnesses here say, NATO warplanes have dropped cluster bombs that scatter smaller munitions over wide areas. In military jargon, the smaller munitions are bomblets. Dr. Rade Grbic, a surgeon and director of Pristina’s main hospital, sees proof every day that the almost benign term bomblet masks a tragic impact. Grbic, who saved the lives of two ethnic Albanian boys wounded while other boys played with a cluster bomb found Saturday, said he had never done so many amputations.”

The LA Times article quoted Dr. Grbic: “I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs.” He added: “They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. It’s awful, awful.”

The newspaper account went on: “Pristina’s hospital alone has treated 300 to 400 people wounded by cluster bombs since NATO’s air war began March 24, Grbic said. Roughly half of those victims were civilians, he said. Because that number doesn’t include those killed by cluster bombs and doesn’t account for those wounded in other regions of Yugoslavia, the casualty toll probably is much higher, he said. ‘Most people are victims of the time-activated cluster bombs that explode some time after they fall,’ he said.”

Later, during invasions and initial periods of occupation, the U.S. military dropped cluster bombs in Afghanistan and fired cluster munitions in Iraq.

Today, the U.S. State Department remains opposed to outlawing those weapons, declaring on its official website: “Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk.”

The State Department position statement adds: “Moreover, cluster munitions can often result in much less collateral damage than unitary weapons, such as a larger bomb or larger artillery shell would cause, if used for the same mission.” Perhaps the bomber(s) who stuffed nails and ball bearings into pressure cookers for use in Boston had a similarly twisted rationale.

But don’t expect explorations of such matters from the USA’s daily papers or commercial networks — or from the likes of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” or the PBS “NewsHour.” When the subject is killing and maiming, such news outlets take as a given the presumptive moral high ground of the U.S. government.

In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of “stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought . . . and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

The doublethink — continually reinforced by mass media — remains within an irony-free zone that would amount to mere self-satire if not so damaging to intellectual and moral coherence.

Every news report about the children killed and injured at the finish line in Boston, every account of the horrific loss of limbs, makes me think of a little girl named Guljumma. She was seven years old when I met her at an Afghan refugee camp one day in the summer of 2009.

At the time, I wrote: “Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.”

In the refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where several hundred families were living in squalid conditions, the U.S. government was providing no help. The last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.

War thrives on abstractions, but Guljumma was no abstraction. She was no more or less of an abstraction than the children whose lives have been forever wrecked by the bombing at the Boston finish line.

But the same U.S. news media that are conveying the preciousness of children so terribly harmed in Boston are scarcely interested in children like Guljumma.

I thought of her again when seeing news reports and a chilling photo on April 7, soon after 11 children in eastern Afghanistan were even more unlucky than she was. Those children died from a U.S./NATO air strike. For mainline American journalists, it wasn’t much of a story; for American officials, it was no big deal.

“Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip,” Orwell observed, “but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.”

Gun “Background Check” on Pentagon

2:17 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Stringent “background checks” are central to many proposals for curbing gun violence. The following is a background check on the nation’s largest buyer of firearms:

The applicant, U.S. Pentagon, seeks to purchase a wide variety of firearms in vast quantities. This background check has determined that the applicant has a long history of assisting individuals, organizations and governments prone to gun violence.

Pentagon has often served as an active accomplice or direct perpetrator of killings on a mass scale. During the last five decades, the applicant has directly inflicted large-scale death and injuries in numerous countries, among them the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan (partial list). Resulting fatalities are estimated to have been more than 5 million people.

For purposes of this background check, special attention has been necessarily focused on the scope of firearms currently sought by Pentagon. They include numerous types of semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles as well as many other assault weapons. Continuing purchases by the applicant include drones and cruise missiles along with the latest models of compatible projectiles and matching explosives.

Notable on Pentagon’s shopping list is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. This “bunker buster” weapon — with a weight of 30,000 pounds, set for delivery by a B-2 stealth bomber — is for prospective use in Iran.

While considering the likely outcomes of authorizing Pentagon to purchase such large-scale assault weapons, past lethal recklessness should be viewed in context of present-day mindset. A meaningful background check must include a current psychological profile.

Despite the abundant evidence of massive carnage made possible by past Pentagon acquisitions of firearms and other weapons, the applicant is unrepentant. This indicates that the applicant is sociopathic — unwilling to acknowledge, let alone express any semblance of remorse for, pain and suffering inflicted on human beings.

The unrepentant character of Pentagon is reflected in continued use of the alias “Department of Defense.” This background check strongly indicates the prevalence of a highly functional yet psychically numbed institutional personality disorder, with reflexive denial and perennial insistence on claiming victim status even while victimizing others.

In addition, Pentagon has used guns of all types to fire on countless numbers of civilians including young people. The ongoing threat to children posed by weapons in the hands of the applicant, therefore, is grave.

Grim evidence emerged with the unauthorized release of the “Collateral Murder” video three years ago by WikiLeaks. That video, filmed in 2007 in the district of New Baghdad, showed a callous disregard for human life as 30 mm cannon fire from Apache helicopters caused the deaths of nearly a dozen Iraqi adults while wounding two children.

In a deeply sociopathic mode, Pentagon — rather than expressing remorse or taking action to prevent such tragedies in the future — has sought retribution against those shedding light on many of such terrible actions. Pentagon has subjected whistleblower Bradley Manning to protracted inhumane treatment and relentless prosecution. By sharp contrast, in the last few days alone, tens of thousands of people have expressed their admiration, love and support by signing an online letter to Thank Bradley Manning.

Meanwhile, Pentagon is seeking approvals for items ranging from new firearms to F-35 jet fighters, recently dubbed by Time magazine “the costliest weapons program in human history.”

Even a cursory background check on the applicant must conclude that augmenting Pentagon’s vast stockpile of guns and other weapons would be unconscionable.

If background checks are to be a meaningful tool for curbing gun violence, they must apply to individuals and institutions alike, without fear or favor. Read the rest of this entry →

Stopping Endless War and “the Evil That We Deplore”

11:29 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

barbara lee

Rep. Barbara Lee

Congress waited six years to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution after it opened the bloody floodgates for the Vietnam War in August 1964.

If that seems slow, consider the continuing failure of Congress to repeal the “war on terror” resolution — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that sailed through, with just one dissenting vote, three days after 9/11.

Prior to casting the only “no” vote, Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke on the House floor. “As we act,” she said, “let us not become the evil that we deplore.”

We have. That’s why, more than 11 years later, Lee’s prophetic one-minute speech is so painful to watch. The “war on terror” has inflicted carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere as a matter of routine. Targets change, but the assumed prerogative to kill with impunity remains.

Now, Rep. Lee has introduced H.R. 198, a measure to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force. (This week, several thousand people have already used a RootsAction.org special webpage to email their Senators and House members about repealing that “authorization” for endless war.) Opposed to repeal, the Obama administration is pleased to keep claiming that the 137-month-old resolution justifies everything from on-the-ground troops in combat to drone strikes and kill lists to flagrant abrogation of civil liberties.

A steep uphill incline faces efforts to repeal the resolution that issued a blank political check for war in the early fall of 2001. Struggling to revoke it is a valuable undertaking. Yet even repeal would be unlikely to end the “war on terror.”

At the start of 1971, President Nixon felt compelled to sign a bill that included repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. By then, he had shifted his ostensible authority for continuing the war on Vietnam — asserting his prerogative as commander in chief. Leaders of the warfare state never lack for rationales when they want to keep making war.

In retrospect, the U.S. “war on terror” has turned out to be even more tenacious than the U.S. war that took several million lives in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Some key similarities resonate with current circumstances. Year after year, in Congress, support for the Vietnam War was bipartisan. Presidents Johnson and Nixon preached against unauthorized violence in America’s cities while inflicting massive violence in Southeast Asia. Both presidents were fond of proclaiming fervent wishes for peace.

But unlike the horrific war in Southeast Asia, the ongoing and open-ended “war on terror” is not confined by geography or, apparently, by calendar. The search for enemies to smite (and create) is availing itself of a bottomless pit, while bottom-feeding military contractors keep making a killing.

Beyond the worthy goal of repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force is a need for Congress to cut off appropriations for the “war on terror.” A prerequisite: repudiating the lethal mythology of righteous war unbounded by national borders or conceivable duration.

What may be even more difficult to rescind is the chronic disconnect between lofty oratory and policies digging the country deeper into endless war.

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” President Obama said in his 2013 inaugural address, after four years of doing more than any other president in U.S. history to normalize perpetual war as a bipartisan enterprise.

Repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force will be very hard. Revoking the power to combine lovely rhetoric with pernicious militarism will be even more difficult.

Photo by Youth Radio under Creative Commons license

What Obama Said — and What He Meant — About Climate Change, War and Civil Liberties

11:33 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Barck Obama

Norman Solomon translates the State of the Union for us.

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.

We’ve done so little to combat climate change — we must do more.

I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.

The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

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A Speech for Endless War

8:37 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

On the last night of August, the president used an Oval Office speech to boost a policy of perpetual war.

Hours later, the New York Times front page offered a credulous gloss for the end of “the seven-year American combat mission in Iraq.” The first sentence of the coverage described the speech as saying “that it is now time to turn to pressing problems at home.” The story went on to assert that Obama “used the moment to emphasize that he sees his primary job as addressing the weak economy and other domestic issues — and to make clear that he intends to begin disengaging from the war in Afghanistan next summer.”

But the speech gave no real indication of a shift in priorities from making war to creating jobs. And the oratory “made clear” only the repetition of vague vows to “begin” disengaging from the Afghanistan war next summer. In fact, top administration officials have been signaling that only token military withdrawals are apt to occur in mid-2011, and Obama said nothing to the contrary.

While now trumpeting the nobility of an Iraq war effort that he’d initially disparaged as “dumb,” Barack Obama is polishing a halo over the Afghanistan war, which he touts as very smart. In the process, the Oval Office speech declared that every U.S. war — no matter how mendacious or horrific — is worthy of veneration.

Obama closed the speech with a tribute to “an unbroken line of heroes” stretching “from Khe Sanh to Kandahar — Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own.” His reference to the famous U.S. military outpost in South Vietnam was a chilling expression of affinity for another march of folly.

With his commitment to war in Afghanistan, President Obama is not only on the wrong side of history. He is also now propagating an exculpatory view of any and all U.S. war efforts — as if the immoral can become the magnificent by virtue of patriotic alchemy.

A century ago, William Dean Howells wrote: “What a thing it is to have a country that can’t be wrong, but if it is, is right, anyway!”

During the presidency of George W. Bush, “the war on terror” served as a rationale for establishing warfare as a perennial necessity. The Obama administration may have shelved the phrase, but the basic underlying rationales are firmly in place. With American troop levels in Afghanistan near 100,000, top U.S. officials are ramping up rhetoric about “taking the fight to” the evildoers.

The day before the Oval Office speech, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs talked to reporters about “what this drawdown means to our national security efforts in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia and around the world as we take the fight to Al Qaeda.”

The next morning, Obama declared at Fort Bliss: “A lot of families are now being touched in Afghanistan. We’ve seen casualties go up because we’re taking the fight to Al Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies.” And, for good measure, Obama added that “now, under the command of Gen. Petraeus, we have the troops who are there in a position to start taking the fight to the terrorists.”

If, nine years after 9/11, we are supposed to believe that U.S. forces can now “start” taking the fight to “the terrorists,” this is truly war without end. And that’s the idea.

Nearly eight years ago, in November 2002, retired U.S. Army Gen. William Odom appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program and told viewers: “Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism."

With his Aug. 31 speech, Obama became explicit about the relationship between reduced troop levels in Iraq and escalation in Afghanistan. “We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists,” he said. “And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense.” This is the approach of endless war.

While Obama was declaring that “our most urgent task is to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work,” I went to a National Priorities Project webpage and looked at cost-of-war counters spinning like odometers in manic overdrive. The figures for the “Cost of War in Afghanistan” — already above $329 billion — are now spinning much faster than the ones for war in Iraq.

One day in March 1969, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Our government has become preoccupied with death,” George Wald said, “with the business of killing and being killed.” More than four decades later, how much has really changed?

Gen. Petraeus Goes to Media War

3:33 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

It’s already history. In mid-August 2010, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan launched a huge media campaign to prevent any substantial withdrawal of military forces the next summer.

The morning after Gen. David Petraeus appeared in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to promote the war effort, the New York Times front-paged news of its own interview with him — reporting that the general “suggested that he would resist any large-scale or rapid withdrawal of American forces.”

In fact, the general signaled that he might oppose any reduction of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan a year from now. During the NBC interview, the Times noted, “Petraeus even appeared to leave open the possibility that he would recommend against any withdrawal of American forces next summer.”

On Monday, the Washington Post also published the twisty line of the suddenly interview-hungry Petraeus, reporting that “he remains supportive of President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing troops next July, but he said it is far too soon to determine the size of the drawdown.” The newspaper observed that “the general’s presence in Kabul, as opposed to the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, could make him a far more forceful voice for attenuating the drawdown if he chooses to make that case.”

“Attenuating the drawdown” means keeping the war machinery at full throttle.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, with the evident approval of the White House, has launched a fierce media blitz to cripple the policy option of any significant military withdrawal a year from now. Riding high in what is supposed to be a civilian-run military, Petraeus is engaging in strategic media operations to manipulate what should be a democratic process on matters of war and peace.

Who bears ultimate responsibility for this manipulative, anti-democratic behavior? The commander in chief.

Ominously, the Petraeus media offensive got underway just days after presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs picked a fight with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — a wing that has been strengthening its opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

More than four decades after President Johnson used the term “nervous Nellies” to disparage the growing number of Democrats who voiced dissent about the war in Vietnam, the Obama White House is now disparaging progressive dissenters with terms like “the professional left.”

Every week, President Obama is sacrificing billions of dollars and uncounted lives in the service of what Martin Luther King Jr. called — at a time of another horrific war effort — “the madness of militarism.” Then, as now, a Democrat in the White House augmented the momentum of the Pentagon’s war train, boosting it with eagerness to appear tough and avoid Republican charges of weakness.

While history is not exactly repeating, it is rhyming. Like a dirge.

Now, as in the era of Dr. King’s final years, war is escalating while the lures of silence or equivocation are widely viewed as prudent. Rationales for muting dissent keep pitching for complicity.

The immediate problem is one of political acquiescence. Right now, it’s time to speak up against the efforts by a top general to stampede this country into more war. No matter who is willing to go along with the madness of militarism, we must not.

State of Denial: After the Big Leak, Spinning for War

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Washington’s spin machine is in overdrive to counter the massive leak of documents on Afghanistan. Much of the counterattack revolves around the theme that the documents aren’t particularly relevant to this year’s new-and-improved war effort.

The White House seized on the timeframe of the documents released by WikiLeaks. “The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy,” a White House email told reporters on Sunday evening. “Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.”

Unfortunately, the “change in strategy” has remained on the same basic track as the old strategy — except for escalation. On Tuesday morning, the lead story on the New York Times website noted: “As the debate over the war begins anew, administration officials have been striking tones similar to the Bush administration’s to argue for continuing the current Afghanistan strategy, which calls for a significant troop buildup.”

Even while straining to depict the U.S. war policy as freshly hatched since last winter, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs solemnly proclaimed that the basis for it hasn’t changed since the autumn of 2001. “We are in this region of the world because of what happened on 9/11,” Gibbs said on Monday. “Ensuring that there is not a safe haven in Afghanistan by which attacks against this country and countries around the world can be planned.” In other words: a nifty rationale for perpetual war.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill were eager to rebrand the war. “Under the new counterinsurgency strategy implemented earlier this year, we now have the pieces in place to turn things around,” said the head of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton. “These leaked reports pre-date our new strategy in Afghanistan and should not be used as a measure of success or a determining factor in our continued mission there.”

Other prominent war supporters in Washington have tried to show how open they are to tweaking the same doomed approach that they’re clinging to. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, continued his record of hollow leadership by speaking of a need for “calibrations.” A statement from Kerry declared that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

The Washington Post reported that — “while the leaks may add to the volume of the debate” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “said they do not address current circumstances. ‘A lot of it predates the president’s new policy,’ Pelosi said.” The speaker’s discomfort with the war has not stopped her from serving as a reluctant enabler.

What has been most significant about “the president’s new policy” is the steady step-up of bombing in Afghanistan and the raising of U.S. troop levels in that country to a total of 100,000. None of what was basically wrong with the war last year has been solved by the “new policy.” On the contrary.

Consider the wording of a Washington Post report that “the documents provide new insights into a period in which the Taliban was gaining strength, Afghan civilians were growing increasingly disillusioned with their government, and U.S. troops in the field often expressed frustration at having to fight a war without sufficient resources.”

In the current stage of denial, administration spinners are acutely eager to distinguish the “new policy” from events as recent as last year — as though we’re supposed to believe it’s no longer the case that the Taliban is “gaining strength” or that Afghan civilians are “growing increasingly disillusioned with their government.”

And if, these days, “U.S. troops in the field” are not as inclined to express “frustration at having to fight a war without sufficient resources,” the latest boosts of Pentagon outlays for war in Afghanistan merely reflect the unhinged escalation of a war effort that should not exist.

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Norman Solomon is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

War Conformity in the Senate: It’s Unanimous!

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

For the warfare state, it doesn’t get any better than 99 to 0.

Every living senator voted Wednesday to approve Gen. David Petraeus as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Call it the unanimity of lemmings — except the senators and their families aren’t the ones who’ll keep plunging into the sea.

No, the killing and suffering and dying will be left to others: American soldiers who, for the most part, had scant economic opportunities in civilian life. And Afghans trapped between terrible poverty and escalating violence.

The senatorial conformity, of course, won’t lack for rationales. It rarely does.

An easy default position is that the president has the right to select his top military officers. (Then why is Senate confirmation required?) Or: This is a pivotal time for the war in Afghanistan. (All the more reason for senators to take responsibility instead of serving as a rubber stamp for the White House.)

In today’s Senate, the conformity is so thick that it’s almost enough to make you nostalgic for the Senate of four and a half decades ago. At least there were a couple of clear dissenters from the outset — first and foremost, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, who in August 1964 voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that “authorized” the horrors of the U.S. war on Vietnam.

Within a couple of years, appreciable dissent was coming from William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Frank Church and George McGovern. Then Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy and other senators.

The process of getting off the war train was pitifully slow, in view of the wholesale deadly ferocity of the Vietnam War — and in view of the fact that Congress, like the U.S. news media, lagged so far behind the clarity of opposition emerging from many millions of Americans. Whatever good happened on Capitol Hill was a direct result of the anti-war movement and more generalized public sentiment against continuing the war.

In the Senate of 2010, the baseline of conscience and courage is at an abysmally low level.

When the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the course of the Afghan war, his tactical objections dodged the fundamentals of the escalating conflagration. And so, Levin dutifully declared that Petraeus will “bring highly experienced leadership and a profound understanding of the president’s strategy in Afghanistan.”

Chiming in was Sen. John McCain, who lauded the general as “one of the finest military leaders our country has ever produced.” McCain has long been appreciative of Petraeus’ record, including his services as a military spinmeister for President George W. Bush’s Iraq war policies midway through the decade.

In 2007, a notable ad from MoveOn.org described Petraeus as “a military man constantly at war with the facts.” There’s no reason to believe that Petraeus is more candid these days. At any rate, the policy from the White House is what really matters, not the proclivities of any particular general.

Like mice who won’t try to bell the chief-executive cat, senators complain but keep on purring. That explains their unanimous vote for a general pledging to stay the course in Afghanistan.

Every few months, I take another look at footage of Sen. Morse directly challenging the war president, a man of his own party. It’s inspiring — yet painful to watch, because of the sharp contrast with today’s mealy-mouthed senators.

A growing number of House members are lining up against the Afghanistan war, although they’re far short of a majority. Meanwhile, the Senate is a bastion of bluster. The overarching congressional problem is a pattern of doing what the war machinery requires — most importantly, voting to pay for the war. Until that stops, the war won’t stop.