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While Cameron Defers to Parliament, Obama Locks into Warfare State of Mind

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The British Parliament’s rejection of an attack on Syria is a direct contrast — and implicit challenge — to the political war system of the United States.

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday night. At least for now, Uncle Sam’s poodle is off the leash.

Now all eyes turn to Congress, where the bar has suddenly been raised. Can the House of Representatives measure up to the House of Commons?

It’s a crucial question — but President Obama intends to render it moot with unwavering contempt for the war authority of Congress. Like his predecessors.

Even with war votes on Capitol Hill, the charade quotient has been high. The Gulf War began in early 1991 after the Senate vote for war was close: 52 to 47. But, as the PBS “Frontline” program reported years later, President George H.W. Bush had a plan in place: if Congress voted against going to war, he’d ignore Congress.

“The president privately, with the most inner circle, made absolutely clear he was going to go forward with this action even if he were impeached,” said Robert Gates, who was deputy national security advisor. “The truth of the matter is that while public opinion and the voice of Congress was important to Bush, I believe it had no impact on his decision about what he would do. He was going to throw that son of a bitch [Saddam Hussein] out of Kuwait, regardless of whether the Congress or the public supported him.”

By the Pentagon’s estimate, the six weeks of the Gulf War took the lives of 100,000 Iraqi people. “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Colin Powell, said at the time.

Eight years later, the War Powers Act’s 60-day deadline for congressional approval of U.S. warfare expired on May 25, 1999 — but large-scale U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia continued. Bill Clinton was unable to get authorization from Congress but, like other wartime presidents before and since, he ignored the law that was passed in 1973 to constrain autocratic war-making. Republican Rep. Tom Campbell said: “The president is in violation of the law. That is clear.” Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich said: “The war continues unauthorized, without the consent of the governed.” And President Clinton said, in effect, I don’t care.

In October 2002, President George W. Bush won congressional approval for an invasion of Iraq, waving the fig leaf that passage would strengthen his hand at the bargaining table. Of course Bush got what he wanted — a full-scale war on Iraq.

“The president’s ability to decide when and where to use America’s military power is now absolute,” pundit Michael Kinsley observed, writing in Time magazine in mid-April 2003, just after the U.S. occupation of Iraq began. “Congress cannot stop him. That’s not what the Constitution says, and it’s not what the War Powers Act says, but that’s how it works in practice.”

That’s how it works in practice.

We’ve got to change how it works in practice.

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From Great Man to Great Screwup

4:13 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

When the wheels are coming off, it doesn’t do much good to change the driver.

Whatever the name of the commanding general in Afghanistan, the U.S. war effort will continue its carnage and futility.

Between the lines, some news accounts are implying as much. Hours before Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that "the firestorm was fueled by increasing doubts — even in the military — that Afghanistan can be won and by crumbling public support for the nine-year war as American casualties rise."

It now does McChrystal little good that news media have trumpeted everything from his Spartan personal habits (scarcely eats or sleeps) to his physical stamina (runs a lot) to his steel-trap alloy of military smarts and scholarship (reads history). Any individual is expendable.

For months, the McChrystal star had been slipping. A few days before the Rolling Stone piece caused a sudden plunge from war-making grace, Time Magazine’s conventional-wisdom weathervane Joe Klein was notably down on McChrystal’s results: "Six months after Barack Obama announced his new Afghan strategy in a speech at West Point, the policy seems stymied."

Now, words like "stymied" and "stalemate" are often applied to the Afghanistan war. But that hardly means the U.S. military is anywhere near withdrawal.

Walter Cronkite used the word "stalemate" in his famous February 1968 declaration to CBS viewers that the Vietnam War couldn’t be won. "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," he said. And: "It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate."

Yet the U.S. war on Vietnam continued for another five years, inflicting more unspeakable horrors on a vast scale.

Like thousands of other U.S. activists, I’ve been warning against escalation of the Afghanistan war for a long time. Opposition has grown, but today the situation isn’t much different than what I described in an article on December 9, 2008: "Bedrock faith in the Pentagon’s massive capacity for inflicting violence is implicit in the nostrums from anointed foreign-policy experts. The echo chamber is echoing: the Afghanistan war is worth the cost that others will pay."

The latest events reflect unwritten rules for top military commanders: Escalating a terrible war is fine. Just don’t say anything mean about your boss.

But the most profound aspects of Rolling Stone’s article "The Runaway General" have little to do with the general. The takeaway is — or should be — that the U.S. war in Afghanistan is an insoluble disaster, while the military rationales that propel it are insatiable. "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further," the article points out. And "counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war."

There was something plaintive and grimly pathetic about the last words of the New York Times editorial that arrived on desks just hours before the general’s White House meeting with the commander in chief: "Whatever President Obama decides to do about General McChrystal, he needs to get hold of his Afghanistan policy right now."

Like their counterparts at media outlets across the United States, members of the Times editorial board are clinging to the counterinsurgency dream.

But none of such pro-war handwringing makes as much sense as a simple red-white-and-blue bumper sticker that says: "These colors don’t run . . . the world."

Fierce controversy has focused on terminating a runaway general. But the crying need is to terminate a runaway war.