Bush Redux

Repeating a now ubiquitous Republican assertion, Jeb Bush recently claimed that President Obama was responsible for ISIS because he pulled American troops out of Iraq too quickly. This is nonsense for two reasons. First and more obvious, it was his brother President George Bush (or more correctly, the undead who manipulated him) who invaded Iraq for no compelling reason and eliminated a stable and secular regime that was holding Iraq together. Yes, Sadam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but when has that ever got in the way of American foreign policy? We supported him during his ineffective war against revolutionary Iran, and he was a Sunni, like all our hillbilly friends in the Gulf. Baghdad was one of the places where Saudi princes went to get a drink or a woman. And he was a priority target for al-Qaeda, second only to the Saudi royal family.

Saddam

Saddam

Jeb

Jeb

W

W

As everyone except Vice President Dick Cheney now knows, Saddam was absolutely no threat to the United States, and we entered what passes for a major war these days with no casus belli. We in effect waged a war of aggression and were forced to come up with some nonsense about Iraq violating the terms of the Gulf War armistice. Why we did this is not at all clear to me, but Bush’s neocon advisors seemed to have some new program for the Middle East. I expect the generals, the military contractors and the Israelis were all whispering in the President’s ear.

 

Incompetence prevailed during the course of the war, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, should have been prosecuted. Crushing Saddam’s military was efficiently done – we do have an excellent military – but everything else, especially in the postwar period, betrayed a criminal lack of planning and an unbelievable lack of understanding of Iraq. It did not take a towering intelligence to see that disbanding the Iraqi army and firing every single administrator, bureaucrat and teacher because they were members the Ba’ath Party would leave Iraq without its state infrastructure. Ignoring warnings, the administration supported as Prime Minister and our man in Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, who quickly emerged as a Shiite tyrant, disaffecting the Sunni minority and completely ruining the American-trained (and paid for) Iraqi army, whose best Sunni officers are now working for ISIS. Unwilling to fight for the oppressive government in Baghdad, the well-armed Sunni tribesmen stood aside as ISIS seized town after town in western Iraq.

"Screw the Sunnis."

“Screw the Sunnis.”

"I am Death."

“I am Death.”

"Known unknowns and unknown unknowns"

“Known unknowns and unknown unknowns”

Second, it was impossible to reach a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad. Iraqis in general wanted US forces out of their country, and the government resisted granting the US military and its contractors the extensive immunity from local prosecution desired by Washington. Consequently, if we stayed, we would be an occupying army, which some Iraqis were convinced was already the case. And a majority of Americans supported withdrawal, sick of this costly war that did not seem to be serving any national interests beyond transferring tax revenues to companies like Haliburton.

 

To be sure, Obama (though more likely his military and intelligence people) might have taken notice of the rise of ISIS sooner, but the prime reason for the appearance of ISIS was the power vacuum and incompetent “democratic” government created in the wake of America’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Iraq. And that was your brother’s administration, Jeb, not Barack Obama’s. The Syrian civil war played a role of course, but it was the regime change and disbanding of the Iraqi army that opened the door to the Caliphate of Doom. Had that ruthless bastard Sadam still been around, who knows what might have happened?

Some of the major beneficiaries of the Iraq War:

"Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs."

“Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs.”

"Hey, we made money."

“Hey, we made money.”

"Ready to kill!"

“Ready to kill!”

Candidate Bush should know all this of course. For all his statements about being “his own man,” 19 of his 21 foreign policy advisors previously worked for his brother and/or his father. This fun group includes some fairly unsavory characters, behind the scenes professionals who never seem to lack for a job no matter how much they screw up. At the top of the list is the infamous and disgusting Paul Wolfowitz, Bush II’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, who created an office in the Pentagon to push for an invasion of Iraq, deliberately delivering false information to the media and government and obscuring the skepticism of the intelligence community. Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley also ignored warnings from the CIA and FBI, allowing Bush to make false claims; he was subsequently rewarded with promotion to National Security Advisor. And how about Meghan O’Sullivan, perhaps the top advisor to Paul Bremer, the man now recognized for his utter incompetence as the Imperial Viceroy of Iraq.

"No Ba'athists, no army and if you don't like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it."

Bremer “No Ba’athists, no army and if you don’t like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it.”

"We are the world."

Wolfowitz “We are the world.”

"You can rely on me."

Hadley “You can rely on me.”

So, much of the team that brought us the Iraq war is presumably working on how to deal with ISIS. This should be good.

 

Incidentally, allow me to throw in a telling statistic that puts the whole War on Terror in perspective. Between 9/11 and now 74 Americans (exclusive of the military) have been killed by people identified as terrorists; in that same period 150,000 Americans have been murdered with firearms. I suppose one way to look at this is that the War on Terror is working.

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The Gifts Terrorists Bear

The prime directive of virtually all governments is to defend and expand their power. This holds true whether that government is authoritarian or democratic, whether its intentions are malevolent or benign, whether the head of state is King Tiglath-Pileser or President Obama.  Of course, an Assyrian king and an American President face different problems when it comes to defending their government’s power.  If you have absolute power and are ruling as an agent of divine forces, you need only keep an eye on the priesthood and your family members, whereas a modern autocrat must mind the army, bureaucracy and the people.  Naturally, the democratically elected ruler has more constraints and a limited tenure, but there appears nevertheless to be a common inclination that your government should exercise as much power as possible, even if that government may pass into the hands of the opposition.  And certainly the unelected bureaucracy that underpins the government and its agencies wishes to retain as much authority as it can.

 

The premier mechanism for expanding a government’s power is dealing with threats, domestic or foreign, real or imagined.  War has traditionally been a way, at least for authoritarian regimes, to deal with domestic discontent and unite the population behind the government in a burst of nationalism, though one must of course win the war, as the Argentinian generals discovered.  Exterminating Chechens is popular with Russians, so Putin has engaged in wars in Chechnya to improve his standing; now it is the Ukraine.  On the other hand, wars, even the limited ones that have characterized the post-WW II world, are very expensive, though guaranteed money-makers for sundry corporations.

 

Wars typically produce emergency powers, which then tend to remain even when the threat is gone.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, enacted in 1964, gave the President the power to wage war without a Congressional declaration of such, and though it was limited by the War Powers Act of 1973, the fact is that fifty years later the US President still essentially has the power to send troops around the planet and bomb countries against whom we have not declared war.

 

Domestic threats are excellent, since they are more immediate and more easily engender the fear that governments can take advantage of.  The classic example has been the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933 by a Dutch communist, which act provided Hitler with the excuse to assume dictatorial powers.  This has now been supplemented by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, which resulted in the constitutionally questionable Patriot Act and dramatically increased powers of surveillance and policing.  Note that President Obama, a liberal, has not surrendered those powers, despite their seemingly being against his general political philosophy.

 

The greatest example of the usefulness of domestic threats to the government is found in the USSR under Stalin.  The constant threat of spies, counter-revolutionaries and “wreckers” allowed the General Secretary to rid himself of anyone he desired and develop the largest security apparatus the world has seen.  The young Soviet government did of course fight a civil war and suffer foreign intervention, but one might question why a decade and more later the most totalitarian state on the planet was still suffering wave after wave of treasonous plots and sabotage.  Could virtually all the Old Bolsheviks be traitors?  How could it be that in the thirties the vast majority of the military hierarchy were conspiring against the regime and working for foreign powers?  Why were ardent Stalinists being arrested?

 

The often farcical Stalinist Terror is a wonderful demonstration of how people will believe what they want.  Many intellectuals of course saw through things like the Show Trials, but it is amazing how many intelligent people believed it was a mistake when they were arrested and sent off to the gulag: “If only Comrade Stalin knew…”  Building socialism was not child’s play, and fulfilling the dream required harsh methods inasmuch as it spurred such destructive responses from the reactionary elements, who despite being imprisoned and executed by the millions apparently still constituted a huge percentage of the population.  And Stalin was able to play this game until he died of old age in 1953.

 

Communism was a great resource for non-communist governments.  Communists were not only a foreign threat, justifying all sorts of military expenditures and silly conflicts, but they were a magnificent fifth column, providing an excellent domestic threat, useful for pumping up governmental power.  There was also a wonderful kind of vagueness about this threat, allowing anyone with leftist leanings to be identified as a “communist” and thus someone inclined to overthrow the state, perhaps even as an agent of the Evil Communist Empire.  We now know that some American clients would alert Washington to an imaginary “communist threat” in their countries in order to squeeze military and financial aid from the gullible Yankees.  And communist Cuba with its aid to anti-government movements in Latin America provided the US with the perfect excuse to claim every popular uprising against an authoritarian state (usually supported by the US) was communist inspired.

 

Well, the communists are pretty much gone now (and czarist Russia has reemerged, this time with nuclear weapons), so what is a government interested in putting paranoia to work to do?  Enter terrorism.  As far as the purposes of the government are concerned, “communism” and “terrorism” are virtually synonymous; one could take a government document on communism and substitute the word terrorism and it would still make sense.   But terrorism is even better!  Exactly what constitutes terrorism is even more vaguely defined than communism, and while the base definition involves killing or conspiring to kill innocents for ideological reasons, that can cover a mighty lot of people, from ISIS to a mental case – and of course freedom fighters who are not necessarily targeting innocents.

 

While primarily Muslims, terrorists can be anyone and can be anywhere, the perfect threat for any security apparatus.  The intelligence services are especially delighted, now having an excuse to spy on virtually everyone (including that hotbed of terrorism, the US Congress).  No longer are the spooks limited to governments and groups, but can now claim justification for monitoring everyone on the planet, including American citizens.

 

And now there is ISIS, the Rolls Royce of terrorism.  They kill anyone who is not with them, they kill women and children, they make women sex slaves and they do it all with great enthusiasm.  They are well organized, they have heavy weapons (thank you, Uncle Sam) and they actually control territory and constitute something of a state.  Far more than any other group they are the face of Evil, crucifying and beheading people, forcing victims to dig their own graves and doing it all on camera.  Instead of tedious filmed ideological diatribes they produce snappy, if often gruesome videos, and are attracting gullible and/or sociopathic recruits from Europe and America.  It just does not get any better than this when it comes to providing a government with potent material for establishing fear.

 

Being situated in Syria and Iraq of course makes it difficult for them to be construed as a direct threat to American shores, but they are terrorists and have obligingly made it clear they will attack the United States, which automatically makes them a threat to “national security.”  The fact that guns and drunk driving kill far more Americans than any terrorist could dream of does not seem to bother anyone when it comes to the issue of national security, which may be why we constantly hear of the possibility that they may acquire a nuclear weapon.  I expect the scientists and research labs of the Islamic State are working diligently to produce such a weapon.  Odd that our friends, the eighth century monarchies in the Gulf, do not seem as worried as we do about this threat, despite having these barbarians (that may be an insult to the average barbarian) right next door.  On the other hand, that they are finally using some of their expensive weaponry and bombing fellow Sunnis might indicate a bit of concern for their oppressive little kingdoms.

 

If the regional powers (excepting Israel of course) could get together and launch a serious war against this ISIS scum, the Islamic State would be doomed.  Turkey alone could roll over them, but Erdoğan is playing his own short-sighted game and will not even allow his supposed NATO allies use of his airfields.  Perhaps ISIS will be stupid enough to attack Israel.

 

 

No Worry Unless You Have Something To Hide

(I have nothing novel to say here; even allowing for the technology, no state in antiquity, even Egypt under their god-king, experienced this level of surveillance. I just need to vent on this subject.)

 

President Obama’s assault on the First and Fourth Amendments is in full swing. (The Second is completely safe.) It was bad enough to learn what our government was doing – in our name – under the Bush administration, but Obama’s security apparatus and his actions to protect it are staggering. We may no longer have renditions and blatant torture (force-feeding and prolonged periods of solitary confinement may qualify), but a Democratic and supposedly progressive President is actually laying the foundations of a police state, and Congress is helping, having found a bipartisan cause.

 
The public had long been aware, if unconcerned, of the constitutionally and morally questionable things the CIA has been doing, especially in conjunction with our seemingly endless wars, but inasmuch as the operations generally affect only other countries, the American public is mostly unconcerned. The recently revealed surveillance programs of the NSA, however, do affect Americans, and while most of our citizens have probably never heard of the Fourth Amendment, they do understand when they are being spied on. And so do our closest allies, even if their spooks and governments are enthusiastically cooperating with ours.

Amerikanische Reichssicherheitsdienst

Amerikanische Reichssicherheitsdienst

The situation has become even more threatening – and surreal – with the revelation of the Insider Threat Program, something right out of Stalinist Russia. By this directive federal employees and contractors are legally bound to watch for and report “high-risk persons or behavior” among their fellow workers, and failure to do so could result in penalties, including criminal charges. And any leaks concerning the program and its operation will be treated as espionage, even if the leak reveals illegal behavior. The only thing missing to complete the journey back to Moscow in the 1930s is any reference to “counterrevolutionaries, Trotskyites and wreckers.” Will this vigilance be rewarded with medals? Perhaps “Hero of America” or “Order of Washington”?

 
But wait, there’s more! In the name of security the government will also violate the First Amendment! That’s two Amendments for the price of one administration! No government has been friendly to leakers, not because of the typically stated reason of security but since the leak usually reveals the government has been doing something questionable, like monitoring all private communications. Under the Great Engineer of American Security, however, leakers are now being prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, even though they are not passing information to a foreign government, which I mistakenly thought was part of the basic definition of espionage.
Unless of course the news media is considered a foreign entity, which is certainly the view of every autocrat, even the elected ones, like Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, who is close to setting records for jailing journalists. The traditional method for punishing journalists, like Judith Miller of Valeria Plame fame, is to demand the names of their sources and then jail them for contempt when they will not reveal them. In the case of John Risen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was threatened with contempt if he did not testify against a former CIA source, a federal appeals court has just ruled that he was not covered by the First Amendment. This means that potentially every reporter is facing jail if he does not reveal sources.

 
And now there is a new twist: the journalist receiving the leaked information can also be charged with committing a crime, the exact nature of which the administration has not made clear. Journalist Glenn Greenwald was recently threatened with such a charge. Does this mean if you find a pile of classified documents on the ground, read them and talk to your friends about them, you are eligible for criminal prosecution? On the other hand, the government can spy on you all it wants apparently. For years the government has been monitoring Risen’s phone calls and emails, not in pursuit of a terrorist but to discover his sources. So, the security agencies can acquire taps on innocent civilians for the fairly specious reason that someone is revealing things to them.

 
The public opposes the NSA PRISM program by a 2 to 1 margin, but a recent effort to halt it was defeated in Congress, the amendment to the Defense bill being the subject of intense lobbying by the President (the liberal guy), the spooks and the contractors who make stuff for the spooks. Those who support the NSA of course talk about damaging our security, suggesting they know better than the average American, which has some basis in truth since we can find out virtually nothing about the program – or that it even existed until Snowden popped up. “Trust us” is not very convincing, coming from people who have regularly lied to the public.

 
The biggest joke of all is the fact that Obama touts his administration as the most transparent ever, when in fact it is actually one of the most opaque in history. The secrecy mania is out of control. In fiscal year 2011 more than 92 million documents were classified at a cost of more than $11 billion; the full numbers are unknown because at some agencies classification and its cost are classified. Are these all secrets that could harm the country if revealed?  That is hard to believe.  Classification covers mistakes, malfeasance, outright criminality and violations of the Constitution and civil rights, and very important, it enhances the status of the bureaucrat doing the classification.

 
And all this behavior for what? Because without such massive surveillance and secrecy one or two terrorists might blow up some people? Is this a sufficient reason to assault our own Constitution and freedom, especially when innocents are being killed in far greater numbers because of our love affair with the gun and inclination to solve problems with violence? Surveying the increased and constitutionally dubious powers of the government and its security apparatus and the concomitant free fall of America’s image in the world, I can only conclude that the 9/11 terrorist have won.

War without End, Amen

Chancellor Obama

Chancellor Obama

On September 21, 2001 Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force act, the legislation that essentially allowed the President and military to wage war on “terrorism” anywhere, anytime and seemingly forever.  In an impressive imitation of the German parliament under Hitler Congress, after virtually no debate, approved the act with an almost unanimous vote; apart from a few abstentions there was only a single nay cast in both houses.  That no vote was cast by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal), who is now sponsoring a bill, HR 198, that would repeal the AUMF.

The Patriot Act, another demonstration of incredible political cowardice, is of course much more pernicious domestically, with its constitutionally dubious provisions for dramatically enhancing the powers of the country’s security apparatus while undermining civil liberties.  The Patriot Act (always be suspicious of legislation with the word “patriot” in the title) immediately reminded me of the Enabling Act of 1933, which essentially allowed Hitler to henceforth govern by decree: both were justified by “threats” to national security (9/11, the burning of the Reichstag) and both increased the power of the state and undermined the democratic constitution.  And since no government will voluntarily surrender power the life of the Patriot Act, like the Enabling Act, has been constantly extended, most recently by that defender of freedom, Barack Obama, whom we now know is collecting information on Americans on a scale unmatched by any dictatorship in history.

In some ways the AUMF is the foreign affairs counterpart to the Patriot Act.  It dramatically increases the power and scope of the executive, military and CIA in waging war overseas and obviously allows the transgression of international covenants we are pledged to defend, once again in the name of national security, the favorite excuse of every authoritarian state.  Even better than the Patriot Act, the AUMF has no sunset clause, presumably because the war against terror will last so long as there is even a single individual contemplating violence against the United State, which is to say, forever.

President Obama, who was apparently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for replacing George Bush, is now using the AUMF to “wage war,” i.e., assassinate people, to an extent the Bush administration could only dream of.  Obama thus joins such notables as Henry Kissinger, Menachim Begin and Yasser Arafat in the contest to see which Nobel Peace laureate has the most blood on his hands.  And his administration has just made it clear, at least in White House language, that the war is likely to continue for another ten or twenty years.  We could be going for a record here.

Lee’s bill is doomed to failure, because the forces perpetuating the forever war are simply too strong for Congress to resist, not that it takes that much to cow our noble leaders.    Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, it is not economic pressures that play a major role, since drone warfare is relatively cheap, and for Haliburton, Blackwater Mercs, Amalgamated Latrine Diggers, et al. there is in this case little “money to be made, supplying the army with the tools of the trade.”  Instead, the forces behind the forever war are institutional: the Presidency, federal security and intelligence agencies and the military.

Governments are the ultimate beneficiaries of wars, assuming they win them.  Threats to national security, particularly those that are seen as internal to the country, have always been a grand justification for the state, especially the executive, to accumulate more power, and the security threat is most obvious and useful when the country is actually at war, whether or not the enemy is seriously a threat.  The beauty of the forever war, of course, is that is in fact forever.  Crises need not be invented, because inasmuch as the country is always in a state of war, it is also always in the midst of a politically useful crisis.  Further, not only can we not lose the war on terror but it also does not need to be won, so long as terrorists (or reasonable facsimiles) are being blown up.  Even a failure, such as a successful serious terror attack in the country, provides a platform for seeking more authority and more leeway in the exercise of that authority.  It’s a politician’s dream come true.

The Executive branch clearly benefits, certainly in its relationship to the Congress.  The President of the United States now has more power, both in domestic and foreign affairs, than he has ever had, even, I would suggest, during the Second World War.  Governments do not willingly surrender power.  Much of the power accumulated during the war against Germany and Japan was retained by the Presidency, and more was added by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a fine example of war – or shadow war – playing into the hands of the executive and military.  Some of that authority was rescinded by the War Powers Act, but not all, and the measure in fact enshrines the idea that the President can commit the country to war without getting anyone’s approval by granting an exception: in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Presidential authority and the mechanisms for exercising that authority clearly skyrocketed after 9/11, leading to two costly wars that really did not involve the American public.  Barack Obama has now dramatically underscored the point that all governments crave power; the putative liberal and one time critic of the Bush administration’s abuses has preserved all those emergency powers, which are now being used on a whole new scale.  The obsession with secrecy and leaks, which has resulted in an administration even more opaque than the previous one, obviously has a lot to do with preventing the public from realizing just how extensive and questionable the government’s activities are.

New digs for CIA spooks

New digs for CIA spooks

The forever war is a bonanza for the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and whatever other security and intelligence groups that are mucking about the country.  Since the war against terrorism has a domestic component our secret police, the FBI, has an unending excuse for enhanced activities, even those of constitutional questionable nature, and a basis for demanding more money.  Nobody, probably not even members of Congress, really knows exactly what the mandate and powers of the NSA are since this set of spooks makes the CIA look positively transparent, but clearly it is involved in domestic affairs, whether legally or illegally, who knows?  Intelligence agencies always do well in times of war, and we can expect the NSA to see increases in its funding, though we will not see them, since the agency’s budget is also secret.

The big winner in the forever war is the CIA (probably; who knows what the NSA is doing?), inasmuch as it is directly involved in foreign affairs and external threats to the US.  Such agencies inevitably grow larger in times of war, and in this regard the forever war is perfect, since it is against shadowy individuals scattered around the planet.  Consequently, the CIA becomes more important and plays a bigger role than the military, and the organization that was formally prohibited from assassination in 1975 now does so openly and with heavy weapons.  Why drone warfare and serious weaponry was put in the hands of an intelligence agency, particularly one with a history of incompetence and law-breaking, rather than the military is not at all clear.  Perhaps because they were considered better at secrecy and deception than the military.

While the forever war is essentially in the hands of its competitors, the military still benefits, since a war is a war, even one in which traditional armed forces have only a limited role.  Any war means budget increases for the Pentagon and provides them squealing points should any traitorous politician suggest their budget be cut.  Besides, the forever war is everywhere, which means more military personnel planted around the world.  And those aircraft carriers will be real handy for launching drones.

NSA.  Try to get in there.

NSA. Try to get in there.

None of these people have any serious reason to see the war on terror end; it is simply too good for business.  And it will not end, since it is unlikely there will ever come a moment when nobody is interested in killing Americans, especially since every drone strike, every violation of others’ national sovereignty is creating more jihadists.  So, the war on terror can even be good for terrorists.

The only real losers are the American people and their Constitution.

How Dare Those Wogs Bomb Us?

The Boston marathon terror bombings have revealed again the extensive – and typically negative – role American media plays in such attacks.  Regardless of the extent of the damage, regardless of the real impact of the event and inevitably regardless of any sense of perspective the media outlets, especially the television news channels, play any attack for all its worth, indulging in an orgy of strained and meaningless coverage and righteous indignation.  To be sure, this sort of thing also happens when students are massacred, especially children, but the attention only comes when the casualty list is long and fades without any action taken by government.

Nothing obliterates all other news in America like a “terrorist” attack.  More than a week later and with the bombers killed or captured CNN was still devoting all its airtime to this single issue; even ESPN and the NFL channel bumped their programming for a day or two to talk about the incident.  This meant seeing the bombing videos over and over and over and being treated to increasingly vapid and uninformative interviews.  And everyone felt obliged to put their own touch on the story: CNN of course trucked out the heavies, Blitzer, Cooper and Gupta, while my local media scored a couple of New Mexico runners who had been at the marathon.  The unending expressions of grief and outrage could hardly fail to become unconvincing.  Does Wolf Blitzer actually pray for the victims in the news, as he says he does?

The down side of all this media fawning is of course that we are in effect rewarding the terrorist scum with seemingly endless air time and vastly exaggerating the impact and importance of their petty (in the great scheme of things) murders.  This is the dramatic overreaction that accompanies any attack involving an apparent foreign enemy, though the perpetrators themselves might actually be Americans.  Reason and perspective fly out the window, and the deaths of four or five people become a national tragedy, even though such would be a slow day for murder in many American cities.  The suggested message is clear: we can slaughter dozens of our own neighbors, but you foreigners watch out.  And murdering on behalf of some weirdo notion of Islam means “foreigner,” even if the criminals are Americans.  A clear sign of this distinction: donations to the Boston victims have reached $14 million, while those for the victims of the Texas fertilizer explosion, which killed fourteen, wounded hundreds and devastated an entire town, are up to only $1 million.

As Europe has observed, our rage and retaliation in the wake of such acts seems way out of proportion to the damage actually done.  Granted, two skyscrapers obliterated and some 3000 people dead is serious business, but the reaction was two essentially pointless wars and several hundred thousand Iraqis and Afghanis dead, not to mention the squandering of American lives and treasure.  Worse, 9/11 was our Reichstag moment, beginning an ongoing assault on American civil liberties and accepted international law, which has only escalated under the Obama administration.  The Patriot Act, unread by those who voted for it and containing clearly unconstitutional provisions, was a product of fear, ignorance and pressure from the country’s security apparatuses.  To be sure, it falls short of the 1933 Enabling Act that formed the foundation of Hitler’s power, but it has tremendously increased the power of the executive, particularly in the areas of domestic surveillance and detention and waging war independent of Congress.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

This time the governmental response has been far more measured, perhaps because the casualties were so limited and the perpetrators were so quickly dealt with, but Rep. Peter King, a man who is as blatantly anti-Muslim as one can be and still hold office, is already calling for increased surveillance of the already over-surveilled American Muslim community.  And of course the petty beings who inhabit Congress are carping about who is to blame and making demands for a level of security that could only be achieved by the complete abnegation of the Constitution.  In contrast the Middleton school massacre has resulted in absolutely no action, even though an incredible 90% of Americans support better gun control.  The jihadist lobby obviously lacks the clout of the NRA.

“National security” has always been the clarion call of political oppression, and now the threat of “terrorism” has allowed for a never ending crisis justifying a never ending period of emergency measures and war.  The definition of these two terms is also deliberately left vague.  In the most obvious meaning of the term there has not been a serious threat to our national security since the Japanese Empire and the USSR, and even terrorists with nuclear weapons could not really threaten the destruction of the state.  Now, however, blowing up a single American raises the issue of national security as readily as an invading army heading for our shores, so long as that individual is blown up by a Muslim or a foreigner.  I seem to recall that Timothy McVeigh did not elicit cries of national security.  Nor was he generally called a terrorist, though destroying innocents to make a point is the typical understanding of terrorism.  You simply must be acting for a foreign cause, which in the American mind means Islam.

There is of course in all this a huge element of hypocrisy and double standards.  Presumably every national/ethnic group considers its own people more valuable than others, but with its superior technology the west was able to take the “wog” idea to extremes: “Human life is cheap for them.”  Well, we may plead self-defense as we assassinate people around the world, but the “just wogs” attitude is perfectly clear in our disregard for the innocents we are killing daily.  Because of the staggering amount of secrecy – they only acknowledge the drone strikes because an exploding missile is difficult to cover up – accurate numbers are difficult to obtain, but even allowing for the most conservative figures we are on the average slaughtering with each strike far more innocents than the Chechin brothers did.  But of course they killed Americans.  The President and his spooks are just killing wogs, who probably intended to hurt us anyway.

My poor country.  What happened to us?

President Obama and His Stone Cold Killers

Barack Obama’s fall from grace has been startling.  The laurel of the Nobel Peace Prize rests uneasy on the brow of a man who possesses and uses the power to kill anyone virtually anywhere on the planet, seemingly free from any oversight whatsoever.  Apart from a better command of the English language it is becoming difficult to discern any difference between Obama and his predecessor, as he carries on the post-9/11 crusade of increased domestic surveillance, violation of international law and the endless war against terrorism that supposedly justifies this behavior.

Of all his promises to dismantle the immoral, legally questionable and frequently counterproductive practices of the Bush security apparatus he has kept only one: to ban the use of torture in interrogations (and one wonders how thoroughly this is observed in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies).  Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, more troops were sent to Afghanistan, none of the provisions of the Patriot Act have been rescinded, Israel continues to determine our policy in the Middle East, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger and the military budget continues to grow.

In contrast to that of Bush his was to be the most transparent administration in history, when in fact it may be even more opaque.  At this very moment he is using the ever popular “executive privilege” to withhold information potentially damaging to his Attorney General, Eric Holder.  But much more telling are his efforts to plug leaks to the media.  In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies.  In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  The legality of this use of the law has been questioned and the issue is still not settled, but this is of course a quibble for any government interested in employing this very useful political weapon.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being misused six fall under the Obama administration.

On the foreign front Obama is as oblivious to traditional international standards of behavior as was Bush.  Regard for national sovereignty (except our own) continues to erode, as we carry on drone strikes in Pakistan against their wishes and violate the air space of Iran and other countries.  Despite the objections of the Afghan government our military continues launching the night raids universally hated by the Afghanis.  We are threatening a sovereign nation, Iran, with military action because they might be enriching uranium which might be used for a bomb which might be used against Israel, if the Iranian government could possibly be that stupid and suicidal.  We have implemented economic and financial sanctions against them that would be considered tantamount to an act of war if done to us.  We have fully adopted the Israeli notion that if you think a state might be a threat at some time in the future, you are justified in attacking them, an understanding of international relations that Hitler would have delighted in.  And our chief legal authority, Attorney General Holder, has assured us that all this is completely in accordance with international law.

Then there is the drone, in the use of which Obama has made Bush seem a piker.  Of course, it is cheap, it is an effective killer and it puts no Americans in harm’s way.  More than 2300 individuals, including three American citizens, have been executed by drone launched missiles, requiring us to believe that over two thousand people were so threatening to our security that we had to kill them all.  Well, not all of them were that threatening, since the figure includes hundreds of men, women and children who just happened to be too near someone the US decided was a top terrorist.  How many dead innocents?  Who knows?  The government is reluctant to release that sort of information, and in any case we have only their word that the actual target was himself worth killing.

Now we know the President keeps a “to kill” list, but exactly how one manages to get on this list is of course classified.  Given the great job the military did in rounding up innocent Afghan farmers for a stay at Club Gitmo, one might justifiably wonder about some of these deaths by Hellfire.  Naturally, the Attorney General assures us that these “enemy combatants” must be “senior operational leaders,” who are planning an attack, cannot be captured easily and live in a country that has given us permission to assassinate its people.  This apparently does not apply to operations in Pakistan, which constantly objects to our strikes.  Or in Yemen, where lack of intelligence has lead the military/CIA to conclude from “patterns of behavior” – routines, places visited, associates, etc. – whether an individual is a terrorist who deserves to be exploded.  Could this be getting out of hand?

It is wonderful to think of murdering barbarian scum being vaporized by American technology, but the problem is that many, if not most of those having their body parts scattered across the countryside are not in fact murdering scum but rather the inevitable innocent bystanders, or “splats” as the military more honestly calls them in private.  This is hardly endearing us to the populations we ostensibly want to help and only contributes to the creation of martyrs.  Another problem, more disturbing, is that in three instances the murdering scum were American citizens, meaning that the President, in consultation with his generals and spooks, has acted as judge and executioner in the deaths of Americans.  The slopes do not get more slippery than this.

I fear for the Republic.  Domestic surveillance, both legal and questionable, has increased dramatically in the wake of the destruction of the Reichstag..I mean, Twin Towers.  American citizens can now be detained without charge for some indefinite period, and the constant cries of “secret” and “national security” make all terrorism trials problematic with regard to evidence.  Somehow the CIA, an intelligence agency once prohibited from assassinating people, has now acquired heavy weaponry and the authority to blow up individuals around the world.  The President, on very dubious grounds, seemingly now has the right to send American military forces virtually anywhere, never mind Congressional authorization.  Like the dictators we frequently work with he may now order the execution of anyone he, the military and the intelligence agencies decide upon.  And like the Japanese seventy years ago and the Israelis more recently we have adopted the concept of the “protective reaction strike,” which allows us to attack anyone we deem potentially threatening.  This used to be called a “war of aggression” and we prosecuted Germans for it not so long ago.

The Obama administration is demonstrating something more cynical historians have long believed: the prime directive of any government, be it a democracy, military dictatorship, absolute monarchy or whatever, is to defend and increase its power.  No government, even one momentarily controlled by a liberal speaking President, will ever willingly surrender power.  And unfortunately the American people are demonstrating no inclination to change this situation, if it is even possible, given the utter stranglehold the Democratic and Republican parties hold over our system.

I Fought in Iraq and All I got Was This (Bloody) T-Shirt?

On December 12 President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the end of the war in Iraq.  Those eight years of war came at a stiff price.  Approximately 4500 American troops were killed, and some 33,000 received significant wounds; how many thousands will suffer psychological problems in the future can only be guessed at.  The war cost taxpayers a trillion dollars, and the expenses continue despite the departure of our military.  The war quickly eliminated the world-wide support for America in the wake of 9/11, fomented more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world and distracted the US from operations against al-Qaeda.

The bill for Iraq is far greater.  Saddam is dead, but so are more than 100,000 (perhaps many more) Iraqis, and 1.6 million are still refugees abroad.  Over one million internal refugees were also created.  What little functioning infrastructure the country possessed before the invasion has been mostly destroyed, and 23% of Iraqis live in utter poverty, earning $2 or less a day.

And what do we all get in return for this massive expenditure by the American and Iraqi people?

It is clear now, as it was to many then, that Saddam was absolutely no threat to anyone except his own people, and rather than “protecting” America the conflict has only exacerbated the terrorist problem and immensely strengthened the position of Iran, beckoning the US into another armed conflict.  That the new democratic Iraq would be a beacon of freedom and hope in the region has not played out, and the present toppling of authoritarian governments in the Arab world owes absolutely nothing to American efforts.

Whether or not Iraq now has a functioning democracy remains to be seen, and in any case the current government is unable to provide even basic services for its people, who are still being blown up on a regular basis.  Unfortunately for the US, Iraq has also failed to become a compliant “ally” and serve American interests in the region.  Quite understandably, the Iraqis refused to continue granting the American forces immunity from Iraqi law and prosecution, which with the war officially ended would go a long way to marking the American military as an occupying force.  Predictably, Obama took credit for removing our troops, though he actually had no say in the matter, and the Republicans, seemingly unaware of the meaning of “national sovereignty,” complained that we were leaving without having finished the job.

It is not even clear if Iraq can succeed as a country, whatever the nature of its government.  The Kurdish north is already on the brink of becoming a separate state and is increasingly under the influence of Turkey.  Iraqi Sunnis are somewhat less than enthusiastic about the Shiite dominated government and its ties to Iran, and Sunni insurgent activity threatens to turn into an outright civil war, especially if the government proves unable to alleviate the miserable conditions in which most Iraqis live.  Being a province carved by the Ottomans out of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious area is hardly a strong foundation for a nation state.

And for all our blood and treasure and newly enhanced imperial reputation?  Iraq, once a bulwark against Iran (remember Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?) is already falling rapidly under Iranian influence.  Only two states in the region have refused to go along with the Arab League and condemn the bloody Syrian government: Iran and Iraq.  Under the guise of a program of reconciliation Baghdad is even releasing prisoners accused or convicted of murdering Americans, and as the economic frosting on this ineptly baked cake, it is primarily non-American companies that are signing up to exploit Iraqi resources, should that ever be possible.  Few outside Washington would consider this a successful foreign policy outcome.

Meanwhile, American diplomatic personnel will be hiding out in the biggest and most heavily fortified embassy on the planet, a target so protected that even American journalists are not allowed to see it.  Bereft of troops, we will be hiring 5000 mercenaries to protect these people, further enhancing our wonderful image in the region.  We get to look like an imperial power without enjoying any of the benefits associated with such a status.

On the other hand, this ill-advised and ineptly conducted war of aggression appears almost sensible compared to our current hemorrhaging of lives and money for an unbelievably corrupt and ineffective government of an area that is even less of a country than the one time Turkish province: Afghanistan.