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.

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H.R. 4133: the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation and Screw the Taxpayer Act

On May 9 the House of Representatives passed a bill that could have a dramatic impact on America’s foreign policy and will certainly cost us a lot of money, but since any news of this legislation was virtually absent from the mainstream media, very few Americans are aware of it existence.  H.R. 4133, the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, was slipped through the House under a rules suspension that allowed a quick vote with virtually no debate.  The bill had bipartisan backing, being introduced by Democrats Howard Berman and Steny Hoyer and two particularly loathsome Republicans, who seem to owe their primary allegiance to Israel, Eric Cantor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  (Actually, the bill had “tripartisan” backing, since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tel Aviv’s powerful instrument in America, helped write it.)  The vote was 411-2, only Ron Paul (R) and John Dingell (D) voting against.  How odd that our increasingly dysfunctional and divided government could achieve virtually unanimity on a bill, one that most Americans will never hear of.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and honesty already knows what actions counter to our interests Israel’s stranglehold on Washington has forced upon us, but this bill represents a mind-numbing escalation of commitment to a state whose foreign and domestic policies are at odds with what this country presumes to stand for.  In essence the bill is a blank check from the American taxpayer, who will now be obliged to support Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over all its neighbors combined, of course leaving it to Israel and its Congressional supporters (which is to say, almost all of Congress) to decide exactly what that vague phrase means.  Certainly, one thing it means is that we will be sending more of our money out of the country in order to support activities of extremely questionable legality and morality.

The legislation also affirms our commitment to the “security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”  This is an interesting development in our “passionate attachment” (G. Washington) to Israel.  We have of course spent decades squandering our money and international credibility on an “ally” whose value to American security and interests (apart from domestic politics) is not at all clear and which continually violates the international law we are pledged to uphold and the basic values that we trumpet to the world.  But now we have pledged (for the first time in our history, I believe) to guarantee the religious/cultural nature of a foreign country.

One might legitimately ask why we should care, unless it was to criticize an oppressive government, which we cannot do anyway in the case of Israel, but more than that, what exactly does this mean?  When the Muslim minority in Israel’s citizen body becomes the majority, as it inevitably will, will the US have to intervene?  When Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are formally incorporated into Eretz Yisrael will we have to help enforce apartheid or deport all those Palestinians?  If a majority of Israeli citizens voted to declare Israel a secular state, would we have to prop up a minority government?  And exactly what is a “Jewish state,” especially when the majority of inhabitants of the state in question do not practice Judaism?

The legislation requires the US to supply all sorts of equipment for the “defense” of Israel.  Of course, Israel has always been able to utterly smash its enemies, requiring only resupply from a compliant Uncle Sam, and the only potentially threatening neighbor whose military might be improving is Egypt, whose major supplier, America, is hardly likely to provide her an edge.  Included in the list are refueling tankers and bunker-busting bombs, which are obviously offensive weapons, unless of course your definition of defense includes preemptive strikes against other countries, which it does in the eyes of Israel – and increasingly the United States.  What are now called “preemptive strikes” were traditionally labeled “wars of aggression.”  I wonder if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor can be called a preemptive strike?  After all, American naval power was a threat to the continued existence of the Japanese Empire.

One particularly frightening part of the bill is the expressed desire for Israel to play an increased role in NATO, included a presence at NATO headquarters and involvement in NATO exercises.  The clear intention is that Israel ultimately become a member of NATO, thus dragging the entire European alliance into her wars and making it complicit in her continued violation of international law.  With that Israel could attack Iran or any other country with impunity, because if the victim dare fight back, the United States and the rest of NATO would be required to come to her aid.  This would be placing an assault rifle in the hands of an ill disciplined child.  But it is hard to imagine Turkey signing on to this plan, and one hopes the majority of European members would also object.  Of course, then Congress would begin looking at an actual treaty with Israel, though given the utter subservience of our politicians to Israeli interests, it would hardly be necessary.

One final slap in our face.  Washington has agreed to put up an additional $680 million (beyond the $3.1 billion we pay every year) to help Israel pay for her Iron Dome anti-missile system and the new F-35 fighter.  Israel has also requested another $168 million for security measures, while the Obama administration has asked for $99.9 million on top of that.  And to make sure poor Israel does not run out of American money the Iron Dome Support Act, introduced by Berman and the ever vigilant Ross-Lehtinen, would require our Treasury to keep shelling out the money.  And here is the joke on us: Israel has this year cut its defense budget by 5% and intends to do the same next year!  Oh, there is a second joke: the United States has absolutely no rights to the technology being developed for the Iron Dome system, which will be marketed to the world by Israel.  Perhaps we can get a special deal.

We have become a silly nation.

A 2012 Wish List

This Wish List involves changes that might conceivably be made, though I suspect it will be a frosty day in the nether regions, since most of them would have to be implemented by politicians, and they and the interests that own them would face losing the most.  But they nevertheless may be distinguished from the truly impossible, such as altering our political system to break the grip of the Democratic and Republican parties or requiring an intelligence test for holding national political office (good-bye GOP).

 

GET US OUT OF AFGHANISTAN (AND IRAQ) NOW

Why wait another two years?  Iraq is actually a country with an infrastructure, albeit damaged, and a serious potential revenue source in the form of oil, yet it is already collapsing, only weeks after the departure of our military.  Afghanistan is less a country than a space defined by the nations surrounding it, and virtually every one of the four major ethnic groups would like to lord it over the others or create its own country.  The last national election was a farce, corruption is an embedded Afghan tradition and any sort of real loyalty can be found only at the tribal level.  The only time Afghanistan has come even close to a national entity is under autocratic strong men, and while the locals might appreciate the odd school or clinic, they clearly do not like foreign military on their soil, especially when that military tends to be a bit casual about collateral damage.  Yes, we have pulled most of our military out of Iraq, but do we need a “diplomatic” presence of some ten thousand, guarded by five thousand of the mercenaries the locals have come to love?  What will all these people be doing as Iraq slides into civil war and/or Iranian control?  With Kuwait (and to a lesser extent Bahrain) being little more than a giant American military base, why do we need Baghdad?

 

REGULATE THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY

This should be simple.  A relative handful of people almost brought down the global economy, yet very little has been done to correct this liability.  There remains a dangerous lack of transparency, especially regarding arcane financial instruments, and major banks are still finding ways to dodge what little regulation exists, especially given the increasing globalization of banking.  The EU is considering a tax on financial transactions, which would help against the growing number of parasites whose manipulation of markets produces nothing except wealth for themselves and helps distort the relationship between supply, demand and price.  But unless all the industrialized countries participate, this activity will simply move to New York.  Meanwhile, the income gap in America is reaching unprecedented levels.

 

IMPOSE TERM LIMITS

An incumbent in Congress, unless he is a complete fool, may essentially keep his seat until he dies, which means he can spend his whole life running for reelection.  In the eighties the turnover in the Soviet Politbureau was greater than that of the American Congress, and even in the unhappy year 2010 the Congressional reelection rate was 97%.  Polls indicate that the public feels that all these political lifers should be thrown out, but the feeling apparently rarely extends to their own Senator or Representative.  This reform is actually talked about, but it is hard to imagine someone in Congress voting to limit their own access to the federal gravy train.

 

PUBLISH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

It is clearly impossible to limit campaign contributions and thus the power of big money to influence elections: even those laws that do not run afoul of the First Amendment are always easily sidestepped.  Instead, allow anyone or any entity, even foreign governments, to contribute money, but all contributions will be published on a dedicated website, on a periodic nationally broadcast television program and in major newspapers across the country.  Any violation would result in the immediate termination of the individual’s candidacy.  Monies spent by advocacy groups rather than by an individual will be treated similarly, and violations will be rewarded with huge fines.  If Americans cannot be bothered to avail themselves of all this information concerning who is buying whom, which is likely, then we get what we deserve.

 

DETERMINE OUR POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST ACCORDING TO AMERICAN INTERESTS

For reasons that have everything to do with domestic politics we have with Israel the sort of “passionate attachment” to a foreign power that George Washington warned against.  The interests of Israel are not always the same as America’s; they are in fact increasingly divergent.  Israel is permitted behavior that would immediately stir official outrage were it any other country, and our unqualified support for a state that routinely violates accepted international law, especially regarding Arab populations, contributes mightily to our reputation as self-serving hypocrites.

 

 

CONFIGURE OUR MILITARY RESOURCES ACCORDING TO REALITY

The size, nature and equipment of our military should be determined by realistic evaluation of the actual threats out there rather than based on outmoded thinking inherited from the twentieth century, the insatiable desires of the Pentagon and the needs of politics and the defense industry.  With economic globalization the chance of a real war with a major industrial and military power like China is becoming vanishingly small and with it the need for $100 million fighter aircraft and more attack submarines.  And any (for the moment inconceivable) war with a power strong enough to require all the systems the Pentagon wants must inevitably go nuclear.

 

HANG PIRATES

For several thousand years the approach to pirates has been summary execution.  Why are these people now being given trials, especially at a time when we are executing from above even American citizens if they are designated terrorists by the government/military?  Any man who attempts to hijack a ship clearly designates himself a pirate and should thus be liable to execution, preferably by the traditional hanging.  Make it clear to the denizens of Somalia and other places that any unidentifiable vessel found in certain delineated international waters will be immediately destroyed.

 

STREAMLINE NUCLEAR POWER

Nuclear fission is a proven non-fossil fuel source of power, requiring nothing more than easily produced fissionable material and water for cooling.  It produces no pollutants, and examined sensibly, the issue of what to do with the radioactive waste disappears.  We already have the technology to bury and secure this stuff for the next several centuries, by which time we will have better technology or more likely, no longer exist.  The imagined need to secure this waste for ten thousand years is simply silly.  Further, the industry must produce standardized designs and streamline the licensing process, as has France, which has for decades successfully generated some 75% of its power through fission.  Other green technologies are not yet developed enough, and nuclear power could easily carry us through until technologies like solar and even fusion are perfected.

 

SERVE THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

A mature society should indeed look after its disadvantaged, but not at the expense of those who can contribute the most.  A major problem, among others, in our public education system is the waste of resources and time on those who simply will not learn, a waste exacerbated by the tendency of these same people to degrade the education of those who would learn.  There is of course the problem of what to do with the negative element, but keeping them in school is not the answer, inasmuch as they harm the educational environment of others and end up joining the underclass of the uneducated anyway.  And while we should look to the education of those with “special needs,” mainstreaming them clearly comes at the expense of those who have functioning intellects and bodies.  I cannot confirm this, but I have read that for every $1 spent on those who are in some way dysfunctional, about 3¢ is spent on the gifted.  This is no way to secure the future of our country.  Incidentally, it is of course impossible to remove big money sports and its corrupting influence from American higher education, but at the very least the NBA and NFL should be paying for all those athletic scholarships.

TELL THE “GREAT SUCCESSOR” TO PISS OFF

OK, this is emotion-based, but make it clear to the ruthless jerks in Pyongyang that any assault on South Korea or anyone else will result in their capital being turned to glass, China notwithstanding.

Hegemonic Folly: Defense Spending

With the predictable failure of the of the budget super-committee comes the blunt ax of sequestration, which is likely the only time the military budget will ever be threatened with cuts.  Such will never happen, of course, but the cries of putting our national security at risk are already flying, mostly from Republicans, but also from Democrats, since no politician wants to be accused of being soft on defense.  The military has naturally also chimed in, and who is a more impartial judge of the nation’s security needs?

Some figures on just how big our military is.  In 2010 we spent $687 to $698 billion (an exact total is not available to mere mortals) on the military, which is more than the next 17 nations combined and about 43% of the total world expenditure.  The next largest budget, that of China, is 7.3% of the world total.  Our expenditure was in 2009 4.7% of GNP; only five countries – Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Eretria – exceed that and for obvious reasons.  Only the UAE, with a population of only 8 million, exceeds us in per capita spending; in 2009 our military cost every man, woman and child in America $2141.  One specific and particularly relevant example: though our battle fleet has indeed shrunk in the last 20 years, it is still larger than the next 13 navies combined – and 11 of those are our allies.

The stated justification for this mammoth spending on arms are all the threats to our national security, but apart from sundry individuals, who are hardly any threat to the nation (see the article The Terrorist Nuisance), exactly who poses a serious threat to our motherland?  Only an advanced nuclear power could possible threaten our shores, and there are only two who are not our allies, Russia and China, and neither is likely to attack the US in the face of total devastation.  The truly dangerous nuclear states, North Korea, Pakistan, Israel and perhaps Iran, may threaten their neighbors, but for the foreseeable future they simply cannot deliver warheads to North America.

Of course a regional power could threaten to disrupt our supply of resources, but there is really only one that is absolutely vital to our welfare, oil, and it is hard to image that even Iran, unless pushed to the brink, could possibly be stupid enough to launch a war in the Gulf.  Rolling in money, the Gulf   states are already armed to the teeth with modern weaponry, and given the rapidly declining need of large ground forces to repel an invasion, how many carrier groups would it take to smash Iran?  A nuclear equipped Iran is a different story, but the real powers in that country, the Supreme Council and the Revolutionary Guard, have, unlike Ahmadinejad, not demonstrated the complete irrationality necessary to contemplate an action that would bring absolutely no benefit to Iran and lead to massive retaliation from virtually all the developed nations dependent on Gulf oil.

We want to protect our friends, but how many of them need protecting?
Europe? Japan? Canada? Australia? Mexico?  The Philippines do not want us there any more and are making their own arrangements with the other offshore Asian powers. Taiwan and China are forging more and more economic ties, and China’s economic relationship with the US makes it increasingly unlikely she will do anything that would seriously offend her most important market. China is seeking to increase her influence in Southeast Asia, but the only thing that threatens is American influence in the area.  Possessing nuclear weapons and the most powerful military (after Turkey?) in the region, Israel hardly needs American help, and given her behavior, one wonders how much of a friend she would be were it not for her seeming stranglehold on American politicians.  The one serious friend who is actually threatened is South Korea, and while an invasion from the north would result in immediate and extensive casualties, North Korea could be rapidly and utterly defeated by the South Koreans and minimal US forces.  And if the military is the real power in Pyongyang, would they sacrifice themselves for nothing?  Further, China, which ultimately controls the food and energy supply of her socialist ally, has absolutely no desire to see even temporary chaos in the Korean peninsula. They also can hardly be enthusiastic about the emergence of a seriously nuclear North Korea, since that could bring on the nightmare of a nuclear South Korea and Japan.

Not many military leaders, especially those who are quasi-political, have ever supported cutting their budget and reducing their forces, the major reason why threat assessments emanating from the Pentagon must be consumed with a boulder of salt.  For American politicians, who are achieving unheard of levels of self-serving behavior, reducing the military is virtually unthinkable, since they would suffer the wrath of sundry powerful lobbies and blocs of ignorant voters whipped up by their opponents.  After 60 years of having the most powerful military in the world and 20 years of virtual hegemony around the planet many Americans see any cut back in “defense” as a sign of surrender and decline.

We are no longer in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and not only territorial but also military-based hegemonic empires are obsolete.  Gunboat diplomacy only works when the threat of military intervention is real, and although world opinion and international law did not stop the US in places like Grenada, Panama and Iraq, it is clear that military operations of any scale are incredibly expensive and self-defeating in the long run.  And against the backdrop of American arrogance, disregard for international law, increasing violation of other nations’ sovereignty and traditional inclination towards violence rather than diplomacy, our 13 carrier groups certainly appear to be the twenty-first century equivalent of gunboats.

Finally, not only is large-scale warfare rapidly becoming prohibitively expensive but with the emergence of a globalized economy it has also become counterproductive for the developed nations. Whatever their rhetoric or ideologies, they are all now inextricably bound together in a world capitalist web in which the economic misfortunes of one will inevitably affect the others.  At least in the industrialized world less and less does national security depend on huge military establishments and more and more on sound economies, which are ill-served by wasting treasure on weapons systems with no opponents and wars resulting in nothing but dead human beings.  Large scale violence must only be contemplated when there truly is no alternative, and given the increasing interconnectedness of the planet, there will almost always be an better alternative.

Then again, it is cool to be the baddest dude on the earth,  even though that might be at the expense of everything else.  Ask the Spartans how that worked out.