Posts filed under Iraq War

War Speech

It’s maddening to reflect that literally every single president of my lifetime has been involved in a war in Iraq.[1] For more than 20 years of my life, U.S. presidents have been continuously at war against Iraq in some way or another. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, every one of them, started a new assault on Iraq at some point in their presidency, whether in the form of cruise missile strikes and aerial bombing, or lethal sanctions, or for the third time now a ground invasion. The only president of my lifetime who did not start a new war against Iraq was Ronald Reagan; and that’s only because he was too busy helping the Iraqi government get chemical weapons so they could fight a bloody proxy war for him against Iran.

The U.S. government’s two decades of continuous war and blockades in Iraq has killed over a million people, most of them civilians and children, in the name of national policy. The details of the policies always shift, every enemy turns out to be unique in their brutality, but the means of enacting them always remain the same: more missiles, more bombs, more soldiers, and more dead children in Iraq. And now the president speaks of humanitarian missions.

Yesterday night, President Obama gave a speech announcing that he would escalate the U.S.’s third war against Iraq, and that he would widen the war into Syria as well. I can’t say that the speech is extraordinarily belligerent; but only because what is outrageous in the speech is so ordinary, after all these years so deeply familiar with year after year of war in Iraq. The language is as shopworn as it is mendacious. In his speech, the President said:

. . . Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. . . . And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014

These words — these exact words, without any change, could have been uttered by George W. Bush. They sound like him, full of hunting down terrorists and If you threaten America…. They could have been spoken, just as they are, by William Jefferson Clinton. They read exactly like every war speech that George H. W. Bush ever gave.

The dates and the names change, but the war rhetoric is always the same. Every President is a war President, and in war, every President talks in the same voice, from the same mouth, with the same lies, for the same ultimate purpose: to legitimize politically-organized mass murder. If you elect a liberal President who marched against the Vietnam War, what you’ll get in the end is a President. If you elect a humble foreign policy conservative, then he will govern as a President anyway. If you elect a Progressive President, then the fact that he is President will always turn out to be far more relevant than the fact that he is a Progressive. Electing presidents or changing political parties will never end war: No matter who you voted for, the winner always becomes the Government.

For war is essentially the health of the State.

See also.

  1. [1] I was born in 1981.

The Same Government

In the middle of the last decade, political scientist Marc Hetherington wrote about the declining public trust in government. . . . And such [media] portrayals contribute to a remarkable problem: not ideological hostility to government . . . but diminished expectations—in the public and in the press—about what government can accomplish. . . .

—Greg Marx, How the Press Erodes Our Belief [sic] in Government in The Nation (April 9, 2012)

marines-in-saddams-palace-dm-s

. . . The same government that accomplished the killing of over 180,000 people in Iraq, in the pursuit of a transparent lie and an ever-shifting set of the flimsiest possible rationalizations?

. . . The same government that accomplished the ongoing, decade-long state of perpetual siege in Baghdad?

. . . The same government that accomplished the displacement of 3,000,000 war refugees?

To-day is the tenth anniversary of the U.S. government’s invasion of Iraq. It’s a day when, even more than most days, the same government? should be the question immediately asked by anyone who has an ounce of respect for peace, compassion, human life or human decency. There is nothing that should turn you against government as much as simply watching what it can accomplish when it is let loose.

Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes

From Anthony Gregory (2012-04-26), Only One Way to End the Indecencies of War, in the Huffington Post:

The only solution to this is to stop the indecencies that are being recorded for the world to see. Blaming the publishers of these photos is entirely the wrong approach. It puts the chill on free speech whenever the government insists upon secrecy. Let’s address the underlying issue and stop blaming the messenger.

To this point, we might focus on Panetta’s most telling comment: This is war. I know that war is ugly and it’s violent…

Many would see this as a throwaway line, meant to lend some context to the obscenities, yet it dismisses the true core of the problem. Wars, particularly modern wars, necessarily entail indecencies and atrocities — yet some would have us believe that a few bad apples are all that is tainting an otherwise justifiable and moral war. Surely militarists and the administration encourage this view, but so do some opponents of the administration who imply the war could be waged much better under different leadership. Similarly, liberal critics of Bush sometimes implied that a more capable executive, like Kerry or Obama, would wage war without excessive intervention many Democrats often claimed to characterize Bush’s foreign policy.

NBC’s Col. Jack Jacobs argues that the problem is a lack of sound leadership, but we might be forgiven for wondering which major war in memory — or even in the last century — was devoid of such indecency on the part of soldiers. Where has there ever been a war whose leadership guaranteed the professional behavior whose decline Jacobs laments?

. . . In any event, so long as we blanch at the site of desecrated body parts or soldiers urinating on corpses while we tolerate perpetual war that makes such actions (and even much worse) inevitable, we are totally missing the point. The attempt to ascribe this indecency to a handful of soldiers or poor leadership is a distraction from the full indecency of war itself, much like the Abu Ghraib photos were used to deflect attention from questions of U.S. detention policy.

As of August 2011, Obama’s drone wars killed an estimated 168 children in Pakistan. That is a consequence of U.S. policy. In the last 20 years of U.S. operations in Iraq, Iraqi citizens have suffered under exponential loss of innocent civilians. Much of this misery results from the U.S.-UN sanctions implemented and enforced by the Bush and Clinton administrations. Both administrations have fallen short of accomplishing their missions to prop up a thoroughly backwards regime, defeat an al Qaeda network that is hardly there anymore, and fight an unwinnable war on opium. Obama’s considerable escalation of the war efforts has not yielded greater protection of the Afghan people, who suffered a record number of civilian deaths last year — the fifth straight year that casualties rose.

The Obama administration asks that we look beyond the scandalous photos at the big picture of the war in Afghanistan. Supposedly, this means we should focus on the progress that top officials claim to have made. Yet the situation is as unstable as ever. U.S. officials are negotiating with the Afghans to maintain a serious presence there for more than another decade, as though this prolonged engagement will finally bring about whatever the administration hopes to accomplish there.

Eventually, the U.S. military will withdraw from Afghanistan, and perhaps from its imperial presence throughout the world. Only then will we rid of the indecencies intrinsic to war.

—Anthony Gregory (2012)

From Marja Erwin (2012-04-25), The persecution of Breanna Manning and the incoherence of American Centrist ideology:

American Centrists, Fascists, and other authoritarians are calling for the murder of Breanna Manning, preferably without trial, and of many of her supporters. . . .

The American government claims legitimacy based on the supposed consent of the governed. But consent requires equality. As long as the government keeps secrets from the governed and has power over the governed, it does not have consent, and does not have legitimacy.

The American Centrists grant the government legitimacy based on the supposed consent of the governed. Then they grant the American government unlimited secrecy and unlimited power because of its legitimacy, though they may criticize other governments because of their lack of legitimacy. The American Centrists insist, in particular, that the American government has an inherent right to keep secrets and the people, not the American people, and not the whole world’s people, could possibly have a right to know what the American government is up to. The American Centrists have detached legitimacy from its supposed grounding in consent and now use legitimacy to support secrecy which makes consent impossible. They have liquified the ground they were standing on and are now sinking into.

So they attack Breanna Manning for sharing the secrets of the war machine. If she did what she is accused of, she is one of the outstanding heroes of our time.

But let’s get to the accusations of treason:

First off, there’s the legal definition, which requires the claim that the public is an enemy.

Second, there’s the political definition, that of acting against a legitimate government. [I don’t believe there are any]. But if the government keeps secrets from the public, it cannot have consent, and therefore cannot have legitimacy, and it is incoherent to claim treason when someone reveals its secrets to the public.

Third, there is the religious definition, which refers to oath-breaking. Warrior bands dedicated to war gods such as Woþins/Woden/Odin or Mars/Mamers required oaths as part of their initiation. Each warrior would declare absolute loyalty to the other warriors. This helped separate the warriors from the civilian society and helped make the warrior bands into effective mercenaries, plunderers, and slave-raiders. The practice of oath-keeping has, I think, done little good and monstrous harm throughout history.

And when I see all these knee-jerk accusations of treason and calls for murder, I remember how, because of my opposition to war, I’ve been called anti-American, attacked, severely beaten, and I’ve gotten death threats. There is a very deep pit of hatred in this land.

—Marja Erwin (2012)

All of which is important. And all of which has something, I think, to do with this. From Randolph Bourne (September 1917), A War Diary, in Seven Arts:

Thus the liberals who made our war their own preserved their pragmatism. But events have shown how fearfully they imperilled their intuition and how untameable an inexorable really is. For those of us who knew a real inexorable when we saw one, and had learned from watching war what follows the loosing of a war-technique, foresaw how quickly aims and purposes would be forgotten, and how flimsy would be any liberal control of events. It is only we now who can appreciate The New Republic—the organ of applied pragmatic realism—when it complains that the League of Peace (which we entered the war to guarantee) is more remote than it was eight months ago; or that our State Department has no diplomatic policy (though it was to realize the high aims of the President’s speeches that the intellectuals willed America’s participation); or that we are subordinating the political management of the war to real or supposed military advantages, (though militarism in the liberal mind had no justification except as a tool for advanced social ends). If, after all the idealism and creative intelligence that were shed upon America’s taking up of arms, our State Department has no policy, we are like brave passengers who have set out for the Isles of the Blest only to find that the first mate has gone insane and jumped overboard, the rudder has come loose and dropped to the bottom of the sea, and the captain and pilot are lying dead drunk under the wheel. The stokers and engineers however, are still merrily forcing the speed up to twenty knots an hour and the passengers are presumably getting the pleasure of the ride.

The penalty the realist pays for accepting war is to see disappear one by one the justifications for accepting it. He[1] must either become a genuine Realpolitiker and brazen it through, or else he must feel sorry for his intuition and be regretful that he willed the war. But so easy is forgetting and so slow the change of events that he is more likely to ignore the collapse of his case. If he finds that his government is relinquishing the crucial moves of that strategy for which he was willing to use the technique of war, he is likely to move easily to the ground that it will all come out in the end the same anyway. He soon becomes satisfied with tacitly ratifying whatever happens, or at least straining to find the grain of unplausible hope that may be latent in the situation. . . . Professor Dewey has become impatient at the merely good and merely conscientious objectors to war who do not attach their conscience and intelligence to forces moving in another direction. But in wartime there are literally no valid forces moving in another direction. War determines its own end—victory, and government crushes out automatically all forces that deflect, or threaten to deflect, energy from the path of organization to that end.

All governments will act in this way, the most democratic as well as the most autocratic. It is only liberal naïveté that is shocked at arbitrary coercion and suppression. Willing war means willing all the evils that are organically bound up with it. A good many people still seem to believe in a peculiar kind of democratic and antiseptic war. The pacifists opposed the war because they knew this was an illusion, and because of the myriad hurts they knew war would do the promise of democracy at home. For once the babes and sucklings seem to have been wiser than the children of light.

—Randolph Bourne (1917)

And with this. From Anonymous (1756), A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind from every Species of Artificial Society:

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary. . . . In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!

—Anonymous (1756)

  1. [1] [Sic. —Ed.]

Monday Lazy Linking

This Thursday at Vegas Anarchist Cafe: a presentation by Jim Haber and a screening of “Death and Taxes” — on war, taxes, and direct action for peace. Thursday, April 8, 6:00pm

Please forward this notice far and wide! Pass the word along to anyone who you think might be interested in the film, the talk, or in learning more about direct action for peace.

The Vegas A-Cafe and Southern Nevada ALL are pleased to announce that this week’s A-Cafe will feature a special presentation and screening of the short film “Death and Taxes,” hosted by Jim Haber of the Nevada Desert Experience. The film and presentation discuss war tax resistance as a form of practical direct action for peace — depriving the warfare state of financial support, and redirecting our labor and our resources towards a positive countereconomy — a community that supports life rather than death.

WHAT: Screening of “Death and Taxes” and presentation on war tax resistance by Jim Haber

WHEN: Thursday, April 8, 2010, 6:00pm-8:00pm. (30 minute short film, with a talk and discussion to follow.)

WHERE: Back meeting room of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, across the street from UNLV, 4550 S. Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV

WHO: Anyone interested in peace and freedom

Jim Haber is a long-time war tax resister who is transitioning from being an “income-reduction” resister to one who is refusing to pay part of his tax liability. He has been serving on the National Committee of the War Resisters League since 2002. Jim is currently coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience which organizes interfaith resistance to nuclear weapons and war.

Jim is looking forward to presenting Death & Taxes a new 30 minute documentary produced by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, and featuring several new and long-term resisters of different generations (and great music). The film directly addresses many fears and questions that people have about tax resistance in general and war tax resistance in particular.

For anyone interested in conversation. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Las Vegas Anarchist Cafe is a weekly meetup featuring informal discussion and the exchange of ideas about grassroots organizing, consensual society, and peaceful alternatives to war, taxes and government. Anyone interested in conversation is welcome to attend. See http://vegas.anarchistcafe.org/ for more information.