Posts tagged Iraq War

Change You Can Believe In (Vol. VII, No. 6). Wiretaps and War.

Hey, remember back when we elected that progressive President who was going to close Guantanamo, get rid of warrantless wiretapping and end the war in Iraq? Boy howdy, that was a time.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama has been pleading with Congress to never, ever let the PATRIOT Act’s surveillance powers lapse, even for a day. Heaven forbid:

Shared Article from TheHill

Obama pleads that Senate act on NSA reform

Obama is asking McConnell to move legislation approved by the House.

thehill.com


President Obama on Friday made a last-minute push to urge Congress to renew key provisions of the Patriot Act before a Sunday deadline, arguing that failing to do so could put the nation at greater risk of terrorist threats.

The president called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass a bipartisan reform bill approved in a 338-88 House vote.

“Heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate,” Obama said in the Oval Office alongside Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Senators will return to Washington for a rare Sunday session to try and break the impasse over a series of measures, including language authorizing the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone records collection program.

The Senate failed to move forward with the House bill late last week when a procedural motion won only 57 votes — three short of the number needed to proceed.

“We’ve only got a few days,” Obama said. “Authorities expire Sunday at midnight and I don’t want us to be in a situation where for a certain period of time those authorities go away. … I’ve indicated to Leader McConnell and other senators, I expect them to take action and take action swiftly.”

–Jordan Fabian, Obama pleads that Senate act on NSA reform
The Hill (29 May 2015)

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. government is sinking another 500-1,000 soldiers into the Third Iraq War. Oh, but they’re Just Military Advisors, natch:

Shared Article from CNN

White House OKs up to 450 additional troops in Iraq - CNNPolitic…

President Barack Obama's administration is considering sending about 500 additional forces to Iraq, with many of them focused on training Iraqi troops…

cnn.com


Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama’s administration is planning to train Sunni tribes’ fighters as part of its move to send up to 450 additional U.S. forces to Iraq, the White House said Wednesday.

The United States is also sending weapons to Sunni tribes, as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who are operating under Iraqi command, in order to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

. . . The additional U.S. military personnel will train and advise Iraqi and tribal troops at the Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province.

. . . The Associated Press was the first to report earlier Tuesday that the administration was considering sending up to 1,000 U.S. forces to the country.

. . . There are currently 3,050 U.S. forces in Iraq — with 2,250 of them devoted to supporting Iraqi security forces, 800 protecting U.S. personnel and facilities, 450 training Iraqi troops and 200 in advising and assisting roles.

–Eric Bradner, Barbara Starr and Jim Acosta. White House authorizes up to 450 additional troops in Iraq
CNN (10 June 2015)

#EndTheWar #USOut #AbolishTheNSA #AbolishThePATRIOTAct #AbolishThePresidency

War is not a weapon you can aim

. . . In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

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

This is a promise that is foolish to make. Maybe he’s right that the proxy wars on the ground and the U.S. war in the air won’t end up dragging U.S. forces deeper into a quagmire on the ground. But there is no way he can confidently promise this. War is not a weapon that you can aim, not even if you are President of the United States, and expect that you’ll hit exactly what you hoped to, with no complications or unexpected results. Modern wars are always conducted on the basis of classified information, secret strategic interests that are not disclosed to the public, half-accurate information and politically-filtered intelligence. They operate away from any possibility of informed consent by ordinary people, who don’t have access to the information government keeps secret, and indeed even away from the possibility of informed decisions by that government, which finds itself blundering through the fog of its own secrecy, errors, self-deception and political rationales. Wars develop a logic of their own and they always involve both deception of the public about the likely outcomes, and also consequences unintended or unforeseen even by their architects. It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S. military advisors got drawn into a land war in Asia. It wouldn’t even be the first time that U.S. build-up was really only a prelude to a wider war in Iraq.

Certainly, it has already proven a prelude to bringing the U.S. war power into a wider regional war.

The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground.

The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.

–Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12
Seven Arts (June, 1917).

End all war, immediately, completely, and forever.

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 Neo-Conservative That Is One

Here's a young-looking photo of

David Brooks (2004): neo-conservative creepy spendthrift fascist

Hey, man, remember 10 years ago, back when David Brooks wrote a column in which he disavowed neo-conservative as a political label, insisted that there was no coherent group of neo-conservatives, insisted that the people labeled neocons had no real influence on the Bush administration and agreed about basically nothing other than foreign policy, and then went on to ridicule everyone who wrote about neocon influence on the Republican Party and to mock them in the most abusive terms, as full-mooner, probably anti-Semitic, conspiracy theorists?

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for “conservative” and neo is short for “Jewish”) travel in widely different circles and don’t actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle’s insidious power over administration policy, but I’ve been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he’s shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

It’s true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation. All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line, Bush wouldn’t know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. (If you ever read a sentence that starts with Neocons believe, there is a 99.44 percent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.)

–David Brooks (2004), The Era of Distortion
New York Times (January 6, 2004).

Boy howdy, that was a time.

Here's an older looking photo of

David Brooks (2013): creepy spendthrift fascist neo-conservative

The conservatism that Kristol was referring to is neoconservatism. Neocons came in for a lot of criticism during the Iraq war, but neoconservatism was primarily a domestic policy movement. Conservatism was at its peak when the neocons were dominant and nearly every problem with the Republican Party today could be cured by a neocon revival. . . .

–David Brooks (2013), The Neocon Revival
New York Times (August 1, 2013)

So, in light of a New York Times correction ten years in the making, I will no longer be calling David Brooks a creepy spendthrift fascist. It’s back to neo-conservative, which is of course a much more succinct way of saying the same thing.

In case you were wondering, the domestic policy movement Brooks is so eager to revive, incidentally, is the use of an expansive welfare state for Right-wing social engineering. Or here’s the creepy spendthrift fascist neo-conservative Brooks (2013), in his own words The crucial issue for the health of the nation, in this view, is not the size of government; it is the character of the people. Neocons opposed government programs that undermined personal responsibility and community cohesion, but they supported those programs that reinforced them or which had no effect. Neocons put values at the center of their governing philosophy, but their social policy was neither morally laissez-faire like the libertarians nor explicitly religious like some social conservatives. Neocons mostly sought policies that would encourage self-discipline. In almost every area of public concern, we are seeking to induce persons to act virtuously, whether as schoolchildren, applicants for public assistance, would-be lawbreakers, or voters and public officials, James Q. Wilson wrote.

You may have noticed that back in 2004, those were exactly the kinds of sentences that David Brooks predicted to have a 99.44% chance of being entirely untrue; since at the time he insisted that the only thing the people labeled neocons agreed on at all was an aggressive National Greatness foreign policy. But now in 2013 he simply shoves the whole thing to one side within a single sentence, and insists that the main thing they really had in common was their aggressively paternal-statist commitments in domestic policy. I don’t know; I guess maybe something must have happened in the interim so that it is now more politic to talk up neoconservative ideas on domestic policy rather than neoconservative ideas on foreign policy?

Just spitballing here.

Also.

Left flank

I saw this on SNL (yeah, I know) a couple weeks ago while I was visiting my folks in Alabama.

This is a truly awful impression, but if you can get around that, I think that the sketch is one of the few things SNL has done in a long time that’s both genuinely funny and politically insightful.

Thanks to a mention by Matt Welch, here’s Chris Hedges, in truthdig last month, writing Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad:

The right-wing accusations against Barack Obama are true. He is a socialist, although he practices socialism for corporations. He is squandering the country’s future with deficits that can never be repaid. He has retained and even bolstered our surveillance state to spy on Americans. He is forcing us to buy into a health care system that will enrich corporations and expand the abuse of our for-profit medical care. He will not stanch unemployment. He will not end our wars. He will not rebuild the nation. He is a tool of the corporate state.

The right wing is not wrong. It is not the problem. We are the problem. If we do not tap into the justifiable anger sweeping across the nation, if we do not militantly push back against corporate fraud and imperial wars that we cannot win or afford, the political vacuum we have created will be filled with right-wing lunatics and proto-fascists. The goons will inherit power not because they are astute, but because we are weak and inept.

— Chris Hedges, truthdig (2009-09-14): Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad

And here’s Robert Scheer on the Changeling’s first year of rule:

A president has only so much capital to expend, both in tax dollars and public tolerance, and Barack Obama is dangerously overdrawn. He has tried to have it all on three fronts, and his administration is in serious danger of going bankrupt. . . . Yes, Obama was presented with a series of crises not of his making but for which he is now being held accountable. He is not a “socialist” who grew the federal budget to astronomical proportions. That is the legacy of George W. Bush, who raised the military budget to its highest level since World War II despite the end of the Cold War and the lack of a formidable military opponent— a legacy of debt compounded by Bush’s decision to first ignore the banking meltdown and then to engage in a welfare-for-Wall-Street bailout. And it was Bush who gave the pharmaceutical companies the gift of a very expensive government subsidy for seniors’ drugs.

But what is nerve-racking about Obama is that even though he campaigned against Bush’s follies he has now embraced them. He hasn’t yet managed to significantly reduce the U.S. obligation in Iraq and has committed to making a potentially costlier error by ratcheting up America’s “nation-building” role in Afghanistan.

Just as he was burdened with the Afghanistan situation, Obama was saddled with a banking crisis he didn’t cause, and the worst that can be said of his attempted solutions to the financial mess is that they were inherited from Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. But Obama, who raised questions before his election about the propriety of a plan that would rescue the banks but ignore the plight of ordinary folks, has adopted that very approach as president. He elevated Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the two Democrats most closely aligned with Paulson’s policy, to top positions in his government.

. . . Without a government program as a check on medical costs, Obama will end up with a variant of the Massachusetts program, one that forces consumers to sign up with private insurers and costs 33 percent more than the national average. He will have furthered the Bush legacy of cultivating an ever more expensive big government without improving how the people are served.

— Robert Scheer, truthdig (2009-09-15): Obama’s Presidency Isn’t Too Big to Fail

Here’s Jesse Walker, in an article from a couple weeks ago for reason.com, Obama Is No Radical: But maybe we’d be better off if he were.

Thus far, the president’s domestic agenda has been many things, but radical it isn’t. Radicals make sudden turns. Obama sometimes slams his foot on the accelerator—just look at projected spending for the next few years—but he hardly ever tries to change direction. Radicals tear down centers of power. When Obama is faced with a crumbling institution, his first instinct is to prop it up.

That was most obviously true with the bailouts, a series of corporate preservation programs that began before he took office and have only increased since then. Candidate Obama voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the 2008 bailout for failing financial institutions, and he personally intervened to urge skeptical liberals to support it. After Congress refused to authorize a bailout of the car companies, Obama followed George W. Bush in ignoring the plain language of the law and funneling funds to them anyway. Like Bush before him, Obama took advantage of such moments to adjust the institutional relationship between these nominally private businesses and the state: firing the head of General Motors, urging the company to consolidate brands, pushing for new controls on Wall Street pay. But the institutions themselves were preserved, in some cases enriched. The radical thing to do would have been to let them collapse.

And no, I’m not using “radical” as a euphemism for “free-market libertarian.” A radical Obama still might have extended assistance to the people displaced by the corporate failures, perhaps even setting up a generous guaranteed income scheme. He might have broken up the big banks. He might have done all sorts of things, some wiser than others. But he would not have strengthened the corporate-state partnerships bequeathed to him by Bush.

. . . Now we have health care reform. Here you might actually expect the president to veer in a new direction and let a powerful institution die. After all, it’s been only six years since he described himself as “a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan,” and if he were serious about that it would mean the end of the private health insurance industry. . . .

First, it’s increasingly unlikely that a public option will be a part of the bill that emerges, in which case we’ll be left with an enormous boondoggle for the industry: a law requiring every American to buy health insurance or else face legal sanctions. . . . Second, and more important, a system with more government-provided insurance, even one with only government-provided insurance, would still accept the institutional premises of the present medical system. Consider the typical American health care transaction. On one side of the exchange you’ll have one of an artificially limited number of providers, many of them concentrated in those enormous, faceless institutions called hospitals. On the other side, making the purchase, is not a patient but one of those enormous, faceless institutions called insurers. The insurers, some of which are actual arms of the government and some of which merely owe their customers to the government’s tax incentives and shape their coverage to fit the government’s mandates, are expected to pay all or a share of even routine medical expenses. The result is higher costs, less competition, less transparency, and, in general, a system where the consumer gets about as much autonomy and respect as the stethoscope. Radical reform would restore power to the patient. Instead, the issue on the table is whether the behemoths we answer to will be purely public or public-private partnerships.

So I can’t agree with Horowitz, Hannity, or Andy Williams. The president could pal around with militiamen, hook a money hose from the Treasury to ACORN HQ, and sleep each night with a Zapatista plush doll, but as long as his chief concern is preserving and protecting the country’s largest corporate enterprises, the biggest beneficiaries of his reign will be at the core of the American establishment.

— Jesse Walker, reason (2009-09-30): Obama Is No Radical: But maybe we’d be better off if he were.

If you want a recipe for real disgust with the prevailing political establishment, and a real opening for radical critique, one of the things that has to happen is that dissidents need to begin to see that even the longed-for best-case scenario can’t possibly deliver what they want, because what they were promised just won’t fit through the political channels that they had put their hope in. An obvious tool like George W. Bush inspires a lot of fear and loathing; but he also inspires a lot of faith in the myth that if only someone who wasn’t such an obvious tool were in power, these problems would all get sorted out right quick. But when you have a ballyhooed reformer holding the reins of power, over-promising and under-delivering — and when it becomes increasingly clear that politics as usual will keep on keeping on — that’s often when you begin to see a real chance for a crack-up. If the organizers and the dissidents know what to make of the situation, knows how to connect with that kind of disappointment and anger, and can offer a real alternative to the failure of within-the-system political reforms. (Which is part of the reason why I take out-Lefting the Left, and introducing people-powered, direct-action alternatives to electoral politics, to be really essential for left-libertarians right now.)

Perhaps it’s appropriate that we’re watching this go down as we pass through the 20th anniversary of Fall 1989. I can only HopeTM that we might yet see Barack Obama end up playing the Gorbachev of American imperial politics.