Archive for July, 2010

Know Your Enemy

July 29th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from Center for a Stateless Society.

Neoconservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has been exercised lately (“Terror and Candor,” National Review Online, July 3)  about the “cowardice” of the Obama administration in refusing to identify “Islamic extremism” as the  enemy in the War on Terror.

When we survey the destruction inflicted on this country by terrorism, Krauthammer says, we should look the enemy square in the face and pronounce him guilty by name.

Fair enough.

Reporting after the earthquake in Haiti revealed a massive toll of death and homelessness (230,000 and a million, respectively), and the immense damage to transportation and utility infrastructure. When power, sanitation and clean water supplies are cut off, water-borne epidemics ensue quickly. With a population weakened by hunger from a breakdown of the food distribution system, the rider on the pale horse gets busy.

Let’s compare the toll on human lives and infrastructure from that natural disaster to those of a couple of entirely manmade disasters. NATO deliberately targeted power and water infrastructure in Serbia, in order to demoralize the civilian population. As NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said, “If President Milosevic really wants all of his population to have water and electricity all he has to do is accept NATO’s five conditions and we will stop this campaign.” And in Iraq, the death toll from two decades of strategic bombing, sanctions and infrastructure damage is into the millions. The United States unleashed the equivalent of two Haiti earthquakes on two defenseless countries. The penalty for disobedience to the new hegemon is death from the skies.

The neoconservatives of the Project for a New American Century agitated for both wars with everything they had.  The organization’s name says it all: Their goal is to lock the United States permanently into place as the world’s sole military superpower, and destroy any nation that challenges that supremacy. In the case of Iraq, despite all the lies about WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda, all the neocons really cared about, in the words of Michael Ledeen, was a demonstration effect:  To “pick up a crappy little country” — any country, it didn’t matter which one — and “throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Well, I guess a million people who died from incineration, starvation, or excreting their collapsed intestines with dysentery, know those guys meant business.

So if we’re naming enemies, neoconservatism’s death toll stacks up pretty favorably against that of “Islamism.”

But neoconservatism is just a more virulent, more explicit and shameless, version of the bipartisan “national security” policy that’s dominated the American state since WWII. Just as much as the neoconservatives, the “moderates” and “liberals” agree that — in Noam Chomsky’s words — “we own the world.” They all agree that the United States should be the sole military superpower, enforcing a system of world order. They all agree that the U.S. has legitimate “national security” interests that extend to telling countries all over the world what to do, and maintaining an Empire of hundreds of military bases in dozens of countries. Like the “liberals” in Vietnam, they think Iraq was a “mistake.” But they don’t dispute the “right” of the United States to initiate such wars when it’s “necessary.”

It’s as true of Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and John “Plan Colombia” Kerry as it is of Dick Cheney and Richard Armitage. When liberals talk about “putting the grownups back in charge,” those are the kinds of people they mean. People who are just as willing to inflict megadeaths when “necessary,” but don’t quite — you know — get into it so much.

The real enemy behind the untold millions of deaths inflicted by Empire are what C. Wright Mills called “Crackpot Realists”:  The sane, sensible, serious people who know what needs to be done to keep the only world they know running, and just quietly do it. As C. S. Lewis put it, the greatest crimes in human history were committed by men with clean fingernails and pleasant, well-modulated voices, sitting in tastefully appointed offices. For these people, a global system of corporate neoliberalism enforced by the United States, the G20, the World Bank and UN Security Council is the only conceivable way of doing things. And to keep this system going — as the only possible basis for what they call “peace and prosperity” — they do what’s “necessary.” When there’s “collateral damage,” they regret it. But they don’t flinch from the task. Because, after all, America is the indispensable nation.

To quote science fiction writer Ken MacLeod:  “You know how this stuff ends? It ends with your cities in rubble, your capital occupied, and your leaders hanged.”

Krauthammer says “the first rule of war is to know your enemy. If you don’t, you … ignore the real causes that might allow you to prevent recurrences.”


[Read the original at Center for a Stateless Society (2010-07-29)...]


July 29th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from der Blaustrumpf.

I can’t improve on what Charles Davis thinks of Matthew Yglesias’s “Priorities”:

“From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it.”

Matt Yglesias, Center for American Progress

The above excerpt comes from a post noting the inconsistency of self-styled deficit hawks complaining about the relative pittance spent on social programs and its contribution to the national debt even as they vote in lockstep to drop another $37 billion on a failing nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. And as far as the point goes, it’s a good one…But there’s something wrong — something sick, really — with Ygelsias’ war-as-stimulus argument that strikes me as far more offensive than the fact that some fiscal conservatives are hypocrites when it comes to the National Security State…What you shouldn’t do in a debate over war, at least if you want to maintain your status as a Non-Despicable Person, is argue that bombing and occupying a foreign nation makes good economic sense. Even if it were true as an academic point, it’s grotesquely out of place in a discussion of matters of life and death. War, if it can ever be justified — and I have my doubts — can only be so on the grounds that it is absolutely necessary to protecting human life: there is no other choice, it’s a last resort. Yet Yglesias discusses the continuation of a major, bloody armed conflict as if it were just another jobs program; perhaps not the most effective one to his mind, but hey, it’s better that the federal government spend money on a pointless war than do nothing at all (like actually save money by ending said pointless war).

false dichotomy by charles davis: Beltway liberalism in 24 words.

A pretend war, a real war, it’s all the same to Yglesias, so long as it gives some relatively safe and privileged American his 9-to-5 back.  The broken window fallacy is stupid and destructive enough, but to willingly swap it for some sort of monstrous broken lives fallacy is indeed about as sick and wrong as it comes.

Filed under: economics, War Tagged: charlesdavis, War, ygnominy

[Read the original at der Blaustrumpf ()...]

Where Do I Enlist?

July 22nd, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from der Blaustrumpf » Being Rational Doesn’t Make You a Misogynist.

This was good for a chuckle:

There is overwhelming agreement among economists that the Second World War was responsible for decisively ending the Great Depression. When asked why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are failing to make the same impact today, they often claim that the current conflicts are simply too small to be economically significant.

There is, of course, much irony here. No one argues that World War II, with its genocide, tens of millions of combatant casualties, and wholesale destruction of cities and regions, was good for humanity. But the improved American economy of the late 1940s seems to illustrate the benefits of large-scale government stimulus. This conundrum may be causing some to wonder how we could capture the good without the bad.
If one believes that government spending can create economic growth, then the answer should be simple: let’s have a huge pretend war that rivals the Second World War in size. However, this time, let’s not kill anyone.

Peter Schiff:  Why Not Another World War? | Euro Pacific Capital.

Honestly, I see a lot of promise here.  So many Americans see the military mainly as a men’s club and pageant, or as a nifty science and gadget lab.  Feminists and gays seem oblivious to the military’s actual purpose and see it chiefly as a testing ground for social equality, while middle-class advocates for the working class consider it a job program for youths pushed out of work by the minimum wage and other economic tinkering.  We could have a lot of fun with this if you keep the waste of time, material, and productivity and take out the killing, especially since so many have already mentally subtracted the actual loss of life from the equation.

Schiff, though, is merely kidding:

If all of this seems absurd, that’s because it is. War is a great way to destroy things, but it’s a terrible way to grow an economy.
What is often overlooked is that war creates hardship, and not just for those who endure the violence. Yes, US production increased during the Second World War, but very little of that was of use to anyone but soldiers. Consumers can’t use a bomber to take a family vacation.
The goal of an economy is to raise living standards. During the War, as productive output was diverted to the front, consumer goods were rationed back home and living standards fell. While it’s easy to see the numerical results of wartime spending, it is much harder to see the civilian cutbacks that enabled it.
The truth is that we cannot spend our way out of our current crisis, no matter how great a spectacle we create. Even if we spent on infrastructure rather than war, we would still have no means to fund it, and there would still be no guarantee that the economy would grow as a result.
Ok.  I still want tassels.  And a parade.  And a fancy funeral.

Filed under: War Tagged: economy, military, spectacle, War

[Read the original at der Blaustrumpf » Being Rational Doesn’t Make You a Misogynist (2010-07-22)...]

by the rivers of Babylon

July 18th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from lowercase liberty.

The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented HistoryThis is from The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi:

I entered Babylon with an invading army and now I leave in the last available Coalition convoy. The occupation forces are moving on. Camp Babylon is closing down and Polish and American forces are relocating south-east to the town of Diwaniyah. The desecration of Babylon, for the time being at least, is over.

I hitch a ride in one of the few unarmoured Humvees and immediately feel uncomfortably exposed. It’s too late to do anything about it. I’m lucky to get a seat. Body armour has been hung over the doors, almost as an afterthought, to provide a modicum of protection, but serves only to underline how vulnerable the vehicle is. We set off in an untidy straggle like a snake slithering away from trouble. The end-of-an-era atmosphere hangs heavily in the air. I am a short-term impostor but these men have been here for months in what will be a shameful footnote in Babylon’s history. Everyone knows the Iraqis can’t wait for the invaders to leave this place, the symbol of their country’s unrivalled history. Most of the soldiers couldn’t care less. They have just been doing their job.


‘Dudes, get this,’ says one of the sergeants in the Humvee, turning to me. I see a dusty self-portrait in his wraparound sunglasses. ‘Justin, you’ll like this, these guys are Brits. Check out our farewell-to-all-this-bullshit song.’

He pushes a button on his portable stereo and a tinny voice vibrates through the sand-smothered speakers. It is an anthem of my childhood. Boney M. 1978.

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down
Ye-ah we wept,
When we remembered Zion …

The wind rushing through the Humvee snatches some of the music away, but I know the words. They have lodged in my memory and cannot be removed. The soldiers hoo-rah and whistle. ‘Rock ‘n’ roll, baby!’ one of them screams, kicking off another round of celebrations. Their time in Babylon has come to an end. They are a step nearer home.

The ‘Rivers of Babylon’ lyrics were directly lifted from Psalm 137, a melancholic meditation on slavery by the Jewish captives in Babylon, sitting on the banks of the Euphrates. They are enslaved in a foreign land, far from their home, where their captors mock their religion and demand they entertain them with ‘one of the songs of Zion’.

‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ they reply, utterly bereft. The Babylonians are foreigners, no part of the covenant God made with Abraham. These barbarians have laid waste to Jerusalem, and the Jews, missing their religion, longing for their temples, urge each other not to forget what happened in their homeland, to remember their tormentors’ orders to raze the holy city to the ground -’Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!’ Now they wish only vengeance upon their captors. This is no New Testament turn-the-other-cheek response to their humiliation and captivity because we are in the fire-and-brimstone Old Testament world of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But all this bloodlust proved too much for Boney M, otherwise so faithful to Psalm 137. The group wisely left out the final verses.

0 daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!

[Read the original at lowercase liberty (2010-07-18)...]

Way Down in the Trenches

July 14th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from Jesse Walker: Reason Magazine articles and blog posts..

"Too much has happened. Someone's got to be hurt. The only question is who."I either never knew or had forgotten that Paths of Glory, one of Stanley Kubrick's best films, was based on a novel. The book in question, written by Humphrey Cobb and first published in 1935, is now back in print with a new introduction by Wire creator David Simon.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun, Michael Sragow explores Simon's passion for the story, and for the humanistic, anti-authoritarian ideals that animate it:

A few years ago, exasperated by interviewers who viewed Season 5 of "The Wire" strictly as a roman a clef about The Baltimore Sun, Simon told a reporter that "the film template in his head" was actually "the most important political film of the 20th century, which is 'Paths of Glory.'" Simon said it spoke more eloquently than any other picture "to the essential triumph of institutions over individuals and … to the fundamental inhumanity of the 20th century and beyond."

He said his dramatic models for The Sun's top editors -- and for key powers at City Hall and the port of Baltimore -- were the generals in Kubrick's movie...."You can't help but love those characters," Simon says, "because they embody so much of what goes on in institutions. They're utterly invested in the status quo unless they see an advantage to themselves. They operate on the pain-pleasure principle: Anything that gives me pleasure is good, anything that gives me pain is bad."

[Read the original at Jesse Walker: Reason Magazine articles and blog posts. (2010-07-14)...]

Twain and America's "Uniformed Assassins"

July 11th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from Once Upon a Time....

The first of three volumes of "the complete and authoritative edition" of Mark Twain's autobiography will be published in November. The new material in Volume I will be "as little as 5 percent" of that volume alone, but by the time all three volumes are published, "about half will not have ever been in print before."

Twain himself decided to have his dictated autobiography published only selectively for a long time:
"From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed [his heirs and editors] in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see."
According to the Times story, Twain feared that some of his opinions "would damage his reputation if not withheld." Aw, Sam. Well, here we are a century later anyway. Timing is all!

The Times provides these details concerning some of the more "acerbic" views:
Twain’s opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, for example, were well known even in his own time. But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.

In a passage [previously] removed by Paine, Twain excoriates “the iniquitous Cuban-Spanish War” and Gen. Leonard Wood’s “mephitic record” as governor general in Havana. In writing about an attack on a tribal group in the Philippines, Twain refers to American troops as “our uniformed assassins” and describes their killing of “six hundred helpless and weaponless savages” as “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”

He is similarly unsparing about the plutocrats and Wall Street luminaries of his day, who he argued had destroyed the innate generosity of Americans and replaced it with greed and selfishness. “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars,” Twain observes. “He pays taxes on two million and a half.”
Twain was entirely correct about the "uniformed assassins" in the Philippines (and in many other countries down to this moment, knowledge of which he was spared, though he may be looking up from Hell with fearsome gaze). "The Mythology of the 'Good Guy' American" offers many details about the abominations committed by the U.S. in the Philippines. Here's a small, excruciating sample, from Paul A. Kramer's The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines:
One of the most banal and brutal manifestations of racialization was U.S. soldiers' imagination of war as hunting. The Manila occupation and "friendly policy" had frustrated martial masculinity; the metaphor of the hunt made war, at last, into masculine self-fulfillment. All at once, a language of hunting bestialized Filipinos made sense of guerrilla war to American troops, and joined the latter in manly fraternity. "I don't know when the thing will let out," wrote Louis Hubbard one week into the war, "and don't care as we are having lots of excitement. It makes me think of killing jack rabbits."


The most notorious orders of indiscriminate killing were Gen. Jacob H. Smith's late October 1901 instructions to Marine Maj. Littleron W.T. Waller, following Filipino revolutionaries' successful surprise attack against U.S. soldiers at Balangiga on the island of Samar, to make reprisals against the entire population of the island. "I want no prisoners," he had directed. "I wish you to kill and burn." Smith ordered "all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States." When Waller had asked the general for clarification, Smith stated that he considered any person over the age of ten "capable of bearing arms." The interior of Samar must be made "a howling wilderness!" The direct result of these instructions was systematic destruction and killing on a vast scale.
The full article has much more, if you can stand it. But dear me, it certainly sounds as if Twain might not "support the troops." I'd like to think that piece might find some small favor with him.

I also enjoyed this bit from the Times:
“I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value,” Twain writes. “However, let it go,” he adds. “It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.”
And, we are now compelled to add, it is also God's will that we must have bloggers.

Bear up, gentle readers.

[Read the original at Once Upon a Time... (2010-07-11)...]

Thank God we have a Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House now

July 4th, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from The Superfluous Man.

June 2010 was the bloodiest month for NATO troops in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war nine years ago. There were either 101 or 81 fatalities, depending on whether you use the figures from iCasualties or official military statements, but each figure is the highest reported by its respective source since operations began in 2001. I don't have any figures in front of me for Afghan

[Read the original at The Superfluous Man (2010-07-04)...]

Afghanistan in Light of the Coming Presidential Campaign

July 2nd, 2010

This is a syndicated post, originally from Free Association.

In thinking about Afghanistan, let's step back a moment: Barack Obama is up for reelection in November 2012. He won't want to go into that campaign being called "the man who lost Afghanistan -- the central front in the war on terror." So between now and then, expect a lot of PR about how things are beginning to improve now that Gen. David Petraeus is in charge of NATO forces.

It will all be lies. Innocent Afghans will be killed, along with U.S. troops. Any Afghan who objects to the U.S. occupation will be branded "Taliban." Millions of dollars -- from drugs and the U.S. taxpayers -- will find their way into foreign bank accounts. Everyone will be cutting their own deals. Pakistan will be disrupted by drone attacks. And new "terrorists" will be recruited and determined to kill Americans.

Why? So Barack Obama can "serve us" for another four years.

[Read the original at Free Association (2010-07-02)...]