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As US Bombs ISIS in Syria, Even Some Pro-War Pundits Express Skepticism

TheNation.com
September 23, 2014

As US Bombs ISIS in Syria, Even Some Pro-War Pundits Express Skepticism

William Greider

The war whoops of the pundit class helped propel the nation into yet another doomed military adventure in the Middle East. Ghastly beheadings by a newly discovered enemy were the frightening flashpoint. The president ordered bombers aloft and US munitions were once again pounding battlefields in Iraq—and as of last night, in Syria. The president promised to “degrade and destroy” this vicious opponent.

Here we go again, I thought. This is how modern America goes to war. When superpower Goliath is challenged by sudden savagery, it has no choice but to respond with brute force. Or so we are told. Otherwise, America would no longer be a convincing Goliath. When war bells clang, politicians of every stripe find it very difficult to resist, lest they look weak or unpatriotic. And the American people, as usual, rally around the flag, as they always do when the country seems threatened. Citizens and members of the uniformed military are tired of war, but both in a sense are prisoners of the media-hyped hysteria that is the usual political reflex. Shoot first, ask questions later.

Only this time something different seems to be unfolding. Some of the most belligerent political commentators like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times are beginning to sound, well, wimpish. The new war is only a few weeks old, but Friedman and other prominent cheerleaders are already expressing sober second thoughts.

“How did we start getting so afraid again so fast?” Friedman asked. He ought to remember because Tom Friedman was a leading fear-monger a dozen years ago when the United States invaded Iraq with “shock and awe” destruction. Now the columnist wants us to be cautious. “Before we get in any deeper,” he wrote, “let’s ask some radical questions, starting with: What if we did nothing?”

Radical indeed. In 2003, he celebrated US intervention as a generous gift to the Iraqi people. “The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today,” Friedman boasted, “is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by both sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics.”

What did Americans learn at the Iraq War? We learned not to believe cocky pundits with their grandiose ideas about how America would use its awesome military weapons to civilize other countries. That war-of-choice doctrine has been America’s foreign policy for the quarter century since the Cold War ended. We have deployed troops and weaponry around the world, looking for trouble in scores of countries. Sure enough, trouble found us.

The big media have been an important component of the US war machine because they transmit and amplify any potential dangers we are supposed to fear. Then the big-foot columnists act like theater critics, righteously questioning if the government performance has been sufficiently vigilant and aggressive. President Obama resisted these go-to-war pressures, hoping foreign policy could be gradually demilitarized. In the end, he surrendered to the battle cries.

Belated second thoughts by elite media may simply be an attempt to paper over their past failures and perhaps dodge blame for this new borderless war they helped promote. The evidence of how the press failed the country in that last war is so overwhelming , bringing it up again is like shooting fish in a barrel. If some pundits feel guilty, they have much to feel guilty about.

When George W. Bush’s war turned sour, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offered an incredibly lame explanation for the media’s failure. “In a sense,” Ignatius wrote in 2004, “the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn’t create a debate of their own.” The press is not supposed to stir up things on its own? That narrow notion of what reporters and editors are not supposed to do bluntly explains why media heavies in Washington serve their sources among the governing elites, without thinking much about the broader public.

Then Ignatius provided an even more damning excuse for not asking tough questions. “Because major news organizations knew the war was coming,” he explained. “We spent a lot of energy in the last three months before war preparing to cover it—arranging for reporters to be embedded with military units, purchasing chemical and biological weapons gear and setting up forward command posts in Kuwait that mirrored those of the US military.” War is exciting, war is a chance to dress up in camouflage suits and play like real soldiers.

Like Tom Friedman and others, Ignatius is elaborating on reasons why this new war in Iraq and Syria might not work out so well. His columns cite many critical questions, but without actually opposing the intervention. This is progress of a sort, but not so different from what he said during the last Iraq war. Ignatius apologized many times then for overlooking key factors but always retained his support.

”I don’t regret my support for toppling Hussein but I wish…” “I still think the war was a just cause but I worry…” “My own gut tells me this is a war worth fighting but I’m bothered…” “My own mistake was thinking more about the justice of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime than about the difficulty of building a new postwar Iraq.”

In the sophisticated milieu of Washington policy makers, it is acceptable to question specific policies or strategies, so long as you do not go overboard and denounce the administration’s overall objective. If you do that, you may discover that valued sources will no longer take your calls.

So it is possible that the various commentators criticizing elements of Obama’s war policy are actually reflecting what their government sources tell them and want to see published. The press is often used in this round-about way by agencies that want to lobby the White House on sensitive policy debates but without getting blamed. Sophisticated readers know, for instance, that David Ignatius is regarded as the CIA’s go-to-guy at The Washington Post. His deep sources at the agency trust him not to violate their anonymity or intrude on dark secrets like torture or assassination. Washington insiders know how to read between the lines of unsourced stories and figure how who is pushing on whom.

In that regard, David Ignatius has raised some smart questions about how this war will be fought and the tension with Obama’s vow not to deploy uniformed American ground troops. The CIA, Ignatius pointed out, could help solve the problem if it is given the management role for special forces and for running paramilitary units covertly, the kind of war the agency often directed in the past.

“Let’s be honest,” Ignatius wrote. “US boots are already on the ground and more are coming. The question is whether Obama will decide to say so publicly, or remain in his preferred role as covert commander in chief.” Ignatius conceded that covert war by the CIA would quickly be known by the enemy. Only Americans would be kept in the dark.

These tactical issues will generate a lot of controversy in Washington, but they do not address the larger question facing American war-making. The US notion that it can pursue lots of little wars wherever it sees bad guys is a doomed concept. Not only do these wars fail their objectives—establishing peace and order—but they literally build recruiting strength for our so-called enemies (most people resent having their village bombed by Uncle Sam). If not this war, then maybe the next war will finally persuade the American public (if not Washington policy hounds) that this open-ended search for enemies is plain nuts. The United States must somehow find ways to back out of its exposure as the singular Goliath willing to fight on limitless fronts. Getting out of this trap won’t be easy, for sure, but neither is the foreign policy of endless war.

The best news I see in Washington right now is that scattered voices in the media and government are beginning to ask the right questions—the same questions Tom Friedman posed but did not quite answer. What exactly are we afraid of? What would happen if we did nothing? Among leading columnists, I have seen only two who are framing the American dilemma in a more straightforward way.

Columnist Eugene Robinson is a lonely voice at The Washington Post arguing for a fundamental shift. He has no touchy-feely illusions about holding hands with jihadists. But he knows repression by military force insures the cultural collision will get worse.

“Political Islam cannot be bombed away,” Robinson wrote. “If it is not somehow allowed constructive expression, it will make itself heard, and felt, in more tragic ways.”

Robinson is a liberal. The other columnist exploring similar terrain is Ross Douthat of The New York Times, a conservative. Douthat suggested a hybrid strategy of containment and attrition that avoids a larger war in Syria and backs away from the illusions that ground warfare leads to nation-building. “It does not traffic, in other words, in the fond illusions that we took with us into Iraq in 2003 and that hard experience should have disabused of by now,” Douthat wrote. “But some illusions are apparently just too powerful for America to shake.”

CALC-OP-ED: Move tax dollars from Pentagon back to people

Move tax dollars from Pentagon back to people

By Shelley Pineo-Jensen and Michael Carrigan

Published: 12:00 a.m., April 15, 2014

Today is tax day — the day our income taxes come due. Every year Americans mail their returns with little idea where their tax dollars are going.
According to The Washington Post, the United States spends far more than any other country on defense and security. Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared to $530 billion from $287 billion — and that’s before accounting for the primary costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2011, the United States spent more on its military than the next 13 nations combined, including China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and India.

President Eisenhower’s warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex has gone unheeded. Our tax dollars are harvested as “defense” spending by multinational corporations such as Shell Oil and Halliburton, enriching and empowering them while the people’s needs are unmet.

Congress appropriates 57 percent of discretionary spending every year to the Pentagon, which stands as a major obstacle to solving serious problems our families and communities face — poverty, joblessness, a crumbling infrastructure.

Billions of dollars that could be used to feed hungry children, create jobs and rebuild our roads and bridges are instead going toward outdated weapons systems our country no longer needs. It’s time for Congress to move the money out of the Pentagon and back to our communities.

In addition to redirecting our federal tax dollars, we need to redirect corporate profits to pay for vital programs in Oregon. According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, at least 24 corporations that made a profit in Oregon in 2011, including eight with profits of more than $5 million, paid no Oregon income taxes for that year. Furthermore, 38 corporations with Oregon profits used tax credits to reduce their 2011 tax liability below the corporate minimum tax.

When corporations pay less tax than they should, they make it harder for our state to reduce crowding in our schools and invest in other public programs we need. Thousands of middle-class Oregon families are paying more in income taxes than some corporations pay after taking in millions in profits. Oregonians want every corporation, and especially the profitable ones, to pay a fair share to support the common good. The Oregon Legislature and governor need to change our tax system so that corporations and the wealthy contribute more in taxes.

Due to anti-worker trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the economic recession, the number of family wage jobs in the United States has declined dramatically. Former members of the middle class now toil as laborers with low pay, no job security, and no retirement or other benefits.

These two extremes — a bloated military budget and under-employed workers — represent the degree to which the political power of corporations has eroded democracy and core American values.

Instead of orienting our national goals around militarism and corporate profits, we need to focus on human beings.

Instead of reducing funding for education, we need more and better paid teachers with modern facilities.

Instead of excessive funding of homeland security and the National Security Agency, we need to better fund programs that effectively address climate change.

Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, we need domestic green jobs.

Instead of exporting jobs in anti-worker trade agreements, we need to rebuild our national transportation infrastructure.

Instead of for-profit health insurance, we need single payer not-for-profit health care.

Most importantly, instead of funding war after war, we need to fund programs that feed the 20 percent to 25 percent of American children who went hungry in the last 30 days.

To achieve these aims, it is taxpayers’ duty to become better informed and work to challenge undue corporate influence. If the majority of ordinary people come together, we have the numbers to influence the system and change the current biases favoring corporations and the wealthy. We have the brains, the heart, and the courage to stop needless war, employ workers with dignity and respect, stem climate change and restore the biosphere so that it will continue to sustain life.

Those of us in different movements who are striving to create a better world must work together if we are to change the system to effectively address people’s need for peace, equity for all and a healthy planet. We will come together today to call for just such a change. On this tax day, please join a broad coalition of peace, justice, environmental and labor activists at the downtown Eugene Post Office for a noon “Fight Climate Change, Not War” rally. All are welcome.

Shelley Pineo-Jensen is chairwoman of Eugene/Springfield Solidarity Network/Jobs with Justice. Michael Carrigan is peace organizer for the Community Alliance of Lane County.

CALC OP-Ed, “Americans demand diplomacy over war”

“Americans demand diplomacy over war
With most voters unwilling to enter into another war, the United States had to find a peaceful path

By Guy Maynard , in The Register-Guard,
Sunday, Feb 23

New possibilities for diplomacy — real alternatives to war — are rising. Those possibilities must be pursued urgently, seriously, and immediately”
— Phyllis Bennis and Jesse Jackson

A remarkable thing happened last fall as the United States marched toward military intervention in Syria — and yet another war in the Middle East. The American public sent an overwhelmingly clear message to decision-makers in Washington, D.C.: No!

It seemed as though the Obama administration almost stumbled into an alternative to military action, daring the Russians and their Syrian government allies to find another way to deal with the world’s concerns about the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

But the administration’s awkward machinations came in the face of polling that showed that 62 percent of Americans opposed U.S. intervention, and only 18 percent supported it.

“The media credit Russian President Vladimir Putin with extending a lifeline to President Barack Obama, allowing him a diplomatic way to delay his planned attack,” wrote Amy Goodman in The Guardian. “But without the mass domestic outcry against a military strike, Obama would not have needed, nor would he likely have heeded, an alternative to war.”

Within weeks of the U.S. pulling back from the brink in Syria, the announcement came that secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran had led to an interim agreement to address anxieties about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capabilities.

“Suddenly the stand-down on the threat of U.S. missiles in Syria has been joined by a deal on Iran that means moves toward war against Iran are off the table at least for six months, the Geneva II talks on Syria may actually start in the next few weeks, and the war in Afghanistan may actually be coming to an end,” wrote Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. “Could we be seeing the rising tide of diplomacy instead of military force as the basis of U.S. foreign policy?”

Bennis will appear in a live video presentation sponsored by the Community Alliance of Lane County and the Lane Peace Center, “War vs. Diplomacy: Uncovering the Real Debate in Washington,” at 7 p.m. on March 6 at Lane Community College’s Downtown Center.

As with the situation in Syria, the administration’s move away from war with Iran was prompted by strong public opinion. In a CNN/ORC International poll in September 2013, 76 percent of respondents supported direct U.S. negotiations with Iran and 21 percent opposed them. After the interim deal was announced, a Reuters poll revealed that 44 percent of Americans supported the diplomatic initiative while 22 percent opposed it.

Analysts attribute public support for diplomacy rather than military actions to war fatigue brought on by the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a healthy thing, as a little history lesson shows.

A Gallup poll in March of 2003 showed that, despite massive and vociferous demonstrations in Eugene and throughout the United States and the world, 64 percent of Americans supported “invading Iraq with ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power,” and only 33 percent were opposed. In a Pew Research poll released last month, 52 percent of Americans said the U.S. had mostly failed in achieving its goals in Iraq. Only 37 percent said the United States mostly had succeeded.

That failure cost us the lives of 4,500 American soldiers, at least 32,000 injured Americans, almost 200,000 Iraqi dead, and, according to a study by Brown University’s Watson Institute, $2 trillion.
Seventy-four Oregonians were killed in Iraq. Our tragic Iraq misadventure cost each American $6,298, or $2.23 billion for all the citizens of Lane County.

Think about the immensity of that number as we grovel for dollars for education and struggle to address homelessness, hunger and underemployment in our community. This does not even include the human and economic costs of the continuing war in Afghanistan, which are equally immense and distressing.

In early 2003, the anti-war movement was urging a continuation of diplomatic efforts to address concerns about potential weapons of mass destruction and other abuses of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Think how different these last 11 years might have been — for Iraq, for the United States, for Lane County — if we had devoted one-tenth the resources to diplomatic efforts that went into the failed military effort.

Unfortunately, the American public has been overly susceptible to the U.S. government’s deceptions and fear-mongering that led us into wars from Vietnam to Iraq. Let’s hope that the stunning and overwhelming opposition to U.S. military actions in Syria and Iran is an indication that that susceptibility is a thing of the past.

We should be eternally war fatigued and war leery. When was the last “successful” war for the U.S.?
The annual budget of the Defense Department has reached over $700 billion when the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are included, while the total budget for the State Department’s state and foreign operations is just over $50 billion.

A 2011 report by the American Academy of Diplomacy said, “Since at least 2001, America’s ‘smart power’ equation has been out of balance… . Resources have flowed abundantly and often uncritically to the Defense Department… . There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and underprepared.”

Diplomacy doesn’t mean doing nothing. Diplomacy, like war, is complicated and difficult and requires big risks and big investments — and courage: courage to compromise, courage to find common ground in seemingly irreconcilable situations. But it is worth the effort because diplomacy, unlike war, saves lives and money and builds relationships instead of creating enemies.

Unfortunately, our government is still geared toward war. It is we the people who must insist that diplomacy is always our first choice—instead of the next war. “We need to keep the diplomacy-not-war pressure on,” Bennis says.

Guy Maynard, retired editor of Oregon Quarterly magazine, is a member of the Progressive Responses Group of Community Alliance of Lane County and author of “The Risk of Being Ridiculous,” a historical novel.

Drones: the new, remotely-controlled threat to peace

DRONES are unmanned aircraft remotely controlled by US soldiers sitting at a computer console in Nevada or New York, that are used to spy on and/or kill people remotely in Pakistan, Yemen and many other countries.

The website pakistanbodycount.org estimates 103 drone strikes in Pakistan, between June 2004 to January 30, 2010, which resulted in 1065 civilian casualty deaths. The killing of civilians overseas by U.S. drones is causing huge suffering and creating great resentment toward the U.S. The money going to build and manning drones is better used at home toward services like education and healthcare.

In October of this year, 40 Americans, including four Oregonians, went on a peace delegation to Pakistan to learn more about the effects of drone strikes. We’ve invited them to report back about their trip at a Eugene event sometime in January.The U.S. Congress has mandated that US airspace be opened to drones by September, 2015. This raises serious concerns of the threat that drones present to both our privacy and our safety. In 2013, CALC plans to push our city Council to pass a resolution calling for Eugene to be a drone-free zone. We also plan to be asking the Eugene Police Department a series of questions about their possible use of drones.

CALC has raised the drone issue with Senators Wyden and Merkley and Rep. DeFazio. They share some of our concerns, especially regarding domestic privacy issues, but they need to take stronger positions against the use of drones in foreign countries. Please contact them and urge them to take a firm position against the use of drones.

Michael Carrigan,
CALC Community Organizer

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