Imagining Survival

The subject is crucial, but overlooked: now that Iraqis try to survive the desperate wreckage wrought by military and economic warfare, much of it caused by U.S. interference and outright genocidal policy decisions, how do we rebuild ourselves? How do we rebuild U.S. values so that at least a minimum of fairness and a potential for friendship could characterize our relationships with Iraq.

U.S. foreign policy has punished Iraqi people mercilessly. The U.S. pulled the plug on Iraqi life support systems, ostensibly because Iraqis couldn’t dislodge the brutal dictator whom the U.S. helped install. U.S. weapon making companies salivated over the Shock and Awe bombardment, the chance to profit through using new weapons and then profit again through support of military invasion and occupation. Fair play? Friendship with Iraqis? Payment of reparations for suffering caused? Forgiveness of past Iraqi debts to creditors who cut business deals with Saddam Hussein? These concepts don’t figure into the equations of planners who serve the bottom line of profit.

One has to pay very close attention to news about economic developments in Iraq to realize that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have now instituted programs that require Iraq to begin paying back debts incurred by the former dictator, Saddam Hussein. To pay those debts, the interim government in Iraq has agreed to cut back on subsidies that enabled every family to purchase cooking oil and petrol at low prices. The prices have already risen threefold and a tenfold increase is expected by the end of the year. Another austerity measure involves “monetizing the ration basket,” which means that the meager distribution of lentils, rice, cooking oil and tea once available to Iraqi families is being cut back, causing the price of these goods in the market to soar beyond the means of many poor families.

Today’s news reported that one of four Iraqi children suffer from acute and chronic malnourishment. Like Ruqayya, they face dim prospects for survival.

David Dellinger, a peace activist passionately committed to fair and friendly relations with Vietnamese people, wrote ruefully, after the Vietnam War, about “the illness of victors.” Dellinger diagnosed an inherent illness in the overwhelming superiority of U.S. military and economic might. He believed that violent strategies intended to prop up U.S. economic security were sick and that eventually U.S. people would find themselves in an insecure predicament, unable to control the “social volcanoes” that could threaten U.S. well-being at home and road. Long before the collapsing World Trade Center became the symbol for an unending war against myriad terrorist threats, Dellinger predicted that social volcanoes would erupt because people victimized by essentially unfair exchange relationships will not indefinitely accept these conditions.

I accept Dellinger’s diagnosis….

To mothers and fathers in the U.S., the challenge must be articulated: how can we rebuild our expectations about survival? War makers and war profiteers want us to expect that we get the lion’s share, the hog’s share, to take for granted an economic Darwinism that imagines we and our offspring are the most fit to survive. We must learn a new language refuting the malign notion that “war is the health of the state.” On the common ground of fair and friendly relations, we could collectively imagine survival, and rebuild.

Kathy Kelly | CommonDreams  (read more. . .)

“Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism”

Speaking to outsiders, most Christian nationalists say they’re simply responding to anti-Christian persecution. They say that secularism is itself a religion, one unfairly imposed on them. They say they’re the victims in the culture wars. But Christian nationalist ideologues don’t want equality, they want dominance. In his book “The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action,” George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote:

“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less…
Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.”

Michelle Goldberg | Salon (read more. . .)

A Just War? Hardly

By “just war,” counterterrorism or some other rationale, the US exempts itself from the fundamental principles of world order that it played the primary role in formulating and enacting.

After World War II, a new regime of international law was instituted. Its provisions on laws of war are codified in the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg principles, adopted by the General Assembly. The Charter bars the threat or use of force unless authorized by the Security Council or, under Article 51, in self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts.

In 2004, a high level UN panel, including, among others, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, concluded that “Article 51 needs neither extension nor restriction of its long-understood scope … In a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.”

The National Security Strategy of September 2002, just largely reiterated in March, grants the US the right to carry out what it calls “pre-emptive war,” which means not pre-emptive, but “preventive war.” That’s the right to commit aggression, plain and simple.

In the wording of the Nuremberg Tribunal, aggression is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” — all the evil in the tortured land of Iraq that flowed from the US-UK invasion, for example.

The concept of aggression was defined clearly enough by US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who was chief prosecutor for the United States at Nuremberg. The concept was restated in an authoritative General Assembly resolution. An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the tribunal, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “invasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State.”

That applies to the invasion of Iraq. Also relevant are Justice Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” And elsewhere: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

For the political leadership, the threat of adherence to these principles — and to the rule of law in general — is serious indeed. Or it would be, if anyone dared to defy “the single ruthless superpower whose leadership intends to shape the world according to its own forceful world view,” as Reuven Pedatzur wrote in Haaretz last May.

Let me state a couple of simple truths. The first is that actions are evaluated in terms of the range of likely consequences. A second is the principle of universality; we apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, if not more stringent ones.

Apart from being the merest truisms, these principles are also the foundation of just war theory, at least any version of it that deserves to be taken seriously.

Noam Chomsky | Khaleej Times  (read more. . .)

The US’s Geopolitical Nightmare

By drawing attention to Iraq and the obvious role oil plays in US policy today, the George W Bush-Dick Cheney administration has done just that: it has drawn the world’s energy-deficit powers’ attention firmly to the strategic battle over energy, and especially oil.

This is already having consequences for the global economy in terms of US$75-a-barrel crude-oil price levels. Now it is taking on the dimension of what one former US defense secretary rightly calls a “geopolitical nightmare” for the United States.

The creation by Bush and Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and company of a geopolitical nightmare is also the backdrop to comprehend the dramatic political shift within the US establishment in the past six months, away from the Bush presidency. Simply put: Bush and Cheney and their band of neo-conservative war hawks, with their special relationship to the capacities of Israel in Iraq and across the Mideast, were given a chance.

The chance was to deliver on the US strategic goal of control of petroleum resources globally, to ensure the US role as first among equals over the next decade and beyond. Not only have they failed to “deliver” that goal of US strategic dominance, they have also threatened the very basis of continued US hegemony, or as the Rumsfeld Pentagon likes to term it, “Full Spectrum Dominance”.

The move by Bolivian President Evo Morales, after meetings with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, to assert national control over oil and gas resources is only the latest demonstration of the decline in US power projection.

F. William Engdahl   | Asia Times  (read more. . .)

How we lost Iraq

There was never any real doubt that the overwhelming firepower, strict training and professionalism of the American forces would carry the day in Iraq, but as Gordon and Trainor bring to life in heretofore unseen detail, the commanders slugging it out on the ground had moments of genuine concern over the success of the operation, given the unexpected resistance they were facing. They write that just in the first few days of the engagement, the “3-7 Calvary had engaged in an unexpected firefight in Samawah; Rams had been infiltrated by small groups of Fedayeen; and the battle in Nasiriyah had become a bloody brawl.”

Despite all this, Franks still didn’t think the fighting in the south was bad enough to slow the advance, and refused to allocate additional troops to fill in the gaps left behind as troops rushed toward Baghdad — the Bush administration’s symbolic crown jewel. Instead of listening to his ground commanders about the fierce fighting, Franks instead blamed the Army’s lack of aggressiveness, while complaining that McKiernan was too concerned with the unfinished business in the rear. This insistence on getting to Baghdad at the expense of wiping out the resistance in the south may have allowed the insurgency that has plagued the U.S. to take deeper root.

How much are Rumsfeld and Franks to blame for the mess in Iraq? That’s something many of the books on the war have grappled with, and will continue to wrestle with for years to come. War is a complicated business, and it’s a fact of war that once the shooting starts, the original battle essentially gets thrown out. There are no guarantees that even with more troops and better planning, things would have turned out differently in Iraq. As Rumsfeld might say, it’s a “known unknown.” But the initial planning and policy failures are easier to tally, and as “Cobra II” shows in precise detail, they can be placed directly at the feet of Rumsfeld and Franks.

Paul McLeary | Salon (read more. . .)

The Hard Truth About Suicide Bombers

Religious beliefs do not simply mold individuals. They exist as “sets of ideas that ‘are there,’ as if on the shelves of a supermarket waiting for someone to make them their own.” Individuals pull them off the shelf when their old frames no longer make sense of the world around them.

If beliefs are not born of sacred texts alone, neither are behaviors like marytrdom. Rather, would-be bombers place jihadi values — fighting for life, dignity, equality — above all else. It is not the commandment that is sacred, but the emotional reward it bestows. We need to be asking new questions: For what are normal individuals able to kill? A plausible answer is: their community, under threat. When does a person make costly sacrifices to do so?

Within a social structure — a terror cell, a military unit, a family, or group of friends — that continually regenerates conviction to a cause, a feeling of obligation to do something about it, and a sense of shame at the idea of letting each other down. Whether one lands in a social group with jihadi tendencies may be random. But the prerequisite for this path is perceived injustice.

Policy Implications

Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us? — Donald Rumsfeld, Internal Memo, National Security Council, 2002

The Bush administration argues that a violent ideology is at the root of terror, and that eradicating it and its believers is the way to a better world. But people aren’t joining the jihad because of ideology. It is true that there are radical leaders capitalizing on the emotions of anger and resentment that seethe throughout the Muslim world — but they could not foment something that did not resonate with many normal people. In today’s terror mobilization story, demand is as strong as supply. Understanding why this is so is the first step to defusing terror mobilization.

The social networks theory has several implications for policy. First, because commitment to jihad is rarely a cost-benefit decision, or an explicit decision at all, military deterrence will likely fail. Terrorists and insurgents forge loyalties that are difficult to betray, and like our own military units, many would prefer to fight to the death rather than leave their brothers. Second, under urban conditions of asymmetrical engagement, military missions almost inevitably entail civilian casualties. Military leaders must re-conceptualize the effect civilian casualties have on the populations surrounding the terrorist or insurgent. They are frequently interpreted by the population as offensive, and thereby engender an impulse to fight back. As one Palestinian told a reporter: “If we don’t fight, we will suffer. If we do fight, we will suffer, but so will they.”

Lastly, findings about the way in which people acquire beliefs suggest that a war of ideas will mean nothing unless it resonates emotionally with our targets. Emotional resonance only comes when the values we promote reflect our role in the local realities on foreign ground.

Nichole Argo | AlterNet  (read more. . .)

An Excellent Reason Not to Join the Military

Like most female soldiers, I learned the hard way that men dominate military culture. We are stuck in a system that makes it difficult to report abuse because of fear of reprisal. Even the military itself admitted in a June 2005 report by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, “harassment is the more prevalent and corrosive problem, creating an environment in which sexual assault is more likely to occur.”

Just ask any woman in uniform – sexual harassment is a common experience on base. I remember on the day of boot camp graduation, the same drill sergeant who had threatened to “rip off my head and shit in my neck” for a minor infraction during training grabbed my arm in the on-base store and pressured me for a date. This was a man that had exercised incredible power over me and my unit for twelve weeks, and through my fear I mumbled, “Drill sergeant, no” three times before he let me go. I didn’t know at the time that about 60 percent of women who have served in the National Guard and reserves said they were sexually harassed or assaulted, but less than one-quarter reported it. Many who did complain were encouraged to drop their complaints.

When I first joined the military at age seventeen, a military doctor administered a demeaning and uncomfortable pelvic exam during my induction physical. He didn’t wear gloves. It turns out that my experience wasn’t unusual.

At last year’s National Summit of Women Veterans Issues in Washington, D.C., former Air Force officer Dorothy Mackey told of several instances of abuse during OB-GYN exams. “He sodomized me,” she said. “I started looking into what happens in a normal OB-GYN examination, and that is definitely not supposed to be part of it.”

Nine out of ten women under fifty who had served in the US military and had responded to a survey reported being sexually harassed while in the service. In an episode of “60 Minutes,” New Jersey National Guard Lieutenant Jennifer Dyer revealed that she was treated like a criminal after accusing a fellow officer of rape in early 2004. She reported the rape immediately to the military criminal investigation division (CID), who took her to a civilian hospital for a rape kit – then held her in seclusion for the next three days with no counseling and no medical treatment. The CID agent advised her of her Miranda rights and threatened to prosecute her for filing a false report. Her command announced her rape and accusation to the entire unit. By the time she returned to her unit after a two-week leave, she was “fearful for [her] health, safety, and sanity.” Her assailant was roaming free on base and was later acquitted of any crime.

Aimee Allison   | AlterNet  (read more. . .)

The Real Oil Story: The Oil in Iraq

Rumsfeld may deny it (and he did again just last week) but the U.S. is now building a number of permanent super-military bases in Iraq — to project U.S. power, to control oil production, distribution and prices, to forestall the Euro from supplanting the dollar as the currency of international oil trade, and to guarantee business and profits for U.S. oil companies. As the war and occupation degenerate, neo-conservative hopes and dreams may be dashed. But for now, talk of withdrawal is just that — talk.

Motivation for this oil war also came from Saddam Hussein’s plans to sell oil concessions to French, Russian and Chinese firms as soon as sanctions were lifted, thus locking U.S. oil companies out of lucrative Iraqi oil deals worth potentially trillions of dollars. Phillips recounts the disclosure in 2003 of oil maps used by Cheney’s energy task force. These were developed by the Pentagon and showed existing Iraqi oil fields, possible new super-fields, and details on foreign companies bidding on Iraqi oil. Former Bush Administration Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil saw these maps and said it was clear to him that plans were being made, well before 9/11, to invade Iraq for reasons of oil not terrorism.

There’s no doubt that the $3 gas we put in our tanks runs red with the blood of our soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died in this war. We need to open our eyes to this hard reality.

Walter Simpson | CommonDreams  (read more. . .)

Iraq: Get Out Now

The prewar dream of a liberal Iraqi democracy friendly to the United States is no longer credible. No Iraqi leader with enough power and legitimacy to control the country will be pro-American. Still, President Bush says the United States must stay the course. Why? Let’s consider his administration’s most popular arguments for not leaving Iraq.

•  If we leave, there will be a civil war. In reality, a civil war in Iraq began just weeks after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein. Even Bush, who is normally impervious to uncomfortable facts, recently admitted that Iraq has peered into the abyss of civil war. He ought to look a little closer. Iraqis are fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war.

•  Withdrawal will encourage the terrorists. True, but that is the price we are doomed to pay. Our occupation of Iraq also encourages the killers — precisely because our invasion made Iraq safe for them. Our occupation also left the surviving Baathists with a choice: Surrender, or ally with Al Qaeda. They chose the latter. Staying the course will not change this fact. Pulling out will most likely result in Sunni groups’ turning against Al Qaeda and its sympathizers, driving them out of Iraq.

•  Before U.S. forces stand down, Iraqi security forces must stand up. The problem in Iraq is not military competence. The problem is loyalty. To whom can Iraqi officers and troops afford to give their loyalty? The political camps in Iraq are still shifting. So every Iraqi soldier and officer risks choosing the wrong side. As a result, most choose to retain as much latitude as possible to switch allegiances. All the U.S. military trainers in the world cannot remove that reality. But political consolidation will. Political power can only be established via Iraqi guns and civil war, not through elections or U.S. colonialism by ventriloquism.

•  Setting a withdrawal deadline will damage the morale of U.S. troops. Hiding behind the argument of troop morale shows no willingness to accept the responsibilities of command. The truth is, most wars would stop early if soldiers had the choice of whether to continue. This is certainly true in Iraq, where a withdrawal is likely to raise morale among U.S. forces. A recent Zogby poll suggests that most U.S. troops would welcome an early withdrawal deadline. But the strategic question of how to extract the United States from the Iraq disaster is not a matter to be decided by soldiers. Carl von Clausewitz spoke of two kinds of courage: first, bravery in the face of mortal danger; second, the willingness to accept personal responsibility for command decisions. The former is expected of the troops. The latter must be demanded of high-level commanders, including the president.

•  Withdrawal would undermine U.S. credibility in the world. Were the United States a middling power, this case might hold some water. But for the world’s only superpower, it’s patently phony. A rapid reversal of our present course in Iraq would improve U.S. credibility around the world. The same argument was made against withdrawal from Vietnam. It was proved wrong then, and it would be proved wrong today. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s opinion of the United States has plummeted. The U.S. now garners as much international esteem as Russia. Withdrawing and admitting our mistake would reverse this trend. Very few countries have that kind of corrective capacity. We do.

William E. Odom | Los Angeles Times  (read more. . .)

Answering Questions About a US Department of Peace

There is currently a bill before both Houses of Congress to establish a United States Department of Peace (House Resolution 3760 and Senate 1756). This historic measure will augment our current problem-solving modalities, providing practical, nonviolent solutions to the problems of domestic and international conflict.

During the 20th Century, over 100 million people lost their lives to war — most of whom were non-combatants. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, the extent and current speed of nuclear proliferation makes the achievement of non-violent alternatives to war the most urgent need of the human race.

From the growing rate of domestic incarceration to increasing problems of international violence, the United States has no more serious problem in our midst than the problem of violence itself. Prison-building is our largest urban industry, and we spend over 400 billion dollars a year on military-related expenditures. Yet there is within the workings of the U.S. government, no platform from which to seriously wage peace. We place no institutional heft behind an effort to address the causal issues of violence, diminishing its psychological force before it erupts into material conflict. From child abuse to genocide, from the murder of one to the slaughter of thousands, it is increasingly senseless to merely wait until violence has erupted before addressing the deeper well from which it springs.

Marianne Williamson | CommonDreams  (read more. . .)