Archive | Anti-war

Obama praises Iraq War. Are we ready for “dumb war” over Crimea?


“I don’t oppose all wars…. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

Barack Obama said that at an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 2, 2002, when he was still an Illinois state senator. Obama told the gathering that he favored going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but opposed going to war to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Reading that 2002 speech more than eleven years later creates some dissonance: what happened to that guy who was challenging President Bush to finish the fight with bin Laden, to shut down banks that handle  terrorists’ funding, to let the U.N. do its work in Iraq, to safeguard nuclear weapons material around the world, to push countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to stop oppressing their own people, to control American arms merchants, to have “an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil,” to fight against ignorance and intolerance, corruption and greed, poverty and despair.

It’s all in that speech, and more. What happened to that guy? He got elected and he inherited Bush’s wars, and he chose not to act on the near-certainty that the Iraq War had been illegal and its perpetrators war criminals. There’s a clue at the end of that Chicago protest speech where, as an outsider, he seeks to prevent a war in which Americans would die and “make such an awful sacrifice in vain.” Now, with 4,486 Americans dead and probably more than a million Iraqi civilians dead, with more dying almost daily from the murderous liberation Americans inflicted on a once stable, prosperous, educated, ancient country just because its dictator “tried to kill my dad” – what president contemplating all that blood and loss would want to tell his fellow citizens that their sons and daughters died in vain, died for the vanity of a handful of war criminals and profiteers?

“That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people.That says something about who we are.” 

By late 2011, when he offered that re-assessment of the Iraq War (and implied that we’re a “new” empire), Barack Obama was a president facing re-election and trying to wind the Iraq War down and out and irrelevant as a campaign issue and a sure way NOT to do that would be to tell the country the truth, that the Iraq War had been a disaster from beginning to end, probably, although the end was nowhere near in sight then any more than it is now, but at least we were getting American troops out of harm’s way, away from the harm American policy had unleashed and exacerbated. He knew we didn’t do it because it was right, he’d already said we did it for the ideological agendas of weekend warriors.

Addressing those troops at Fort Bragg, NC, on December 14, 2011, President Obama wasn’t about to cop to the blood on American hands, even if the actual killers in the field were only following orders that most of them probably believed in, at least at the start. Why wouldn’t they prefer to be praised for a selfless mission of mercy rather than confront their own complicity in their nation’s guilt? It is very strange to watch a president embracing a criminal war and all the war crimes it precipitated, especially since he predicted such a result.

For Americans, the Iraq war is still all about us, our heroes, our dead. That may not make us special as Americans, but it’s a familiar-enough mode of cultural self-delusion. We do it because it’s right, or because we believe it’s right or we don’t understand it or we don’t have a choice or we don’t want to admit we were blatantly lied to and chose to believe the lies rather than think for ourselves. Who wants to deal with anything like that?

It’s easier, if not better, to believe another lie, that “there can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people.” Well, to the people who are left at each other’s throats, unless they’re among the Iraqi diaspora of five million, more or less. Being driven from your homeland counts as a kind of self-determination, right?

Iraqi self-determination has been little more than a chimera since the Americans invaded, disbanded the Iraqi army, left government buildings open to looters (except the oil ministry), and allowed chaos to find its own way in the midst of a military occupation. The result of a decade of this kind of self-determination has now brought Iraq a corrupt government drifting toward dictatorship.

Don’t even mention self-determination to the Kurds.

The Americans left Iraq in December 2011 and mainstream media played along with the American political charade, calling it the “end of the war,” which it absolutely was not for anyone left behind in Iraq.

“That says something about who we are,” as the president said from deep inside the American rabbit hole of patriotism-like doublethink.

“Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true….” 

That’s part of what the President said in his much-maligned speech in Brussels on March 26, 2014, and if he’d ended this section at that point he might have limited the blowback he provoked with what followed. Someone devoted to precision might have pointed out that the hypocrisy wasn’t all that “Western” except for America (165,000 troops) and Britain (46,000 troops, out by May 2011). Other than South Korea (3,600 troops, out by December 2008) and Australia (2,000 troops, out by July 2009), most of the other members of the “coalition of the willing” joined as the result of incentives or political coercion, and few of them contributed more than a few hundred troops, often non-combat troops, almost all of whom were out by 2008. Fifteen countries participated covertly, according to the U.S. State Dept., but that’s a different kind of hypocrisy.

Other members of this “Western” alliance included Japan (600 troops), Bulgaria (485), Singapore (175, offshore), Nicaragua (230), Mongolia (180), Georgia (2,000), Kazakhstan (29), and Ukraine (1,650).

In reality, the Iraq War was pretty much dependent on Anglo-American hypocrisy, and deceit. Russia would be well-served to be clear about that.

“Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there.”

Again, if President Obama had stopped here on March 26, 2014, in Brussels, the reactions might have been kinder.  Obama had indeed opposed the war, albeit with a rhetorical off ramp about what a terrible person Saddam Hussein was. After he was in the Senate in 2005, Obama no longer opposed the Iraq War outright. He consistently voted for off-budget war funding without much expressed concern for deficit or national debt (to which the war added $3 trillion and still growing). Not until May 2007, when it took no political courage, did Obama (and Hillary Clinton) vote against funding the illegal Iraq War.

So the reality is that Obama opposed the Iraq War before he supported it, which was before he opposed it again, with less clarity or passion than his original opposition.

But the President didn’t stop there, either, on March 26 in Brussels, when he had already defined the Crimea situation as “a moment of testing for Europe and the United States and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build.” With that kind of rhetoric early in the speech, he could have been leading up to a call for war.

Even when he said: “What we will do always is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty, to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise we will never waver…. every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden” – he still wasn’t making a call to war.

But he was making a disingenuous call to support the Ukrainian national government in Kiev as if it was a legitimate government. That bit of Western hypocrisy was needed to obscure the reality that the Kiev government came to power in a wholly undemocratic putsch. And it was a putsch in which many Western hypocrites were quite involved, so best to finesse it.

And a call for something other than war was pretty much the way to go, which the President did: “I believe that for both Ukraine and Russia, a stable peace will come through de-escalation, a direct dialogue between Russia and the government of Ukraine and the international community, monitors who can ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine and free and fair elections this spring.”

Since a “stable peace” actually exists right now (an “unstable peace” is an oxymoron), there’s a veiled threat and a veiled promise in the President’s deployment of the term, since it suggests that both sides should back off and live with the status quo. In others words, so much for Crimea. You could call it giving Putin the Bush-Cheney treatment, although Putin is getting away with a lot less murder.

But that’s not something a President wants to say out loud and clear, and so he soon arrived at the distraction of the Iraq War, which he opposed, supported, opposed, and ended in disarray. 

“But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.” 

Well, that’s red meat to anyone who cares about logic, principle, or reality, and one would likely assume that President Obama was well aware of how preposterous his assertions were. But it also served as an opportunity to reinforce popular denial of the Iraq debacle by projecting a kind of wish fulfillment onto Ukraine, before it, too, spirals into chaos. One can hope. And the internal tensions and contradictions of Ukraine may be just enough less severe than Iraq’s to make the possibility plausible. Any bets?

As others have noted, seeking “to work within the international system” and having the international system tell you NO, doesn’t mean you get to go ahead and do what you want anyway – unless you’re some sort of superpower to whom NO has no meaning, which does sound a little hypocritical.  The President implied that just the minimal effort within the legal system makes it OK to launch a criminal war.

To assert that “We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory” is to ignore the reality that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, lodged in a former Iraqi palace, is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world and is almost as large as the Vatican City State.

To claim that “We did not grab its resources for our own gain” is to lie.  No, really, it’s a lie, unless you accept some twisted lawyer’s definition of “our gain.” Can you say Halliburton? Can you say any of dozens of other contractors, an unknown number of them corrupt beyond reasonable expectation?

Yes, we grabbed their resources, and we did it first by writing their constitution for them.  Then we made them disgorge a public asset, their oil reserves. We forced Iraq to privatize its oil industry so that “our” oil companies and others could enjoy the spoils of war. Iraq was opened for business. And it seems like the security business is thriving. For the forty years that Iraqi oil had been nationalized, Iraqis lived in a welfare state with free education, free health care, and a relatively high standard of living. Now Iraq has free enterprise, and extensive poverty, and women are persecuted, and they’re not even grateful for all that American effort.

Back to the territory in Iraq, the part we do not claim – that’s the part we left littered with unexploded ordnance, or the part that’s poisoned with depleted uranium (DU) weapons or the part that was environmentally destroyed by a massive military rolling through. We don’t claim any of that. And we don’t even pretend to offer to clean it up – any more than we offer reparations to the survivors of those we killed, or medical help for those we maimed, or any other kind of help for those whose houses we blew up, whose orchards we leveled, whose herds we extinguished. We’re not good about cleaning up after ourselves, especially when we can blame it all on al Qaeda and the rest of those crazy Arab suicide bombers.

The Iraq we have left behind is itself a war crime. In an international system that actually  worked, the crime of Iraq would have been addressed long before there were headlines about Crimea. Seriously, which do you suppose is a better place to live?

“We ended our war,” said the President, and that’s pretty much on point – “our” war is over, in the sense that we’re no longer in it.  But it’s all “our” war, every bit of it – we started it, we let it go horribly wrong, and the chaos raging now in Iraq now is every bit as much “our” war as the rest of it.

“…we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

None of that is true in any meaningful way. The Iraqi people have been brutalized and turned against each other in ways they hadn’t experienced in centuries. For whatever it’s worth, the Saddam dictatorship was also the creation of the Iraqi people in a sovereign state. Ironically, there are recent reports that, in the wake of American intervention, Iraq is again drifting into being a sovereign police state.

Actually, Iraq is just drifting toward being a police state again. Iraq hasn’t been a fully sovereign state for some time, it’s not clear just how long. But the Iraq government no longer has territorial integrity, it does not control all the land within its borders. The Kurdish region is always problematical, but western Iraq is out of the government’s control.

Rebel/jihadist groups in Syria now control an area of Syria and Iraq that is about the size of Great Britain, according to veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn. He told Democracy Now:

“The al-Qaeda-type organizations really control a massive area in northern and eastern Syria at the moment and northern and western Iraq. The largest number of volunteers fighting with these al-Qaeda-type groups are Saudi. Most of the money originally came from there. But these people now control their own oil wells. They probably are less reliant on Saudi money.”

So there’s not much that President Obama said about Iraq that’s very close to true. The Iraqi people are not sovereign and they do not control their own future. They have a fundamentalist-leaning Shiite government that’s closely allied with Iran. The Iraqi people are victims several times over – victims of the Saddam regime, victims of the American liberation and plunder, victims of phantom democratic choices, victims of jihadis on all sides. And our president talks of them instead as a sovereign people deciding their own future, because the truth is way too difficult. Iraqis are victims, and America doesn’t do victims, America creates victims, sometimes America helps victims of natural disasters, but mostly America blames victims, at home and abroad, it’s what we do.

And it turns out we don’t do hope and change much, either. What happens to a country when the president the electorate thought it elected doesn’t show up in the Oval Office? We’ve been finding out since 2009 and it’s not over yet.

For now, at least, the President seems to have enough sense and strength to be able to treat going to war over Crimea as a “dumb war” worth avoiding. 

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. 

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Egypt customs breaks Medea Benjamin’s arm. White House silent


Will the White House file a protest to Egypt over its thuggish violence against a US citizen? Oh wait, Medea Benjamin is a peace activist and was going to a conference in Gaza. Silly me, of course the US will say nothing.

Calling from Istanbul, Benjamin gave the following statement: “I was brutally assaulted by Egyptian police, who never said what I was being accused of. When the authorities came into the cell to deport me, two men threw me to the ground, stomped on my back, pulled my shoulder out of its socket and handcuffed me so that my injured arm was twisted around and my wrists began to bleed. I was then forced to sit between the two men who attacked me on the plane ride from Cairo to Istanbul, and I was (and still am) in terrible pain the whole time.” Doctors in the Cairo airport said she was not fit to travel because of her injury, but the authorities forced her to board anyways.

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Are we going to have a war in Ukraine? Really?


The locations of the wars change. The wars remain the same. Rulers lusting for glory, power, and money send someone else’s children to die. Most wars are avoidable, including the one we may be about to have in Ukraine. War is a racket.

“And call out the border guard.
The kingdom is crumbling.
The king is in the counting house,
Laughing and stumbling.
His armies are extended,
Way beyond the shore.
As he sends our lovely boys to die,
In a foreign jungle war.”

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Mission deaccomplished! al-Qaida militants seize Fallujah


Iraq is demonstrably worse now than when the US invaded it on a pretext based on lies. Saddam may have been a thug, however he kept a lid on Sunni-Shia conflict. The increasing violence is hurting their primarily oil-based economy. Plus, the Syria conflict is drawing Sunni extremists, and it’s spilling across the borders. And now Fallujah has fallen to militants, the government is no longer in control.

“Iraq and Syria are the battlefields of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” said Harith Hasan, an Iraqi political scientist and author of “Imagining the Nation, Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-Political Conflict in Iraq.

Civilian deaths in 2013 in Iraq were highest ever since the US blundered into it and the violence is escalating. We have accomplished nothing by being in Iraq.

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Mother Agnes and the anti-war conference

Here’s what it looks like when a respected reporter tweets about his blackmail note to an established anti-war organization regarding the organization’s upcoming conference where Mother Agnes was scheduled to speak in a 
tweet on November 15:

“I’ve informed organizers of @STWuk that I will not participate in their conference if Mother Agnes is on the platform.”

The reporter is Jeremy Scahill, who was booked as the keynote speaker and to show his film “Dirty Wars” (based on his book “Dirty Wars”) at the November 30 International Anti-War Conference in London, put on by Stop the War Coalition (STWuk), which was first organized in 2001 in opposition to an American attack on Iraq. More than 12 years later, the coalition notes dryly on its webpage for the conference, “We need more effective anti war resistance internationally. This conference is a chance to analyse, build links and lay plans.”

Scahill’s threat to boycott the conference soon became moot the following day, when the dreaded Mother Agnes withdrew from participation. Her letter read, in part:

“It has come to my attention that my participation in your conference has become a matter of serious contention, even prompting some other speakers to consider withdrawing. This is apparently due to a campaign of cruel and unsubstantiated accusations which seek to work against my efforts and those of the Musalaha (Reconciliation) Initiative in Syria.

“The basis of our work toward peace is reconciliation and forgiveness. This means extending an olive branch to some who may initially refuse it, and accepting an olive branch from others who are despised, even by our friends….

“Some may feel that an injustice will be done if I speak at your conference. Others may think that injustice will be done if I do not. Because my participation in your conference may be used by some to distract from your valuable efforts towards peace, non-violence and reconciliation, I believe it best to withdraw from participation.”

Why did Stop the War invitation to nun working to stop war raise objections?

Push comes to shove, and Mother Agnes is an apparent pushover.  She’s also not flogging a movie.  And the abuse she’s suffered online was as real as the pressure on Scahilll and others to have nothing to do with her. It’s hard to find any evidence that Mother Agnes has committed anything worse than what others consider thought-crimes and politically incorrect observations, some of which are actually correct.

Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross is a Carmelite nun and mother superior of the Monastery of James the Mutilated in Qara, Syria, which has a community of three monks and twelve nuns. Born in Lebanon in a refugee camp 61 years ago, she is Palestinian on her father’s side and has worked in Syria for about 20 years. She is the spokesperson for the Catholic Information Center in Beirut, where the Musalaha Initiative also has its office. Mother Agnes became a nun at 19, after several years in the late 1960s as a self-styled “hippie,” traveling to Europe, India and Tibet. Unlike others with an equally public profile, Mother Agnes has no Wikipedia page.

In June 2012, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire praised Mother Agnes as a peacemaker:

“In her community her voice has been clear, pure and loud. And it should be so in the West. Like many people in Syria she has been placed in life threatening situations, but for the sake of peace she has chosen to risk her own existence for the safety and security of others. She has spoken out against the lack of truth in our media regarding Syria and about the terror and chaos which a ‘third force’ seems to be spreading across the country. Her words confront and challenge us because they do not mirror the picture of events in Syria we have built up in our minds over many months of reading our newspapers and watching the news on our televisions. Much of the terror has been imported, we learn from her. She can tell us about the thousands of Christian refugees, forced to flee their homes by an imported Islamist extreme.”

What makes her controversial to people around Stop the War Coalition is their perception of her as a supporter of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Clear reasoning behind this perception is hard to come by. The reality for Christians in Syria is that their choice of friends is limited: the government represses them along with everyone else, but some rebel groups have taken to massacring Christians. With rebel groups numbering 1,000 or more, none is likely to be a reliable protector.

Mother Agnes’s heretical view of the Damascus chemical attack

In August 2013, when the world learned of the still murky chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, Mother Agnes questioned the prevailing western view that the Assad government carried out the attack. She prepared a 50-page report questioning the authenticity of videos of the aftermath and submitted her findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council. As the New York Times of September 21 reported:

“When Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, wanted to bolster his argument that rebels had carried out the poison gas attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21, he pointed to the work of a 61-year-old Lebanese-born nun who had concluded that the horrifying videos showing hundreds of dead and choking victims, including many children, had been fabricated ahead of time to provide a pretext for foreign intervention.

“’Mr. Lavrov is an intelligent person,’ said the nun, Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, with a wide smile in a recent interview in this Lebanese mountain town. ‘He will never stick his name to someone who is saying stupidities.’”

Taking a position on the chemical attacks that is supportive of the Assad government has led to intensified criticism of Mother Agnes as an Assad pawn. French reporters have written a book accusing her of conspiring with the government to kill another French reporter in 2012. She has sued the authors for libel.

The Syrian uprising started with peaceful protests in March 2011, but soon turned violent. Mother Agnes accuses the West of fomenting the violence to create a pretext for military intervention and re-ordering Syria. In November 2011, she wrote an open letter to President Assad, challenging the government over its treatment of hospital patients and prisoners, as reported in Vatican Insider in November 2011:

“Dear Mr. President, I have lived and worked in Syria since 1994, and I have learned to esteem the unique position Syria holds in the world of culture and of religions. But I am shocked to learn from Amnesty International that in the hospitals run by the government the wounded suffer discrimination and maltreatment because of their ideology. And I am saddened to find that, in the prisons, there are people there who have never been tried in court, or even accused of anything….   I ask for a serious inquiry into the hospitals and prisons, under the supervision of the International Red Cross, together with the creation of a committee to accelerate the exercise of justice.”

In late October, Mother Agnes, through the Musalaha Initiative, was involved in establishing a cease-fire and evacuating some 5,400 civilians from Moadamiya, a rebel-held city near Damascus.

Mother Agnes is currently on a six-week speaking tour in North America, largely ignored by most media. In Cleveland on November 14, she received a special peace award from the mayor, a congressman, and a senator. The tour ends December 4.

Jeremy Scahill has yet to explain his own behavior, but columnist Neil Clark, writing for Russia Today, blames “liberal hawks and neo-cons” for silencing the nun because:

“Mother Agnes’ testimony reveals that the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is a sham – that in Syria, the western countries and their regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are on the same side as the extremist Islamic terror groups that we are told are our greatest enemies.”    

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.  

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Arlington West. Remembering our recent war dead


For almost ten years now, veterans and peace activists wake up very early Sunday morning and assemble Arlington West by Santa Monica Pier. It remembers service members who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our other recent wars. The memorial got so huge that Santa Monica asked them to make it smaller. The red crosses represent ten killed, white crosses are one. Families of the deceased sometimes leave mementos, which are carefully attached to a white cross with the service member’s name on it.

It’s very low key and respectfully done. I’ve never seen even a hint of a political argument there.

Each Sunday from sunrise to sunset, a temporary memorial appears next to the world-famous pier at Santa Monica, California. This memorial, known as Arlington West, a project of Veterans For Peace, offers visitors a graceful, visually and emotionally powerful, place for reflection.

In accordance with the Veterans For Peace Statement of Purpose, the Arlington West Mission Statement is to remember the fallen and wounded to acknowledge the human cost of war to provide information about the domestic costs of a permanent war economy to encourage dialogue among people with varied points of view to educate the public about the needs of those returning from war and to provide a place to grieve.


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What was the hurry to attack Syria?

Free Syria Army

Free Syria Army

Is it really “isolationist” not to risk a new Mid-East war today? 

During this lull in the Syria tsouris, we’re hearing way too many beltway blowhards bloviate about something they’re calling “our new isolationism” or “the post-American world” or some other extreme label designed to push a personal agenda. Everyone needs to chill out and get a little perspective.  What we’re now doing about Syria is better than what we were about to do, and a whole lot better than what we’ve done to too many other countries over the years

It should be immediately obvious that the United States, with 700 foreign military bases (compared to Russia’s 11), is not exactly isolationist, and won’t be any time soon.  What follows is an attempt at a longer reassurance that no apocalypse is at hand just because we’re not bombing Syria or otherwise being exceptionally American.

In the beginning there was Common Sense, and the Declaration 

Originally, during the late 18th century, American exceptionalism included a determined sense of isolationism (and non-interventionism). At the same time, many of these isolationists also articulated the fight for American freedom as a fight for the freedom of everyone in the world. That exceptional American contradiction remains vividly alive in public discourse more than 200 years later.

Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (1775), best known for making the case for American freedom from British rule, argued that one benefit of independence would be that America would no longer be forced (as a colony) to support European wars irrelevant to American interests – a benefit to be protected by a policy of isolationism.  Even before the United States existed, American revolutionaries were wary of an alliance even with a supportive France.  The Second Continental Congress eventually allied the nascent nation with France largely because that seemed to be necessary to win the Revolutionary War.

George Washington, in his carefully re-written Farewell Address (1796), famously articulated his country’s isolationist policy (without actually using the phrase “entangling alliances”):

“The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”

In his inaugural address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson crystallized this American policy in more familiar words, promising:  “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

Protecting a revolution in a counter-revolutionary world, and promoting it

Besides being emotionally appealing, the ideas of independence and isolation defined an extremely practical, protective policy for a country that was relatively small, poor, and weak.  Avoiding entanglements with others was really more about hoping to keep other more powerful states from getting entangled with us, and the tactic was mostly successful. The less powerful were another matter entirely.

But even as American revolutionaries chose a protective isolationism for their state, they promoted their revolution as a universal benefit.  The Declaration of Independence (1776) is rooted in the universal right of all people to establish “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”  From the beginning, the exceptional American “right of one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” was established as a global entitlement  – but not one without internal contradictions.

This evangelism of freedom remains one of the strongest themes in the idea of American exceptionalism, serving as both inspiration and/or excuse for the international entanglements we at first set out to avoid.  Early on we saw ourselves as leading by example, as Jefferson articulated in his farewell address (1809), calling the United States an “empire of liberty,” a governmental model for others to imitate:

“Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.”

This almost religious sentiment was already at odds with the American reality of westward expansion, not least in the extra-constitutional purchase of Louisiana from France (1803). Acquiring Louisiana roughly doubled the size of the United States, headed off war with France, and put a territorial wedge between the Spanish holdings in America. The purchase turned the U.S. into one of the largest countries in the world, but it wasn’t exactly a boon to the freedom and self-determination the people who lived there, despite their theoretical entitlement by the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Instead, Louisiana became susceptible to the benign influence of freedom and self-government by being subjected to and by the United States.

Expansionism became more powerful than isolationism 

The inherent contradictions in America’s expansionist isolationism eventually gave way to a dominant policy of expansionism with such highlights as the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 (this is “our” hemisphere, everyone else keep out), the Mexican War of 1846-48 (well, it’s our manifest destiny to take what we want, especially California), and the Spanish-American War of 1898 (guaranteeing a free Cuba and establishing our first off-shore empire in Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines – what some call the beginning of the “American Century”).

Insofar as the United States embraced isolationism before and after World War I, it was the odd isolationism of a global empire picking its fights. And when we went into that European war in 1917, Woodrow Wilson drew on the American evangelical freedom tradition, telling the nation, without apparent irony:

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

After the Great War, the indispensible nation proclaimed itself dispensible from the world community, resisting further entanglement in European wars until an Asian war came to Hawaii.  Since World War II the idea of “American isolationism” has remained an oxymoron – except perhaps to those who wanted the U.S. to attack the Soviet Union then, or Iran or China now. For most of the time since 1945,  governments of both parties have limited American interventionism to relatively limited, stupid, pointless wars like Viet-Nam or to covert attacks on “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle” the people of Iran, Guatemala, Peru, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, and so on.

And how does – or how should – Syria fit into the “New American Century”?  

All that Cold War militarism, with its special justification, came before the “New American Century” crowd took power with the 2000 election in the Supreme Court.  Once they got their fervently desired “new Pearl Harbor” on 9/11 the following year, the United States entered a period of chronic, useless, bankrupting war unlike anything in our prior history. The indispensable nation’s present willingness to put its useless attack on Syria on hold is hardly enough to signal that the world’s only superpower has come to its senses.

And it remains unlikely that the people of the world, and especially the people of Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya see us as indispensible to anything but their continued suffering.

The real isolationism with regard to Syria is the American willingness to go it alone, whatever “it” might turn out to be. Virtually isolated in its willingness to commit acts of war, the U.S. has apparently stumbled into a reprieve offered opportunistically by Russia. In his New York Times op ed column September 12, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said, without apparent irony, “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” That’s a charade Russians and Americans might enjoy equally, even as it serves the public good.

Some are opposed, of course.  Invoking their own version of American exceptionalism, the nattering nabobs of national narcissism continue to babble incoherently about toughness and credibility and sending messages ­– all of which require the nation to kill more people or be seen as isolationist, or even dispensable!

What would be truly exceptional would be for the United States to contemplate a complex crisis thoughtfully and patiently, without reflexively assuming that the best and only response should be military.

Posted in Anti-war

A day of U.S. “credibility” at work in Syria


Fake intelligence summaries, rhetorical peace offers enliven U.S. war plan in Syria. What would it look like if a government really knew what it was doing?

Lacking a comprehensive, coherent account of rational beings acting in rational ways to work towards peaceful and reliable solutions to difficult questions, we offer here a fragmentary highlight reel of one day in the life of an American government  spinning in all directions toward no known goal in Syria.

But first a note about the context of the current public debate about Syria: we’re getting conned by the White House on intelligence assessments. Again. As reported by Gareth Porter for IPS on September 9:

“Contrary to the general impression in Congress and the news media, the Syria chemical warfare intelligence summary released by the Barack Obama administration Aug. 30 did not represent an intelligence community assessment….

“The evidence indicates that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper culled intelligence analyses from various agencies and by the White House itself, but that the White House itself had the final say in the contents of the document.”

In other words, the political document one might expect from the Director of National Intelligence was replaced by an even more politicized document created in the White House to justify acts of war.  This suggests that the phrase “American credibility” is an oxymoron and the political vaudeville that played out publicly early this week is a pretty accurate reflection of an administration doing handstands and backflips to distract the audience from the glaring contradictions of its Syria policy.

Kerry: when I say something it’s likely I mean something else

Monday madness began early for Americans on September 9, when Secretary of State John Kerry gave a news conference in London while most of his fellow citizens were still asleep, literally.  At that news conference, Kerry set off a tizzy by saying this about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting, but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”

Reporters promptly spun this as the U.S. giving Syria a one-week deadline.  Reports mostly ignored the possibility that Kerry’s assertion (“it can’t be done”) could mean that it’s logistically impossible, or that the U.S. will attack anyway, or anything else.

Also Monday morning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called a news conference in Moscow to announce that Russia was urging Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control in order to head off an act of war by the United States.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, in Moscow for talks, said that: “The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership’s concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression.”

The Russian and Syrian foreign ministers also call for UN inspections now.

Late Monday morning at 11:47 a.m., Agence France-Presse (AFP) tweeted:  BREAKING Syrian foreign minister welcomes Russia’s Syria chemical handover initiative”  (Reuters had tweeted similarly six minutes earlier).

The other side is welcoming our offer, that’s good news, right?  Wrong.  

Before there could be any official acceptance of the proposal by Syria, the State Department was contradicting the Secretary’s proposed solution.  An official Foggy Bottom email-of-clarification argued that Kerry was denying his “proposal” was actually a serious proposal at all:

“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.

His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago.”

At more or less the same time in Geneva, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was telling the UN human rights council:

“The use of chemical weapons has long been identified as one of the gravest crimes that can be committed, yet their use in Syria seems now to be in little doubt, even if all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified… This appalling situation cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery.”  [emphasis added]

Syria has a research nuclear reactor in Damascus and the government has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess the likely consequences if the Americans bomb the reactor.  The Russians are pressing the IAEA to make the assessment.  According to Reuters, an anonymous U.S. official saying that “requests for comprehensive risk analyses of hypothetical scenarios are beyond the IAEA’s statutory authority”.

Arizona Senator John McCain takes offense at Kerry’s news conference promise that any strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.”  McCain tweets: “Kerry says #Syria strike would be “unbelievably small” – that is unbelievably unhelpful”

White House National Security Advisor tries to head off possible settlement 

Early Monday afternoon in Washington, the president’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave a scheduled speech at the New America Foundation, founded in 1999 as a non-profit, public policy institute whose stated mission is to “invest in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.”

Without matching previous National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s fear-mongering on Iraq (“we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”), Susan Rice came close, taking a hard line in favor of attacking Syria and saying that:

• Syrians attacking Syrians with chemical weapons is a “serious threat to our national security” and that such attacks could “threaten our soldiers in the region and even potentially our citizens at home.”

• “We cannot allow terrorists bent on destruction, or a nuclear North Korea, or an aspiring nuclear Iran, to believe for one minute that we are shying away from our determination to back up our longstanding warnings. … Failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure.”

• “Leaders in Tehran must know the United States means what we say. If we do not respond when Iran’s close ally, Syria, uses weapons of mass destruction, what message does that send to Iran?”

•  “Opening a door to their use anywhere threatens the United States and our personnel everywhere.”

Rice apparently did not talk about the United States helping Iraq to gas Iranian soldiers and civilians during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.  She did scoff at any further attempts at a diplomatic solution.

State Dept. says we made no proposal, but we’ll see if they accept it

At an afternoon news conference at the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf responded skeptically to questions about putting Syrian chemical weapons under international control, calling it a hypothetical idea that she can’t comment on. She reiterated the government’s position that Kerry was not making a proposal, that his morning comments were only “rhetorical and hypothetical.”

Harf also said: “We’re going to look at what’s on the table… We don’t want this to be another stalling exercise, and we have serious skepticism about the Assad regime [willingness] to get rid of their chemical weapons…. All we’ve heard today are statements from Russians and Syrians who’ve lied for the last two years.”

Despite suspicion about the international control proposal, Harf did say: “We’ll take a hard look at it… but what we’re focused on … is working with Congress to get this [attack on Syria] authorized.”

At a White House briefing, deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinked said, without referring to the Iran-Iraq War: “If we don’t act, the international norm against the use of chemical weapons will be weakened.” But he also said: “we want to look hard at what the Russians have proposed.”

At a mid-afternoon forum on illegal wildlife trafficking, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had just talked to President Obama about the Russian proposal on Syrian arms.  She said the international community should make a “strong response” to events in Syria: “This is about protecting the Syrian people… and our friends in the regions… If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control… that would be an important step. But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction.”

Toward the end of the day, Dan Roberts, bureau chief of the Guardian, tweets: “febrile mood down in White House press room as Obama tapes six interviews for tonight while US position shifting by the minute toward a deal”

In one of those interviews, the president said he would “absolutely” not attack Syria if the chemical weapons were secured. He told ABC News: “My objective here has always been to deal with a very specific problem. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

By the end of the day the signs indicated that there was no growing support in Congress for an attack on Syria, and that public opinion remained overwhelmingly opposed to risking another war. But a determined government faction still wants to bomb somebody.

The weekend had highlights, too, including a CBS News interview with Assad 

All this activity on Monday followed the weekend news that Senator McCain, the would-be Republican president from Arizona, had suggested that Obama should be impeached – if he went too far and put “boots on the ground” in Syria. (The U.S. already has boots on the ground in, at a minimum, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel.)

Someone might ask McCain whether his proposed impeachment-for-a-boots-job should take effect in the event of any deployment of American troops as part of an international force to guard Syrian chemical weapons.

Also over the weekend, in a CBS News interview broadcast on Monday, Bashar al-Assad warned of retaliation for any U.S. attack, but did not make any specific threats, saying only: “It is difficult for anyone to tell you what is going to happen. It’s an area where everything is on the brink of explosion. You have to expect everything.”

On Sunday, the Syrian state news agency reported that al-Queda-affiliated rebels had captured Maaloula, a Christian village 25 miles northeast of Damascus where the 3,000 residents mostly still speak ancient Aramaic. Some 1,500 Syrian rebels forced the Syrian Army to withdraw to the outskirts of the town.

Meanwhile in Yemen over the weekend, American drone strikes killed eleven people, all of whom may not have been innocent civilians.

And in Syria on Monday, another 49 people were killed, 25 of them in Damascus.


Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Posted in Anti-war

Supposed anti-war Democrats were mostly just anti-Bush

A new study reveals Democrats were more motivated by anti-Republican sentiments during Bush years than actually being anti-war.

This is red-versus-blue tribalism in its most murderous form. It suggests that the party affiliation of a particular president should determine whether or not we want that president to kill other human beings. It further suggests that we should all look at war not as a life-and-death issue, but instead as a sporting event in which we blindly root for a preferred political team.

I was active in LA organizing antiwar protests. Some of them were huge. In 2007, when it became apparent Obama would be elected, the antiwar movement evaporated. Most indeed were anti-Bush not anti-war.

The United States is fighting how many wars?

74 nations where the US is fighting or “helping” some force in some proxy struggle that has been deemed beneficial by the nation’s masters of war.

Since President Barack Obama has been willing to give the go ahead to operations that President George W. Bush would not have approved, operations have been much more aggressive and, presumably, JSOC has been able to fan out and work in way more countries than ever expected.

Posted in Anti-war

War, Obama-style


Posted in Anti-war

NSA surveillance

Read our continuing coverage on the NSA


Bob Morris


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