January 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Glenn Greenwald has a great new post on the remarkably honest turn in the U.S. foreign-policy narrative about the Arab Spring: that it’s dangerous, radical, and counter to U.S. interests in the region. Of course, this sentiment is not new – after all, it is an enduring pillar of U.S. foreign policy – but what is remarkable is the breathtaking honesty of the statements now being made by the U.S. foreign-policy cognoscenti.
December 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There’s a great report out today about drones. It appears that drones aren’t exactly better or more efficient than other forms of warfare. According to the report, based on analysis done by the United States Air Force and provided to TomsDispatch.com, there have been no fewer than 13 crashes of Predator drones in 2011 alone. The most recent crash of the Predator drone in Iran has received a lot of attention, but it appears that these drones crash routinely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area without getting the same kind of attention. These crashes are expensive for the U.S. military, often costing $2 million per crash.
Another expense is the tremendous cost of maintaining the many air bases that drones are housed and operated out of. The report notes that there are as many as sixty bases that are involved in the U.S. global drone operation.
And of course, there is already plenty of evidence that drones are not effectively targeting militants, with thousands of innocent children, women, and men being killed or injured as a result of drone strikes.
So why bother with the drone campaign? Why would the U.S. persist in pursuing a strategy that is neither cheap nor effective? Well, the answer is quite simple. The U.S. continues to use drones because they perpetuate the illusion that war is a cheap, precise, and bloodless game, without any victims. The most important victim that the U.S. is concerned with is, of course, the U.S. soldier. With unmanned drones, soldiers can be in the safety and comfort of their home base in Nevada and pilot the drone without any risk to them. Just like a video game. But the American public, sensitized by the ugliness of the Vietnam War, doesn’t care to see brown people suffer either. That’s why there is a virtual news blackout of war victims in U.S. media. And now, with drones, it’s easy to convince oneself that drones target only bad guys, and spare everyone else. This is the big lie that has become so useful to U.S. foreign policy, and why the drone program is not only here to stay, but is expected to grow manifold in the future.
This is the lie we must fight to expose.
August 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Here’s some more critical analysis of Nicholas Schmiddle’s fantastical New Yorker account of the raid to kill OBL in Abbottabad. The writer, Russ Baker, raises more questions about the accuracy and ethics of Schmiddle’s piece, but he also uses this moment to raise questions about the apparent lack of accountability and oversight of the U.S. military by civilian leaders – including, possibly, Barack Obama.
Russ Baker investigates, for instance, the controversial decision to dump OBL’s body in the sea, and discovers some interesting contradictions that suggest that the decision was made by a low-level operative in consultation with Saudi officials:
At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one — that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.
So what do we learn about this from the New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners — get ready — the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.
Here’s Schmidle’s account:
All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea — a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.
Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions — arrived at in advance — are not theirs to make.
Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden — and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.
Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.
Read the whole thing.
May 13, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Peace activists can hasten an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan by demanding a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal. A bill in the U.S. Congress introduced by Representatives McGovern and Jones, requires such a timetable. In the Senate, a similar bill has been introduced by Senator Feingold. Arguments in favor of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan should include readiness to examine disturbing patterns of misinformation regarding U.S./NATO attacks against Afghan civilians.
It is worth noting that even General McChrystal acknowledges that U.S. forces have killed civilians who meant them no harm. During a biweekly videoconference with US soldiers in Afghanistan, he was quite candid. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force,” said General McChrystal. “To my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
Those families and individuals that General McChrystal refers to should be our primary concern. We should try to imagine the sorrow and horror afflicting each individual whose tragic story is told in the “timetable” of atrocities committed against innocent people. How can we compensate people who have endured three decades of warfare, whose land has been so ravaged that, according to noted researcher Alfred McCoy, it would cost $34 billion dollars to restore their agricultural infrastructure. We should notify our elected representatives that the $33 billion dollar supplemental funding bill sought by the Obama administration to pay for U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could be directed toward helping Afghanistan replant its orchards, replenish its flocks, and rebuild its irrigation systems. We should insist on an end to atrocities like those which follow.
The list below describes, in part, the suffering and agony that people in Afghanistan have endured since April, 2009. To focus on this list doesn’t excuse atrocities committed by Taliban fighters. It does indicate our own responsibility to urgently educate others and ourselves about a deeply disturbing pattern: U.S./NATO officials first distribute misleading information about victims of an attack and later acknowledge that the victims were unarmed civilians.
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