Archive for the ‘War on Terror’ Category

Good Kill

June 9, 2015

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Our recent strategy in the War on Terror is similar to our strategy in Vietnam: keep killing the enemy until there are none left. That strategy didn’t work in Vietnam, and it’s not working today. The Taliban have made a comeback in Afghanistan, and Daesh now control large parts of Syria and Iraq. Is it time for our policymakers to try something else?

This question is posed by the recent film, Good Kill, written and directed by Andrew Niccol. It tells the story of Thomas Egan (Nathan Hawke), an Air Force pilot who has been reassigned to being a drone pilot. After two children are inadvertently killed in a drone attack, he begins to have doubts about his job. The emotional stress that Egan is under starts to cause strains in his marriage to Molly (January Jones).

Things get worse when Egan’s group is placed under the direct control of the CIA, whose rules of engagement are looser than those of the military. They have a policy of a “double tap”: firing a missile at the first responders to an attack, on the theory that most such people are likely terrorists themselves. The CIA considers it an acceptable risk that innocent people will almost certainly get killed. The characters argue about this. Egan’s fellow crew member, Vera (Zoë Kravitz), makes the case that drone attacks are causing people to side with the terrorists, while Egan’s commanding officer, Col. Johns (Bruce Greenwood) makes the “we can’t risk losing one American’s life” argument. The debate is never resolved one way or another. At the end, however, when Egan literally walks away from his job, it’s clear that we’re expected to see this as a moral redemption for Egan. Although it seems an empty victory, since we know that the military will simply replace him with somebody else.

Good Kills is a well-made film that raises a number of troubling questions, but its feel-good ending cant’t conceal the fact that it doesn’t offer any answers.

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Citizenfour

November 29, 2014

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Citizenfour is a documentary by Laura Poitras about the recent revelations of NSA spying on US citizens. For those who have been following this scandal, this film will reveal nothing new. It is primarily of interest as an historical document. There is footage of the first meeting between Snowden and Greenwald and Poitras in hotel room in a Hong Kong. In these scenes, Snowden appears confident, yet one sometimes senses a feeling of anxiousness in him. He is clearly concerned about what might happen to him. (Snowden has been criticized for seeking refuge in Russia, which is a dictatorship. This film tells us that he had intended to fly from Moscow to Ecuador. He no doubt had to give up this idea in the face of the US’s manhunt for him. A plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced down because it was suspected that Snowden might be hiding on board.)

Citizenfour ends by hinting that there are even bigger revelations to come. Yet it never really addresses the question of why the government is doing so much spying. Is it really about the “War on Terror”, or does the government have a deeper motive? In one scene, Jacob Appelbaum suggests that the government collects this information so that it can target people who get too much out of line. This may sound conspiracist to some people, but it should sound plausible to anyone familiar with the FBI’s Cointelpro program.

You are being watched. Always remember that.

There is No War on Islam

May 28, 2014

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C.J. Werleman

Alternet has an article by CJ Werleman, entitled “The American Disdain for Self-Reflection: What We Still Haven’t Learned After 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Attacks”, which I highly recommend reading. I have to take issue, though, with one argument in it. Discussing the recently released note by Dhokhar Tsarneyev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, Werleman writes:

    Like every terrorist who attacked America on 9/11 and since, Tsarnaev made his grievance clear – that his attacks against Americans were motivated politically (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), rather than religiously, but we continue to wage a war on Islam that is dressed up as a war on terror.

There is no war on Islam. True, the US’s drone attacks kill Muslims, but that is not a war on Islam. Among other things, the US supports the government of Saudi Arabia, which is an Islamic theocracy. Some will say that I am quibbling here, but this is actually an important point. We are dealing with complicated issues here – issues that are emotionally charged for some people – so we need to choose our words carefully.

Tossing around a term like “war on Islam” merely obscures the complexities of the current situation. In particular, it ignores the class dimension of the conflict. Here in the US, middle class and working class Muslims are monitored and sometimes harassed by the police. Yet our government and business elites flatter and cajole the leaders of Muslim countries, seeking to do business with them. This has resulted in some interesting contradictions. For example, the Sultan of Brunei – who recently announced that the citizens of his country will now be subjected to “full shariah“, including stonings, floggings, and amputations – owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, a Southern California landmark.

So we need to be more precise in our terminology, to express the full awfulness of what our government is doing.

Obama’s Speech on Syria

September 11, 2013

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The speech that President Obama just gave on Syria was a depressing example of the empty rhetoric and hypocritical moral posturing that make up the political discourse in this country. He begins by saying:

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

Images of people killed by conventional bombs are every bit as sickening as the images described here. So what is it that makes chemical warfare a “crime against humanity”? It’s not until the middle of the next paragraph that Obama tries to give an answer to that question:

    Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant…

Conventional weapons can also kill on a mass scale, and they also do not distinguish between soldier and infant. The idea that chemical weapons are more inhumane than other weapons has no basis in fact. If there is anything peculiarly destructive about chemical weapons, it is the fact that some chemicals, such as Agent Orange, can linger in the environment and do long-term damage. (Although I’m guessing that Obama doesn’t consider Agent Orange to be a chemical weapon.)

Obama cites two examples from history of the use of chemical weapons:

    In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

Obama conveniently neglects to mention that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds and Iranians, back when he was still a U.S. ally. The president at that time was Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama has expressed great admiration. (I think it worth noting here that during World War I, more people were killed by artillery and machine guns than by deadly gas.)

The President goes on to say:

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. [Uh, you mean like Saddam Hussein?] But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

    Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.

This is a sophisticated reformulation of the “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” argument that was wildly popular back when G.W. Bush was in the White House. First of all, our troops already face the prospect of chemical warfare, which is why they are trained in the use of gas masks. I think it a fair guess that many governments – dictatorships or otherwise – possess chemical weapons of one kind or another, regardless of any treaties. As for terrorists getting a hold of chemical weapons, that is a real possibility, I’m afraid, but it would be naïve to think that bombing Syria is going to prevent any possibility of that happening.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon [which is not against international law], or to take a more peaceful path.

So, this is really about Iran? Obama thinks that if he kills a bunch of Syrians, this will convince the Iranians that they shouldn’t build any nuclear weapons? Might not the Iranians draw the exact opposite conclusion? They might decide they need nuclear weapons so the U.S. won’t attack them the way it did Syria.

The President’s speech ends on an optimistic note. He tells us he has decided to postpone asking Congress to authorize the use of force, so he can pursue a proposal by Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons so they can be destroyed. It appears that Putin has saved Obama from the humiliation of Congress voting down the authorization. Bullshit can only get you so far in this world. Obama has once again benefited from dumb luck.

What Were They Thinking?

June 12, 2013

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Edward Snowden

To me, the most astonishing thing about the most recent scandal plaguing the government is that the Obama Administration actually believed that it could keep such an immense operation a secret. I remember that when I would argue with 9/11 conspiracy theorists, one of the points I would make was that the conspiracy they were describing would have involved so many participants that it would have been impossible to keep it a secret. (This argument is even more powerful when applied to the “moon landing was a hoax” conspiracy theory.) It now appears that those supposedly hard-nosed realists who control our national security apparatus are every bit as naïve as those 9/11 Truthers. A sobering revelation.

If Edward Snowden hadn’t spilled the beans about this, somebody else would have eventually done so. It was only a matter of time. This hasn’t prevented the punditocracy from vilifying Snowden, calling him, among other things, a “narcissist”, as if these people weren’t obvious narcissists themselves. It shows you how much the War on Terror has corrupted our society that many of our journalists don’t even pretend to care about civil liberties and government transparency any more.

One must also question the intelligence of the corporate executives who went along with this insane scheme. At least one person has pointed out that this scandal threatens the future of the whole U.S. Internet industry. I guess maybe these guys aren’t so smart after all.

It’s always good to see the one percent make fools out of themselves.

Homeland Security and the Politics of Helplessness

May 22, 2013

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A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy documents how this nation’s anti-terrorism police collaborated with businesses to attack the Occupy movement of 2011 to 2012. Alternet reports:

    The report specifically looks at the activities of “fusion centers,” or law enforcement entities created after 9/11 that transform local police forces into counter-terror units in partnership with federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. The fusion centers devoted a lot of time–to the point of “obsession,” the report notes–to monitoring the Occupy movement, particularly for any “threats” to public safety or health and to whether there were “extremists” involved in the movement.

Those of us who worried that the Department of Homeland Security created after the 9/11 attacks would be used to suppress political dissent have seen our worst fears realized. The government and corporations did everything they could to crush a non-violent movement that spoke people’s anger at the greed of the banks and of Wall Street. The result has the near stifling of any resistance to the corporate agenda.

In such an atmosphere, it is no surprise that people turn to conspiracy theories to explain their problems. Conspiracy theories are the opiate of the politically defeated. Greg Palast’s good buddy Alex Jones – who last month claimed that the Boston Marathon bombings were a “false flag operation” – has suggested that the recent tornado in Oklahoma was the work of a government-owned weather machine. According to Media Matters:

    Following a long tangent, Jones returned to the caller’s subject. While he explained that “natural tornadoes” do exist and that he’s not sure if a government “weather weapon” was involved in the Oklahoma disaster, Jones warned nonetheless that the government “can create and steer groups of tornadoes.”

    According to Jones, this possibility hinges on whether people spotted helicopters and small aircraft “in and around the clouds, spraying and doing things.” He added, “if you saw that, you better bet your bottom dollar they did this, but who knows if they did. You know, that’s the thing, we don’t know.”

The price that we pay for having let Bush and Obama create a police state is a long descent into national infantilism.

The Fall of General Petraeus

November 13, 2012


Gen. David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really good sex scandal in Washington, so the one involving Gen. Petraeus comes as a welcome relief after a truly dreary presidential election. Petraeus is accused of having had an affair with his “biographer”, Paula Broadwell. She is the reputed author of an admiring book about Petraeus with the perhaps unfortunate title of All In. (It has also come out that this book was at least partly ghost-written.)

There is more than a little moral hypocrisy in all this. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee, has said: “Disturbing is the word that has come to my mind since all of this has come to light. Really, I think it goes without saying if you’re the director of the CIA, if you are a four-star general in the United States army, that you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. And you can’t put yourself in a compromising position.” Yes, a man who authorizes torture and drone strikes can’t sully himself with extra-marital sex. Schultz, by the way, helped organize last summer’s Democratic convention, at which one of the featured speakers was former president Bill Clinton, who coaxed a White House intern into giving him blow jobs.

It all started when Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus’s family, told an FBI agent, with whom she was apparently involved in some way, that she had been receiving harassing e-mails from Broadwell. Even though the FBI normally doesn’t investigate this sort of thing, those intrepid G-Men went to work, eventually examining 20,000 pages of e-mails. (I’m not making this up.) Not only did they discover Broadwell’s affair with Petraeus, but they also discovered that Kelly was having an affair with Gen. David Allen, Petraeus’s successor in the Afghanistan command.

Kelley is an interesting person in her own right. According to the Los Angles Times: “…she has angered some senior officers for what were described as persistent efforts by her to forge close personal ties to successive Central Command four-star officers by deluging them with emails, a former Central Command aide said.” Could there be such a thing as a military groupie? There must be something about a man who bombs villages in Afghanistan.

Some will cite this affair as evidence that the American empire is in decline. This is nonsense. There is, for example, good reason to believe that Eisenhower had an affair with his female chauffeur during World War II. And at one point in his career, MacArthur was demoted when it was discovered that he had a mistress.

The FBI agent who started the investigation – who has so far only been identified as Agent Shirtless – is said to have a “worldview” that is “hostile” to Obama. I think we can guess what that probably means.

Those who live by the media, die by it. When the Iraq war wasn’t going well, the government and the media decided that they needed a hero to distract people. Petraeus, who wears more medals than a Soviet-era bureaucrat, seemed a logical choice. He was given credit for a non-existent victory in Iraq, to hide the fact that Bush had actually cut a deal with Sunni militia groups. Now Petraeus has been undone by one of those who worked hardest create his myth. Shakespeare would have relished this.