Meryl Streep must be a very intelligent woman to be such a good actress. So it was embarrassing to see her dressed in an American flag playing cheer leader for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Convention. One must suppose that she is too busy studying for all her varied movie roles to have learned much about the sinister nature of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. She proclaimed that President Hillary Clinton would be “making history” simply by being a woman. That means symbolic history. The fact that President Hillary Clinton is more likely to make real history by starting another war even more disastrous than those she has already helped get us into seems not to have occurred to Meryl Streep.
Nor does it occur to millions of other American women who share the same illusion.
Those women are thinking too much in terms of symbols and images. They are ignoring the major issue facing the United States: whether to make peace or war. They don’t worry that the imminent conflict with the other major nuclear power, Russia, might affect themselves, their families, the world and the future. They feel that they will somehow personally benefit from the election of a woman to the U.S. Presidency.
The feminist idea behind this illusion is that by becoming President, Hillary will be “shattering the glass ceilings” – the invisible obstacles – that prevent women from rising to the top. Women everywhere will benefit – just as American blacks all benefited from the election of Barack Obama. Oops, wait a minute, did they really? What about the growing black prison population, or the unarmed blacks shot dead in the street by policemen? Never mind, it made many blacks feel good to have a black President, which is understandable given American history. But in concrete terms, it did nothing for the black population as a whole.
Women seek the same feel-good experience. They believe it will be provided by Hillary Clinton when she shatters the glass ceiling – “for you”, as Hillary likes to say.
But wait a minute. If it’s glass, you can’t see it, and to what extent is it really there? What about Christine Lagarde, the French woman who currently heads the International Monetary Fund? What about the fact that the current German Chancellor, the current British Prime Minister, the foreign minister of the European Union, and Meryl Streep herself have all pursued successful careers to the top?
Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Loretta Lynch, Michele Flournoy do not seem to be standing in heaps of shattered glass. They have floated to the top with no more opposition than your average ambitious man – and perhaps with less.
In reality, hasn’t the “glass ceiling” preventing women from pursuing successful careers already been shattered, precisely by the current neoliberal world order which favors promoting women and token members of various ethnic groups? Isn’t it part of the strategy of neoliberalism to prove that modern capitalism enables the best to rise to the top, a circumstance that should win the adherence of all “identity groups” – whose self-identification has largely succeeded in wiping the old concept of class consciousness out of people’s minds? Isn’t this a main cause that is being promoted by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy all over the world (more about that in another article)? Doesn’t it help win public support for U.S. wars to have women in the front lines, proclaiming their devotion to “human rights”?
For most women, as for most blacks, when wages are low, their wages are low. When good housing or education is too expensive for most people, it’s too expensive for women. When spending for war ruins the economy, it’s their economy too.
The plain fact is that the successful careers of these ceiling breakers do nothing for the majority of women who are nowhere near any ceiling that needs to be broken.
It isn’t Hillary who is changing the system. Rather, it is the change in the system that promotes Hillary.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at email@example.com
In December 2001, the Bush administration issued its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), asserting the preemptive right to unilaterally declare and wage future wars using first strike nuclear weapons. It remains US policy.
Obama campaigned against militarism, promising all US combat troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq if elected. They’re still there and in lots more places deployed during his tenure.
His 2010 National Security Strategy reflected old wine in new bottles – dressed up language, no substantive change, same old dirty business as usual – including pledged first-strike use of nuclear weapons against any adversary, nuclear armed or not.
Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy followed the same pattern, including what the late Gore Vidal called assuring “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
Obama stressed it at the time, saying “(w)e will lead through strength… by example… with capable partners, (using) all instruments of US power.”
Adding he’d “(s)triv(e) for a world without nuclear weapons,” he approved a $1 trillion program to upgrade America’s arsenal over the next 30 years – likely meaning double or triple this amount before completed along with probably using these weapons to wage war preemptively against one or more adversaries.
Throughout his tenure, Obama has been the most belligerent US president in history, bombing seven countries posing no threat to America, replacing sovereign democratic states with despotic US client ones, engaging in ruthless practices to undermine others – notably challenging Russia and China confrontationally.
On August 12, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about an Obama “ ’No First Use’ protocol for nuclear weapons” running into flack from some cabinet officials and allies in Europe and Asia.
The report reads like an administration plant to burnish Obama’s deplorable image. After seven-and-a-half years of naked aggression against multiple nonthreatening states, along with a first-strike nuclear posture, can anyone believe he suddenly became less warrior-like.
His scheme seems like a thinly veiled attempt to soften his deplorable legacy. Opposition from John Kerry, War Secretary Ashton Carter and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz gives him a convenient out to leave policy unchanged.
According to the Journal, “opposition from critical cabinet members and US allies reduces the likelihood of (any) change. (It’s) unlikely in his remaining months, given the controversy it would stir in the midst of a presidential election…”
Maybe an asterisk in his legacy will say he tried even though throughout his tenure, he “t(ook) (no) concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons” as he pledged in an April 2009 Prague speech.
Along with Henry Kissinger and Israeli war criminal leaders, no one less deserved Nobel Peace Prize recognition than Obama – a leader committed to waging endless wars with all weapons in America’s arsenal as necessary, including nuclear, chemical and biological ones.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
US officials are considering new economic sanctions against Russia over the DNC email leak released by WikiLeaks, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the situation.
Officials have not so far, however, reached common ground on how exactly to impose sanctions, the WSJ reports.
Adopting more anti-Russian economic sanctions would mean delivering public accusations against Moscow or exposing links of the alleged hackers to Russia.
The White House has so far not commented, although the FBI and intelligence agencies investigating the cyberattack have “signaled” that the attack was “almost certainly” carried out by “Russian-affiliated hackers,” according to the WSJ.
The breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, already compared to the Watergate scandal, is far from reaching its peak, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has dropped a broad hint he has much more material to potentially publish.
Speaking in Washington DC on Thursday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she does not know exactly how the notorious DNC leak was possible, but that there could be no mistake about its initiator.
“I know for sure it is the Russians,” Pelosi told reporters, adding “we are assessing the damage.”
“This is an electronic Watergate… The Russians broke in. Who did they give the information to? I don’t know. Who dumped it? I don’t know,” she said, as quoted by the WSJ.
The Democrats are now urging the Obama administration to take decisive action.
“When the administration believes it has sufficient evidence of attribution, it will make that attribution public as well as consider any other steps necessary,” said Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
During President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, relations between Moscow and Washington have dropped to lows similar to those seen in the years of the Cold War.
Washington has already imposed a wide range of sanctions against Russian politicians and state companies following the reunification of Crimea with Russia, and accuses Moscow of being involved in the civil war in Ukraine.
Moscow has consistently denied allegations about its possible role in the hacking of US Democratic Party emails published by WikiLeaks.
“We are again seeing these maniacal attempts to exploit the Russian theme in the US election campaign,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that facilitates imposing sanctions against any country endangering US national security through cyberattacks.
“Our tools now include an executive order authorizing sanctions against those that engage in significant malicious cyber activities, such as harming our nation’s critical infrastructure – our transportation systems or power grid,” White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said last month.
“Nations like Russia and China are growing more assertive and sophisticated in their cyber operations,” the US counterterrorism adviser claimed, before mentioning cyber threats from “non-state actors,” including Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
There is the view in the US that the DNC breach is a tit-for-tat payback operation.
“They believe we are trying to influence political developments in Russia, trying to effect change, and so their natural response is to retaliate and do unto us as they think we’ve done unto them,” the director of US national intelligence, James Clapper, said last month, without making specific statements about the alleged Russian role in the DNC breach.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seems to have no doubts whatsoever about the Russian involvement in the leaks.
“Russian intelligence services, which are part of the Russian government, which is under the firm control of Vladimir Putin, hacked into the DNC and we know that they arranged for a lot of those emails to be released…,” Clinton told Fox News earlier this week.
Despite America’s myriad problems domestically and internationally, its geo-strategic position remains the envy of the world. Protected in the east by the Atlantic, in the west by the Pacific, to the north by Canada and to the south by Mexico, the United States is, for all intents and purposes, impervious to a foreign invasion.
Its advanced and mobile nuclear arsenal and conventional force projection capabilities further serve as a deterrent against attacks from rival nation-states. The country’s strategic position is enhanced, too, by what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has referred to as the “exorbitant privilege” – that of possessing the world’s reserve currency. As such, the U.S. does not face the same restraints on spending that other nations do.
Because the dollar accounts for so high a proportion of the balance sheets of other countries, the rest of the world is tacitly committed to propping up its value. Taken together, America’s isolated and protected geo-strategic position combined with the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar means, in effect, that the U.S. has an unrivaled geo-strategic position.
Yet since the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy establishment and three successive administrations have committed the U.S. to a dangerous and ill-conceived pursuit of global military and economic hegemony which has only served to undercut the country’s economy and security. It is a pursuit that is frequently cloaked in the rhetoric of humanitarianism and “democracy promotion.”
United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power recently declared in the pages of the New York Review of Books that it is “our self-interest that requires us to get better at improving human security in the service of national security.”
Power – like nearly all members of the foreign policy establishment today – believes (or says she believes) that the way foreign governments treat their own citizens “matters because it can have a direct impact on international peace and security – and on our respective national interests.”
To bolster her argument she takes the example of the Russian government which, she claims, habitually lies to its own people about what it is really up to in Ukraine. “The elimination of critical voices inside Russia,” writes Power, “helps enable acts that are profoundly destabilizing outside of Russia.”
Power’s claims are part of the widely shared, bipartisan consensus among the post-Cold War foreign policy elites who believe that the problem is not that the United States has intervened around the world too much and too often but rather that it has intervened too little. In Power’s view, “we must never be ashamed to ask whether we have been too reticent in pressing certain governments to reform and to respond to the demands of their citizens.”
This last point is a curious claim that, I suspect, quite intentionally skirts the question of whether the U.S., by actively pushing its “pro-democracy” agenda abroad, is itself the instigator of many of those “demands” (by financing and organizing many of the groups clamoring for U.S. intervention).
Efforts – almost too numerous to count – by USAID, the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy, often in conjunction with various think tanks, TOR developers (software that enables anonymous communications), and George Soros-funded Open Society Institutes – have sought to materially aid a plethora of opposition groups across the globe. (They, in turn, seek more U.S. intervention to enhance their political positions within their societies.)
Contrary to what the scholar, diplomat George Kennan urged – that diplomacy, properly executed, was necessarily a government-to-government interaction – Power believes that “we need to broaden the spectrum of whom we engage with our diplomacy.”
She writes that diplomats must court “civil society organizations” and other groups such as “teachers association, workers’ unions and leaders in the business community” – never mind the very plain fact that State Department diplomats and Commerce Department officials, among others, have been doing outreach of that sort for some time.
The results of all this U.S. meddling have been little short of disastrous. Take, for instance, the failed state of Ukraine, where USAID and other U.S. institutions spent $5 billion in the quarter century since the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (and that was before the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected government in February 2014 and the current civil war which has claimed the lives of some 10,000 Ukrainians).
This generation of American “humanitarian” crusaders, as exemplified by the career of Ambassador Power, continually seeks to sacrifice stability on the altar of “democratic” idealism (even when that involves reversing democratic results and contributing to humanitarian suffering). Further, the problem that these efforts engender for U.S. national security interests are legion: war continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, Libya is completely destabilized, likewise Syria and Iraq.
Contrary to what Power would have us believe, the “democratization” crusade undermines, rather than strengthens U.S. national security. As the Greek statesman Pericles famously observed: “I am more afraid of our own mistakes than of our enemies’ designs.”
James W Carden is editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
Photo by Ali Tweel on Flickr. Original: https://flic.kr/p/HWGom3
While it is impossible to know all the dirty deeds of America’s sprawling global empire, news that US ground forces are now fighting in Libya means that US troops are involved in at least four active wars:
Afghanistan: A planned draw-down of troops in 2015 was curtailed by President Obama to leave more troops for combat and advisory missions. This week, US forces were forced to abandon military equipment that then fell into the hands of ISIS.
Iraq: After a removal of major combat forces in 2011, Iraq has become a battleground once again. President Obama has sent roughly 4,600 troops in for combat and advisory roles and built a new base in northern Iraq called “Firebase Bell.”
Syria: Though the US had been supporting Syrian rebel groups, including jihadists, since 2013, US troops have entered the fighting in the country. In January of this year, US special forces took control of a military base in northern Syria.
Libya: In 2011, the US assisted in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya. In the aftermath, Libya has fallen into total chaos, making it ripe for ISIS to establish a significant presence. Now, according to the Pentagon, US forces are fighting on the ground to drive ISIS out.
This excludes all of the off-the-books special operations in over 100 countries, and the major role the US is playing in supplying weapons for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. Among those weapons are controversial cluster bombs, which are banned by many countries for their impact on civilians.
Preceding the Yemen civil war, the US had an active drone assassination program in the country, which included the targeted killing of American citizens. The drone assassination program continues throughout the greater Middle East.
According to the Obama Administration, these military operations are legally justified by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force [PDF], which stated “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
The bland, vague language apparently justifies any war in any part of the world. So, maybe the US will soon have troops in five active wars. Hell, make it six.
The maternal mortality rate across most of the US increased by 27 percent from 2000 to 2014, new study finds, adding that the rate is actually higher than official estimates because states do not uniformly report pregnancy status on death certificates.
The last calculation of the US maternal mortality rate occurred in 2007, when it was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to researchers responsible for the study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, that figure is too low because the estimate was made without accurate data. At the time, not all US states had adopted a “pregnancy question” on their standard death certificates, which became an accepted addition to forms in 2003.
Maternal mortality is defined as the “death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.”
Outside of California and Texas – which were not included because their trends were “markedly different” from other states and would have skewed the results – the actual maternal mortality rate in the US in 2007 was 21.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, the researchers found, a 68 percent increase from the official reported average.
Based on their research, the team said the 2014 rate in 48 states and the District of Columbia has gone up to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births.
“It is an international embarrassment that the United States, since 2007, has not been able to provide a national maternal mortality rate to international data repositories,” the researchers wrote. “This inability reflects the chronic underfunding over the past two decades of state and national vital statistics systems. Indeed, it was primarily a lack of funds that led to delays (of more than a decade in many states) in the adoption of the 2003 revised birth and death certificates.”
The research team used a “correction factor” to analyze incomplete or unrevised maternal mortality data to adjust for the lack of uniform reporting of pregnancy status on death certificates. The adjusted figures were then used to calculate the maternal morality rates for US states, except for California and Texas. The Golden State showed a significant decline in maternal mortality rate from 2003 to 2014, while the rate in the Lone Star State doubled in 2011-2012.
While international maternal mortality rates were trending down, the US has gone in the opposite direction, researchers pointed out. They noted the World Health Organization has said that 157 of 183 nations have reported decreases in their rates since 2000. The current estimated rate in the US, however, is comparable to Iran and Ukraine, and is second-to-last only to Mexico among the so-called industrialized nations.
“The current maternal mortality rate places the United States far behind other industrialized nations,”said study co-author Eugene Declercq, professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. “There is a need to redouble efforts to prevent maternal deaths and improve maternity care for the four million US women giving birth each year.”
The study — Recent Increases in the US Maternal Mortality Rate: Disentangling Trends From Measurement Issues — was published online in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, and was conducted by researchers with the Boston University School of Public Health, the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, and the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative at Stanford University Medical School.
The Pentagon Money Pit: $6.5 Trillion in Unaccountable Army Spending, and No DOD Audit for the Past Two Decades
What if the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services were to report that $6.5 billion in spending by that federal agency was unaccounted for and untraceable? You can imagine the headlines, right? What if it was $65 billion? The headlines would be as big as for the first moon landing or for troops landing on Omaha Beach in World War II.
But how about a report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General saying that the US Army had $6.5 trillion in unaccountable expenditures for which there is simply no paper trail? That is 6,500 billion dollars! Have you heard about that? Probably not. That damning report was issued back on July 26 — two whole weeks ago — but as of today it has not even been reported anywhere in the corporate media.
It’s not that it’s secret information, or hard to come by. The report is available online at the Department of Defense’s OIG website. And as it states:
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management & Comptroller) (OASA[FM&C]) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Indianapolis (DFAS Indianapolis) did not adequately support $2.8 trillion in third quarter journal voucher (JV) adjustments and $6.5 trillion in yearend JV adjustments made to AGF data during FY 2015 financial statement compilation.2 The unsupported JV adjustments occurred because OASA(FM&C) and DFAS Indianapolis did not prioritize correcting the system deficiencies that caused errors resulting in JV adjustments, and did not provide sufficient guidance for supporting system‑generated adjustments.
In addition, DFAS Indianapolis did not document or support why the Defense Departmental Reporting System‑Budgetary (DDRS-B), a budgetary reporting system, removed at least 16,513 of 1.3 million records during third quarter FY 2015. This occurred because DFAS Indianapolis did not have detailed documentation describing the DDRS-B import process or have accurate or complete system reports.
As a result, the data used to prepare the FY 2015 AGF third quarter and yearend financial statements were unreliable and lacked an adequate audit trail. Furthermore, DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.
This dense bureaucrateze doesn’t mean that $6.5 trillion has been stolen, or that this is money in addition to the $600 billion that the Pentagon spent in fiscal 2015. It means that for years — and $6.5 trillion represents at about 15 years’ worth of US military spending — the Department of Defense (sic) has not been tracking or recording or auditing all of the taxpayer money allocated by Congress — what it was spent on, how well it was spent, or where the money actually ended up. There are enough opportunities here for corruption, bribery, secret funding of “black ops” and illegal activities, and of course for simple waste to march a very large army, navy and air force through. And by the way, things aren’t any better at the Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Incredibly, no mainstream reporter or editor in the US has seen this as a story worth reporting to the American public.
Just to give a sense of the scale of this outrage, consider that total federal discretionary spending in FY 2015 was just over $1.1 trillion. That includes everything from education ($70 billion), housing and community development ($63 billion), Medicare and health ($66 billion), veterans’ benefits ($65 billion), energy ($39 billion), transportation ($26 billion) and international affairs ($41 billion), and of course that $600 billion for the military.
All the other agencies that are responsible for those other outlays, like the Dept. of Education, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, etc., have been required by Congress since 1996 to file reports on annual audits of their budgets. The Pentagon was subject to that same act of Congress too, but for 20 years and running it has failed to do so. It has simply stonewalled, and so far has gotten away with it.
Nobody in Congress seems to care about this contempt of Congress. Neither of the two mainstream political candidates for president, Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton, seems to care either. Neither one has mentioned this epic scandal.
According to the OIG’s report, this problem actually goes back a generation, to 1991, five years before Congress even passed the law requiring all federal agencies to operate using federal accounting standards and to conduct annual audits, when the Government Accountability Office found “unsupported adjustments” were being made to the military’s financial statements during an audit of FY 1991 Army financial statements. Fully 17 years later, the Army, in its FY 2008 statement of Assurance on Internal Controls, said that the “weakness” found in 1991 “would be corrected by the end of FY 2011,” an outrageous decade later. But the OIG report goes on to say:
However, the FY 2015 Statement of Assurance on Internal Controls indicated this material weakness remained uncorrected and may not be corrected until third quarter 2017.
Such a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the Pentagon, Congress and the media towards such a massive accounting failure involving trillions of dollars is simply mind-boggling, and yet there is nobody in Congress jumping up and down in the well of the House or or at Armed Services Committee hearings demanding answers and heads. No president or presidential candidate is denouncing this atrocity.
Aside from the political question of how much the US should actually be spending on the military — and clearly, spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined on war and war preparedness is not justifiable — how can anyone, of any political persuasion, accept the idea of spending such staggering sums of money without insisting on any accountability?
Consider that politicians of both major political parties are demanding accountability for every penny spent on welfare, including demanding that recipients of welfare prove that they are trying to find work. Ditto for people receiving unemployment compensation. Consider the amount of money and time spent on testing students in public schools in a vain effort to make teachers accountable for student “performance.” And yet the military doesn’t have to account for any of its trillions of dollars of spending on manpower and weapons — even though Congress fully a generation ago passed a law requiring such accountability.
Phone and email requests to the DOD press office for the Office of Inspector General asking for comment went unanswered.
Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), says, “Accounting at the Department of Defense is a disaster, but nobody is screaming about it because you have a lot of people in Congress who believe in more military spending, so they don’t really challenge military spending.” She adds, “You won’t see anything change unless Congress cuts the Pentagon budget in order to get results, and they’re not going to do that.”
She might have added that the reporters and editors and publishers of the corporate media also support military spending, so the media are not reporting on this scandal either, meaning that the public remains in the dark and unconcerned about it. Sure, the media will report on a $600 air force toilet seat and the public will be appropriately outraged, but there is no word about an untraceable $6.5 trillion in Army spending and no public outrage… except perhaps among those who read alternative publications like this one.
Enough! I don’t want to hear another complaint about government spending on welfare, education, environment, health care subsidies, immigrant benefits or whatever, until the Pentagon has to report on, account for and audit every dollar that it is spending on war.
No more free ride for the military.
With the battle for Aleppo raging in Syria, another crucial battle in the east of the Greater Middle East, in Afghanistan, is being joined, the outcome of which is going to be no less fateful. The Associated Press flashed the news today that the key southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, has been “completely surrounded” by the Taliban and the government forces are regrouping for a last-ditch defence.
The head of the Helmand provincial council estimates that the Taliban may capture Lashkar Gah within days. (UPI )
The development comes as a huge embarrassment for the Barack Obama administration. The entire mythology built around the famous “surge” ordered by President Obama in 2010 and the massive campaign in the Hindu Kush led by the general with the Roman nose, David Petraeus, with over 100,000 American troops under his command, is unravelling.
The “surge” was mostly concentrated on Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Rajiv Chandrasekharan of the Washington Post who covered the war in Helmand and Kandahar wrote a beautiful book on it, Little America, which is a brilliant recount of the political foibles and ambitious goals set by feckless Americans and about the Hobbesian world in which the “surge” slithered its way like a serpent through the great poppy fields, across irrigation canals and culverts and beyond the mud walls into the orchards of pomegranates, grapes and sweet melons into the seamless desert plateau with rocky outcrops — creating Potemkin progress but in reality letting loose a tidal wave of corruption and venality and mindless horrific violence and destruction. (Guardian )
The big question today for Obama, therefore, is: Just what was the point? Yet, he’s decided to abandon his 2008 election pledge and bow to the military commanders’ wish once again to keep troop levels at a threshold that would give the option for his successor in the White House to order a second “surge”, which is, in fact, what Gen. Petraeus has demanded in a recent opinion piece. (Wall Street Journal )
Without doubt, the capture of Helmand province will be a turning point in the Afghan war. Several factors come into play. First and foremost, the Taliban will have made a big point underscoring their capability – how quick they have been able to take advantage of the withdrawal of the thousands of British and American soldiers as recently as in 2014. The message will resonate all across the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.
In “operational” terms, Taliban have made a slow, steady pincer movement lasting months, closing in from the north and south toward Lashkar Gah, exposing the poor leadership of the Afghan army and police. On their part, Taliban demonstrated tenacity, organizational skill and access to resources.
Helmand is the biggest single centre of opium production in Afghanistan. Taliban are set to get a sizeable share of the drug business, which has always been a major source of funding for the insurgency. Beyond its opium economy, Helmand is strategically located – bordering Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and close to the Iranian border, which provide good exit routes to escape in an emergency – or, alternatively, to bring in reinforcements – as well as supply lines to other regions of Afghanistan.
Suffice it to say, Helmand has the potential to become Taliban’s core territory where the ‘Quetta Shura’ could be ‘headquartered’, which could become a ‘provisional government’ on Afghan soil at some point.
The Afghan army faces an uphill task to retrieve control of Helmand, which is dominated by the Ishaqzai tribe. The Ishqzais have been virulently ‘anti-American’ all along. Besides, the Taliban can also cash in now on their sympathy, since Mullah Akhtar Mansour whom the Americans killed in a drone strike in April also happened to be an Ishaqzai. There is a blood feud the Ishaqzais have to settle with Obama.
Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province; it is twice the size of Belgium and 16 times bigger than Panjshir. It is a fertile region with a developed irrigation system. The famous marble mines of Khanashin become another source of financing for the Taliban. Helmand is on the highway connecting the western regions (Herat, Farah, Nimroz, etc.) with the southern provinces (Kandahar, Ghazni, Khost, etc.) and with Kabul. If the Taliban gain control of Helmand province, they can dominate vital communication links.
However, the full gravity of the emergent politico-military situation in Afghanistan will not sink in unless the crisis of legitimacy facing the so-called National Unity Government in Kabul is also understood. The point is, the NUG has no mandate to rule beyond September unless a Loya Jirga is convened. No one other than former president Hamid Karzai has pointed this out.
Now, about half the members of a legally-constituted Loya Jirga would be the chairs of district council. But elections to the district councils cannot be held in the prevailing security situation with the government steadily conceding territory to the Taliban. The alternative will be to convene a ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga comprising tribal elders chosen at random. But then, who holds the authority to convene a ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga that could in turn constitute an interim government?
Meanwhile, tension is also growing within the NUG between the factions led by the president and the chief executive officer. Over and above hangs the dangerous question, which no one wants to think about, as to how long will the army remain intact regardless of political crises.
All in all, the fall of Helmand to the Taliban can only deepen the crisis of legitimacy haunting the Afghan government. Read a recent report by the veteran Afghan hand Barnett Rubin – THE U.S. PRESENCE AND AFGHANISTAN’S NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT: PRESERVING AND BROADENING THE POLITICAL SETTLEMENT
In a much-awaited step toward uncovering the historical truth of the U.S.-backed Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970’s and 80’s, the United States has delivered over 1,000 pages of classified documents to the South American country. But critics argue that there are major gaps in the files, including the exclusion of CIA documents, that keep in the dark important details of the extent of human rights violations and the U.S. role in such abuses.
The Argentine government delivered the newly-declassified documents to journalists and human rights organizations on Monday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the files to President Mauricio Macri during a state visit last week.
The 1,078 pages from 14 U.S. government agencies and departments are the first in a series of public releases over the next 18 months of declassified documents related to Argentina’s last military dictatorship, including Argentine Country Files, White House staff files, correspondence cables, and other archives, according to a statement from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The files include grisly descriptions of torture, rape, assassinations, and forced disappearances carried out by the military regime under General Jorge Rafael Videla, installed after the 1976 coup against left-wing President Isabel Peron.
The documents also detail Henry Kissinger’s applause of the Argentine dictatorship and its counterinsurgency strategy, including during a visit to General Videla during the 1978 World Cup. National Security staffer Robert Pastor wrote in 1978 that Kissinger’s “praise for the Argentine government in its campaign against terrorism was the music the Argentine government was longing to hear.”
Argentina’s so-called anti-terrorism policy was in reality a brutal crackdown on political dissidents, human rights defenders, academics, church leaders, students, and other opponents of the right-wing regime. It was also part of the regional U.S.-backed Operation Condor, a state terror operation that carried out assassinations and disappearances in support of South America’s right-wing dictatorships. In Argentina, up to 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared during the Dirty War.
The documents also detail how then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter raised concern over the human rights situation in Argentina, including in a letter to General Videla rather gently urging him to make progress with respect to human rights. At the time, Kissinger reportedly demonstrates a “desire to speak out against the Carter Administration’s human rights policy to Latin America,” according to a memo by National Security’s Pastor.
The further confirmation of Kissinger’s atrocious legacy in Latin America comes as U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton courts an endorsement from Kissinger, widely condemned as a war criminal by human rights groups.
However, despite the revealing details, the batch of documents is also lacking in key archives, the Argentine publication El Destape pointed out. The package does not include files from the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency, which specializes in military intelligence.
What’s more, although the documents were expected to cover the period of 1977 to 1982, the latest documents are dated 1981, which means that cables related to the 1982 Malvinas War between Argentina and Britain and the U.S. role in the conflict are not included.
The Macri administration hailed the release of the documents as the result of a “new foreign policy” that has steered the country to rekindle ties with the United States after former Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez championed anti-imperialist politics for 12 years. But the self-congratulatory government narrative ignores the fact that Argentine human rights organizations have demanded for years that the archives be released in a fight for historical truth that first bore fruit in 2002 with the release of over 4,500 U.S. documents.
Furthermore, Macri has come under fire for undermining investigations into dictatorship-era crimes after his sweeping austerity campaign scrapped departments charged with gathering historical evidence in certain public institutions. The Argentine president has also been criticized over his indirect ties to the military regime, which proved to hugely benefit his family business, the Macri Society, also known as Socma.
U.S. President Obama described the move as a response to the U.S. “responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency.” Obama announced plans to release documents related to the Dirty War during a visit with Macri in Argentina in March, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup.
Obama’s visit was widely criticized by human rights activists over the insensitivity of the timing. Although he announced plans for the United States to “do its part” with respect to uncovering historical truth about the dictatorship period, he did not apologize for the United States’ involvement in human rights abuses and widespread forced disappearance.
The Obama administration announced on Monday the beginning of US air strikes in Libya against ISIS targets, marking the fourth country the United States is currently bombing with the goal of “degrading and destroying” the terror group. A campaign that began two years ago this Sunday has now, 50,000 bombs and 25,000 dead ISIS fighters later, expanded to a whole new continent.
You’d hardly notice, however, if you followed US media. While the air strikes themselves were reported by most major outlets, they were done so in a matter-of-fact way, and only graced the front pages of major American newspapers for one day. The New York Times didn’t even find the news important enough to give it a front-page headline, instead relegating it to a quick blurb at the far-bottom corner of the page, next to a teaser about the G train “having a moment.”
Even many center-left outlets barely touched on the massive mission creep. To give some perspective, Slate, Mother Jones, and Buzzfeed News all ran more stories about Trump’s dust-up with an infant than they did on what was effectively the start of a new war. ABC World News Tonight mentioned the Libyan air strikes for only 20 seconds, 13 minutes into the show, and NBC Nightly News didn’t mention the air strikes at all. The president’s announcement that the United States is bombing a new country has become entirely banal.
This is by design. Obama’s “frog in boiling water” approach to war removes a clear deadline, thus stripping his use of military force of the urgency of, say, Bush’s “48 hours to get out of Baghdad” Gary Cooper approach.
Meanwhile, an anti-ISIS bombing campaign that began as “limited,” “targeted” air strikes in Iraq two years ago expanded to Syria six weeks later, to Afghanistan in January of this year, and to Libya this week. Combat troops and special forces have also crept into play, with US military personnel first appearing in Iraq and Syria in 2014, 2015, or 2016, depending on how one defines “boots” and “ground.”
All of this has unfolded with US media that almost never put these developments in a broader context. Instead, news outlets report each expansion as if it were obvious and inevitable. The war just is, and because it’s done piecemeal, there doesn’t seem much to get outraged over.
The question pundits should be asking themselves is this: Had Obama announced on August 7, 2014, that he planned on bombing four countries and deploying troops to two of them to fight a war with “no end point,” would the American public have gone along with it? Probably not.
To authorize his perma-campaign, Obama’s administration has dubiously invoked the 15-year-old, one-page Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after 9/11. The president has to do this, the White House and friendly media claim, because Congress “refuses” to act to authorize the war (notice that’s a rubber-stamp question of when, not if). But such apologism largely rests on a tautology: Congress doesn’t have a sense of urgency to authorize the war because the public doesn’t, and the public doesn’t because the media have yawned with each new iteration.
What’s lacking is what screenwriters call “an inciting incident.” There’s no clear-cut moment the war is launched, it just gradually expands, and because media are driven by Hollywood narratives, they are victims to the absence of a clear first act. This was, to a lesser extent, the problem with the last bombing of Libya, in 2011. What was pitched to the American public then as a limited, UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians (that even the likes of Noam Chomsky backed), which quickly morphed, unceremoniously, into all-out, NATO-led regime change three weeks later.
Then, as now, there was no public debate, no media coming-to-Jesus moment. Obama just asserted the escalation as the obvious next step, and almost everyone just sort of went along—an ethos summed up in Eric Posner’s hot take at Slate the day after Obama expanded the ISIS war to Syria: “Obama Can Bomb Pretty Much Anything He Wants To.”
Some, such as The Week’s Ryan Cooper and The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, have argued that the specter of a Donald Trump presidency could provide this inciting incident, that the fear of an apparently mentally unstable reality-show host taking over this sprawling, limitless war could compel us to examine the wisdom of this unilateral executive approach. But, thus far, this fear has done no such thing.
Obama’s mission creep, without public debate or congressional sanction, goes on without examination of what it may entail for future presidents, let alone the present one. This is the new normal, and it’s a new normal the press codifies every time it treats Obama’s ever-expanding war as dull and barely newsworthy.
The unlearned lesson of Washington’s armed aggression against Libya back in 2011 has come to haunt the US yet again, since the US Air Force are back to bomb this African country again. The assault started on August 1st with the vigorous bombardment of the Libyan port city of Sirte. The new round of US military aggression against Libya was announced by Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, who pointed out that the decision to launch the so-called “military operation” was taken by Barack Obama himself.
The beginning of a new US campaign in Libya was confirmed by the Prime Minister of the Government of National Consensus (GNC), Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj that is conducting all his meetings at the military base near Tripoli. According to Fayez al-Sarra, “Washington carries out the operation at the request of the GNC.”
The air assault on Sirte, American military commanders say, is provoked by the allegations that this city has become a new base of ISIS in the region. In this regard, it is noteworthy that in the recent interview that Barack Obama gave to the Fox News, American President announced that he considers the American armed aggression against Libya the biggest mistake that he made during his presidency.
One should not forget the fact that once the Wall Street Journal reported last February that ISIS was taking hold of Sirte, Obama rejected the idea of a new military campaign in Libya that was presented by the Pentagon and rejected the very idea of air strikes against ISIS in this state, as it was reported by The Daily Beast.
Therefore, it’s clear that even though Washington says that the aim of the new armed aggression is the fight against ISIS, everyone understands that this is but a pretext, while the White House aims at supporting certain terrorist groups in their fight against other terrorists, in a bid to spill chaos in the neighboring countries, primarily to Algeria and Egypt.
We shouldn’t forget that once the Libyan government was toppled back in 2011, divided armed groups started providing their support to various branches of the government, which resulted in the duality of power in Libya. So, we are in the situation when the internationally recognized Parliament – the House of Representatives is being sited in the city of Tobruk, the body that is being supported by the troops of the Libyan national army, headed by Lieutenant-General Khalifa Haftar.
The capital of the country – Tripoli is being occupied by the new General National Congress, that is being supported by a coalition of armed groups that is called the Shield of Libya. This coalition is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is being labeled as a terrorist organization by a number of states. The second-largest city of the country – Benghazi is being run independently by the so-called Islamic Shura Council.
A number of territories are not being controlled by any official group and those territories are quickly being subjected to ISIS rule, which creates a foothold for the further development of this terrorist group if it is to suffer a crushing defeat in Iraq and Syria.
In the meantime, there’s a long list of contradictions between the government in Tripoli and the officially recognized one. Therefore, the the Government of National Consensus (GNC) that was created in accordance with the accords signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015 has not been ratified by the Parliament. Therefore, the GNC cannot be regarded as the legitimate representative of Libya. However, Washington and other Western players are trying to ignore this fact, putting particular emphasis on supporting those people at the head of the GNC. The Tobruk Parliament explains its negative attitude towards the GNC by the fact that this government is acting in accordance with Washington’s demands. This fact has been announced bluntly in the US Senate by the newly appointed commander of Africa Command of the US Armed Force Thomas D. Waldhauser. In addition, according to the statements made by Libyan members of parliament, the GNC consists mainly of terrorists and extremists that have been murdering and torturing civilians and participated in the creation of training camps for militants that were later sent to fight in Syria.
Under these conditions, there can be no discussion of the legal status of the new US armed aggression against Libya.
When assessing the new US campaign in Libya one must bear in mind the fact that Libyan elites have shown their willingness to combat radical militants. In particular, the head of parliament Aguila Saleh Issa has declared June 18 a total mobilization across Libya, while the regular armed forces so far resisted ISIS pretty successfully. Although it’s true that Libyan troops have been pretty slow at entering the areas dominated by terrorists, like Benghazi and Sirte, out of the fear of the massive civilian casualties that such an operation can bring.
However, the White House prefers to ignore these facts, since the Obama administration has failed miserably in other regions of the world (including in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan), therefore it tries to show at least some positive results before Barack Obama leaves the office.
As for yet another violation of the international law that Washington has just committed, the White House doesn’t want to hear any of it, while being convinced that bombs can subdue the whole world to its will, regardless of the growing death toll among the civilian population of various states.
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb”, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita, after the explosion of the first atomic bomb, New Mexico, July 16, 1945
When Paul Tibbets was thirteen years old he flew a bi-plane over Florida’s Miami Beach dropping a promotional cargo of Babe Ruth Candy Bars directly on to the promotional target area, in an advertising stunt. It was his first solo flight and: “From that moment he became hooked on flying.”
He became a test pilot and: “one of the first Americans to fly in world War Two.” Seventeen years later he had graduated from dropping Candy Bars to dropping the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Thirty years later, the now retired Brigadier-General Paul Warfield Tibbets told authors Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, for their minutely detailed and definitive book on one of the world’s greatest crimes, of the background to the venture. Most would surely conclude it was a criminal project from the start, on every level.
Tibbets told the authors:
I got called on this bomb job … I was told I was going to destroy one city with one bomb. That was quite a thought … We had, working in my organization, a murderer, three men guilty of manslaughter and several felons; all of them had escaped from prison.
The murderer was serving life; the manslaughter guys were doing ten to fifteen years; the felons three to five. After escaping they had enlisted under false names. They were all skilled technicians … They were all good, real good at their jobs and we needed ‘em. We told them that if they gave us no trouble, they would have no trouble from us.
After it was over, we called each of them in and handed them their dossiers and a box of matches and said ‘Go burn ‘em.’ You see, I was not running a police department, I was running an outfit that was unique.
The crime which the “outfit” committed was also unique, making the odd murder, manslaughter or felony on home soil pale into insignificance in comparison.
In Hiroshima, a millisecond after 8.16 a.m., on August 6th, 1945, the temperature at the core of the hundreds of feet wide fireball reached 50,000,000 degrees. Flesh burned two miles distant from it’s outer parameters.
80,000 people were killed or mortally injured instantly. The main area targeted was “the city’s principal residential, commercial and military quarters.”
The entrance to the Shima Clinic was flanked by great stone columns – “They were rammed straight down into the ground.” The building was destroyed: “The occupants were vapourised.”
Just three of the city’s fifty five hospitals remained usable, one hundred and eighty of Hiroshima’s two hundred doctors were dead or injured and 1,654 of 1,780 nurses.
Sixty-two thousand buildings were destroyed as were all utilities and transportation systems. Just sixteen fire fighting vehicles remained workable.
People standing, walking, the schoolgirls manning the communications centre in Hiroshima Castle and ninety percent of the castle’s occupants, including American prisoners of war, were also vapourised. Gives a whole new meaning to the US military’s much vaunted ‘No soldier left behind.’
The radiant heat set alight Radio Hiroshima, burnt out the tramcars, trucks, railway rolling stock.
Stone walls, steel doors and asphalt pavement glowed red hot.” Clothing fused to skin. “More than a mile from the epicenter” mens’ caps fused to their scalps, womens’ kimonos to their bodies and childrens’ socks to their legs. All the above decimations happened in the time a crew member of the US bomber, “Enola Gay”, took to blink from the flash behind his goggles. What he saw when he opened them and looked down was, he said: “a peep in to hell.1
At home base, as Hiroshima was incinerated, a party was being prepared to welcome the arsonists. “The biggest blow out” with free beer, all star soft ball game, a jitter bug contest, prizes, star attractions, a movie and the cooks working overtime to prepare a sumptuous fare.
Hiroshima’s destruction had a uranium-based detonation. Three days later on August 9th, Nagasaki was destroyed by a plutonium-based detonation to ascertain which would be the most “effective” in the new nuclear age warfare.
Not even a nod or thought had been given to the Hague Convention which had very specific legal guidelines for protection of civilians in war. One might speculate that Hiroshima also vapourised any pretention of such considerations for all time, in spite of the subsequent Geneva Convention and its additional protocols.
In May of this year, President Obama visited Hiroshima. He said:
Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.
Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.
Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.
Obama ended his Hiroshima address with:
Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.
For a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a constitutional law expert, his words are especially cheap. The man who began his Presidency with a public commitment to build a nuclear weapons free world (speech in Czech Republic, April 5th, 2009) has, mind bendingly, committed to a thirty year, one Trillion $ nuclear arsenal upgrade.
The epitaph at Hiroshima was written by Tadayoshi Saika, Professor of English Literature at Hiroshima University. He also provided the English translation: “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”
On November 3, 1983, an explanation plaque in English was added in order to convey Professor Saika’s intent that “we” refers to “all humanity”, not specifically the Japanese or Americans, and that the “error” is the “evil of war”.
The inscription on the front panel offers a prayer for the peaceful repose of the victims and a pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. It expresses the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony … and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.
Did President Obama have a twinge of conscience as he read it? Or did he even bother? He is surely among the most unworthy of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. And will the rest of the world heed the words, the pledge and the spirit, before it is too late?
- Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. Ruin from the Air: The Enola Gay’s Atomic Mission to Hiroshima, August 1990
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.)