Syria: intervention update

The New York Times reports on what US bombs have done to regular civilians in Syria since airstrikes began this summer:

many people are angry at the Americans. Food and fuel prices in Raqqa have soared, power blackouts have prevailed, and order is now threatened by a vacuum of any authority.

For all their violence and intolerance toward disbelievers, the fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at least functioned as a government, providing basic services and some semblance of stability.

“People don’t want some outside power to attack,” Khalid Farhan, a Raqqa resident, said during a recent trip to Turkey.

Syrian civilians now see not that ISIS was a noble organization but that by contrast, American airstrikes have left them completely destabilized. Continue reading “Syria: intervention update”

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Syria: intervention update

Libyan lessons learned

“What Happened to the Humanitarians Who Wanted to Save Libyans With Bombs and Drones?” asks The Intercept.

I’m writing mostly to answer this question because it isn’t explicitly said in the article: what happened to advocates of the western war on Libya was that they were rewarded with further inclusion in media circles as members of the serious establishment who believe that the US has humanitarian intentions, bombs can save lives, and war can bring peace. The co-author of the piece, in fact, is one of them. Continue reading “Libyan lessons learned”

Libyan lessons learned

Empathy for empire

Molly Crabapple, a political artist whose artwork I frequently admire and appreciate and some of which decorates my walls, recently admonished what she terms the “Western left” for failing to properly and tangibly support the Syrian revolutionaries fighting their government. She coats this condemnation in deep concern for the Syrian people, but the barely latent thesis shines through: Crabapple is arguing for military intervention.

If it wasn’t clear, Crabapple elucidates when responding to questions about her piece from Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola.

Very often on the left there’s this way where we simplify things, where we’re like, ‘America has fucked up in the Middle East, America murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.’ And then we look at something like Syria where a nonviolent opposition was met with extreme violence and then after trying to arm themselves they were asking for military aid and we’re like “America’s fucked up in the Middle East, America’s murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq. Let’s not even look at these people. Let’s pretend they don’t even exist.” And I think that there’s a legitimate debate about military aid and intervention.

Author and Western leftist David Mizner responded deftly to the original piece with ’For 3rd Anniversary of War in Syria, Molly Crabapple Turns Into a Liberal Hawk.’ He explains how Crabapple is refuting claims her subjects aren’t making to highlight her own empathy — those she condemns are not cheering the status quo, they are simply trying to prevent further horror. Continue reading “Empathy for empire”

Empathy for empire

War with Iran has already begun

Bipartisan Support for Sanctions Spells Bloodshed to Come

Houston protesters for peace (click for source)

On Friday, 93% of the U.S. House of Representatives affirmed a resolution escalating America’s already aggressive position on Iran, from “crippling” sanctions to a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear weapons. The Congressional Research Service summarized the bill:

Affirms that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening. Urges increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to secure an agreement that includes: (1) suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, (2) complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, and (3) a permanent agreement that verifiably assures that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Supports: (1) the universal rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, and (2) U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Rejects any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat. (emphasis mine)

The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support – for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers: 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.

The language used bodes terribly for the United States’ already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability of said manufacturing. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons; given the extreme and persistent threats from the nuclear-armed Israel and United States, coupled with the U.S. forces surrounding Iran, we would have no right to prevent them if they were.

Further, examining the House’s reasoning for denouncing Iran as a repressive regime highlights severe hypocrisy:

Whereas, on December 26, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran, including torture, cruel and degrading treatment in detention, the targeting of human rights defenders, violence against women, and ‘the systematic and serious restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly’, as well as severe restrictions on the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.’

Switch in that paragraph “the United States” for “Iran” and you might think we should be sanctioning ourselves. Regarding the first several accusations, consider this: the United States tortures foreign adversaries by proxy, abuses accused whistle-blowers in prison before trial, detains more prisoners than any country on Earth, and continues to pass state laws assaulting women’s rights. Perhaps the most hypocritical, though, is the accusation of the repression of peaceful assembly. Just two days after the House passed this resolution, Chicago riot police beat protesters with nightsticks, hit others with CPD vehicles, and used sound canons to disrupt peaceful demonstrators against the NATO summit. So the idea that the U.S. deems Iran a barbaric nation that represses political speech is extremely two-faced at best.

The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.

For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran’s nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.

More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as “crippling” and that all should describe as acts of war. Just today, the Senate voted unanimously to escalate those very sanctions. While President Obama may say that sanctions are intended to isolate Iran’s leaders in their nuclear position, it is citizens who bear the burden of these economic moves. Look to Iraq for the devastating effects, where a senior U.N. official estimated that U.N.-imposed sanctions in the 1990s killed a staggering 500,000 children under the age of 5. They don’t call ‘em “crippling” for nothing.

We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:

Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.

The Iraq war did not begin with the 2003 invasion – it began with the 1990s embargo. Sanctions on Iraq not only killed hundreds of thousands, but they structured the narrative on Iraq to winnow out peaceful options on the path to war. And the same is true of Iran. Now debates on Iran focus on whether Ahmadinejad will relent in his pursuit of weapons, whether sanctions are “working” sufficiently, or where the U.S. and Israel should draw “red lines” for attack.

President Obama called last month’s “negotiations” with Iran that country’s “last chance,” effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or initiate an attack if Iran didn’t cease and desist its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those “negotiations”? How is that “diplomacy”? Threatening Iran to completely submit to the U.S.’s will to get nothing in return is not a discussion – it’s bullying.

What would Iran have to gain in that situation? Iran is seeking to defend itself from nuclear-armed bullies surrounding it constantly. Passively complying would only speed up the U.S. plan to replace the Iranian regime with one even more compliant.

But the United States will not relent on Iran – just as it did not relent on Iraq. Examine again the House resolution’s first principle:

…it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening.

Compare that with President Bill Clinton’s 1998 remarks on Iraq:

One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.

This is how American bipartisanship – or more accurately, duopoly – works. Both parties want war with Iran, the way both parties wanted war with Iraq. It is in both of their interests – appeasing Israel and its chief lobby, AIPAC, and posturing for their respective bases. Republicans take the hard line on our “enemies,” using blatantly aggressive language, refusing to “apologize for America” and reducing our victims to less than human. Democrats take the more “pragmatic” approach, adopting “national security” rhetoric based in protecting Americans that disguises the exact same policies. The Senate vote to go to war with Iraq, after all, didn’t barely squeak through on Republican support: it passed 96-4. (Now, 9/11 catalyzed the whole process in Iraq and made dissent even less popular, but the biggest antiwar protest in recorded history couldn’t sway more than four measly votes in the Senate.)

This endless posturing is how President Obama can be accused of being “soft on terror” and simultaneously escalate sanctions on Iran and massive drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

This is why, in the interest of war, sanctions by one party is a huge gift to the other. If Mitt Romney is elected this year, he’ll likely announce that Obama’s sanctions were insufficient and encourage an Israeli attack on Iran behind closed doors. If Obama is re-elected, he’ll continue on the path he’s currently on: allowing Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists, officially recognizing the terror group seeking regime change in Iran, and escalating sanctions that cripple the Iranian people and isolate its leaders.

Citing Glenn Greenwald and Greg Sargent on liberal support for Obama’s escalated drone strikes, here’s Stephen Walt on ‘Why Hawks Should Vote for Obama’:

Obama can do hawkish things as a Democrat that a Republican could not (or at least not without facing lots of trouble on the home front). It’s the flipside of the old “Nixon Goes to China” meme: Obama can do hawkish things without facing (much) criticism from the left, because he still retains their sympathy and because liberals and non-interventionists don’t have a credible alternative (sorry, Ron Paul supporters). If someone like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or George W. Bush had spent the past few years escalating drone attacks, sending Special Forces into other countries to kill people without the local government’s permission, prosecuting alleged leakers with great enthusiasm, and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, without providing much information about exactly why and how we were doing all this, I suspect a lot of Democrats would have raised a stink about some of it. But not when it is the nice Mr. Obama that is doing these things.

So if you vote for Barack Obama because you think that Mitt Romney would put troops on the ground, you’ll only be doing it to make yourself feel better. You’ll be playing right into the partisan posturing that seeks to fabricate a meaningful difference between the two major parties, both with long histories of support for wars of aggression. You’ll be fundamentally misunderstanding how American duopoly works: both parties decry each other for tactically approaching the same policies differently in the interest of electing their own representatives to power. Both parties want war – they just want to play it to their respective bases properly.

If you think Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, that Ralph Nader ruined the antiwar movement and George Bush is all to blame, point me to where Gore opposed Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq when he was Vice President. In the meantime, read how Gore argued for regime change in Iraq a few short months before Bush invaded: “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”

If you think Bush’s war was a terrible mistake that warranted John Kerry’s election in 2004, read Kerry on Iraq two months before the invasion:

Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…

Find more quotes from Democrats leading up to and supportive of Bush’s 2003 invasion here.

Liberals criticize President Obama for escalating drone strikes, failing to close Guantanamo, aggressively persecuting Bradley Manning, illegally invading Libya, offering cuts to Social Security, and immunizing the war crimes and torture of the Bush administration – but many same liberals say that despite all of these transgressions, the ostensible likelihood of Mitt Romney attacking Iran makes them feel they have to re-elect the president.

If this were true, wouldn’t these liberals be criticizing Obama’s sanctions on Iran? Wouldn’t they have abandoned Clinton, Gore, and Kerry after their comments on Iraq? More to the point, if these liberals despise war so much, why aren’t Obama’s surge in Afghanistan or expanded wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen deal-breakers for re-election?

If you actually don’t want war with Iran, you have to help end duopoly. You can’t support either of the two establishment parties who feed the military-industrial complex and fear-monger voters into submission. We must make it known that the people want peace – meaning no sanctions, no assassinations, no threats of war.

We must make war making and fear mongering unacceptable. Come Election Day, we can vote third party, or boycott the election, or protest to shut down military recruitment centers or drone bases. But we can’t fund or vote for the war parties – our victims can’t afford it. No votes for empire, no money for war. No exceptions.

[This article also appeared in CounterPunch, Antiwar, and Dissident Voice.]

War with Iran has already begun

U.S. Trying to Profit from Bahrain’s Brutality

Representative James McGovern and Senator Ron Wyden have introduced joint legislation calling on the U.S. to suspend the sale of American-made weaponry to Bahrain, in light of that country’s violent, heinous crackdown on citizens protesting their leaders.

The bill provides a clear list of the extensive human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed by the autocratic Bahraini government since February 2011.

These include the killing of at least 32 people (3 of whom were in detention), torturing detainees, limiting due process in military courts, holding political prisoners, failing to prosecute government officials accused of human rights violations, imprisoning doctors for treating political opponents, destroying mosques, and discriminating against Shi’ites. It’s exhaustive and disturbing. The congressmen note that Bahrain is party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against torture.

Due to these accusations, the U.S. State Department said that Bahrain warranted “human rights scrutiny” on June 15, 2011.

Yet on September 14, 2011, as the bill includes -with no formal investigation or no sign that the Bahraini government has ended these policies – the U.S. Defense Department proposed to congress a deal to sell $53,000,000 worth of military arms to Bahrain. Continue reading “U.S. Trying to Profit from Bahrain’s Brutality”

U.S. Trying to Profit from Bahrain’s Brutality

Hillary Clinton’s Justice

Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s “Coalition of the Youth of the 25 January Revolution” refused an invitation to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “due to her negative stance towards the revolution during its inception and the approach of the US Administration towards the Middle East Region” that rendered her subsequent invitation hypocritical and opportunist.

We should learn something from their remarks.

Hillary Clinton, as I suppose is part of her job description, has been repeatedly criticized for hypocrisy, on topics ranging from Internet freedom, selective prosecution, and the use of cluster bombs (which I wrote about here).

Today we have yet another issue to add to that list: summary execution. Continue reading “Hillary Clinton’s Justice”

Hillary Clinton’s Justice

Gaddafi’s Death Doesn’t Vindicate Intervention

Al Jazeera covers Gaddafi's death
Al Jazeera covers Gaddafi's death

[Warning: links about Libya events below may contain graphic content]

Spencer Ackerman quasi-jokingly predicts the “The Post-Gadhafi Journalism You Will Read In The Next 72 Hours” following the summary execution of captured Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. First on the list, Ackerman suggests Tom Friedman will write a story called “Why Gadhafi’s Death Vindicates ‘Leading From Behind’.” It’s meant to be a joke since Friedman is a rather predictable hack, but he may very well be drafting that story as we speak.

Beating him to it, though, is fellow NYT writer Nick Kristof, who upon learning of the news tweeted: “If Qaddafi is dead, this is (tentative) vindication of a brave Obama decision to back rebels trying to overthrow him.” Notice Kristof didn’t make the claim when Gaddafi fled Tripoli and was effectively out of power, but he said it when Gaddafi was confirmed dead.

But why? Why does killing Gaddafi justify the United States intervening in yet another MENA country? I can only think of reasons to the contrary. Continue reading “Gaddafi’s Death Doesn’t Vindicate Intervention”

Gaddafi’s Death Doesn’t Vindicate Intervention