Syria Used Chemical Weapons–Are You Sure?

By Arlen Grossman

 (Editor’s Note: What you see here is a revised and expanded version of s previous post. This version was headlined at OpEdNews.com., April 19, 2018, with over 2400 views.)

Think about this:

 

  1. Syrian President Assad had no good reason to use chemical weapons. He surely was aware that such action would be condemned by the world community and result in an American retaliation.

 

  1. By most accounts President Assad is winning the Syrian civil war, and lacks any sensible military reason to use chemical weapons.

 

  1. The U.S. has a record of lying to initiate wars (e.g. WMDs in Iraq, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam).

Today, there appears to be no evidence released to the public that Syria was responsible for the April 7 chemical attack in Douma that a few days later resulted in a U.S., British, and French military strike.

 

Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted that the U.S. had “no evidence” that the Syrian government used Sarin against its own citizens in 2017 and just a few days after the Douma chemical attack, admitted the U.S. is still “looking for the actual evidence” that Syria used chemical weapons.

 

As usual, politicians and the mass media, without any proof, took the word of the U.S. government that Syria was responsible for using chemical weapons against its citizens.

 

My guess would be that eventually there will be another chemical attack in Syria and it will be blamed on President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his government. This will open the gate for the United States and its allies to take out President Assad and install a new government, as well as striking a blow against Russia and Iran.

 

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, flatly told the U.N. Security Council on April 14, “If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, the president enforces the red line.”

 

Of course, it would make no rational sense for Assad to use chemical weapons in the future and invite the wrath of the world and an assault by the U.S. and its allies–just as it made no sense for him to do it this most recent time. Such a move defies logic and common sense. Assad had little or nothing to gain by using chemical weapons in Douma.

 

There are no heroes in this story, certainly not Assad, Russia or Iran.  Then again, the United States, Britain and France are hardly good guys if it is shown they concocted a plan to falsely blame the Assad government for using chemical weapons.

 

Something smells bad, but it’s not sarin or chlorine.

syria 2
Advertisements
Posted in America, foreign policy, government, media, military, politics, Syria, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What About This Time?

Note: This article refers to the 2017 missile strike against Syria — TBPR Editor

NOW MATTIS ADMITS THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE ASSAD USED POISON GAS ON HIS PEOPLE

By Ian Wilkie/ Newsweek/ February 8, 2018

Lost in the hyper-politicized hullabaloo surrounding the Nunes Memorandum and the Steele Dossier was the striking statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the U.S. has “no evidence” that the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent Sarin against its own people.

This assertion flies in the face of the White House (NSC) Memorandum which was rapidly produced and declassified to justify an American Tomahawk missile strike against the Shayrat airbase in Syria.

Mattis offered no temporal qualifications, which means that both the 2017 event in Khan Sheikhoun and the 2013 tragedy in Ghouta are unsolved cases in the eyes of the Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mattis went on to acknowledge that “aid groups and others” had provided evidence and reports but stopped short of naming President Assad as the culprit.

There were casualties from organophosphate poisoning in both cases; that much is certain. But America has accused Assad of direct responsibility for Sarin attacks and even blamed Russia for culpability in the Khan Sheikhoun tragedy.

Now its own military boss has said on the record that we have no evidence to support this conclusion. In so doing, Mattis tacitly impugned the interventionists who were responsible for pushing the “Assad is guilty” narrative twice without sufficient supporting evidence, at least in the eyes of the Pentagon.

This dissonance between the White House and the Department of Defense is especially troubling when viewed against the chorus of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) experts who have been questioning the (Obama and Trump) White House narratives concerning chemical weapons in Syria since practically the moment these “Assad-ordered events” occurred.

Serious, experienced chemical weapons experts and investigators such as Hans Blix, Scott Ritter, Gareth Porter and Theodore Postol have all cast doubt on “official” American narratives regarding President Assad employing Sarin.

These analysts have all focused on the technical aspects of the two attacks and found them not to be consistent with the use of nation-state quality Sarin munitions.

The 2013 Ghouta event, for example, employed home-made rockets of the type favored by insurgents. The White House Memorandum on Khan Sheikhoun seemed to rely heavily on testimony from the Syrian White Helmets who were filmed at the scene having contact with supposed Sarin-tainted casualties and not suffering any ill effects.

Likewise, these same actors were filmed wearing chemical weapons training suits around the supposed “point of impact” in Khan Sheikhoun, something which makes their testimony (and samples) highly suspect. A training suit offers no protection at all, and these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.

Chemical weapons are abhorrent and illegal, and no one knows this more than Carla Del Ponte. She, however, was unable to fulfill her U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism mandate in Syria and withdrew in protest over the United States refusing to fully investigate allegations of chemical weapons use by “rebels” (jihadis) allied with the American effort to oust President Assad (including the use of Sarin by anti-Assad rebels).

The fact that U.N. investigators were in Syria when the chemical weapon event in Khan Sheikhoun occurred in April 2017 makes it highly dubious that Assad would have given the order to use Sarin at that time. Common sense suggests that Assad would have chosen any other time than that to use a banned weapon that he had agreed to destroy and never employ.

Furthermore, he would be placing at risk his patronage from Russia if they turned on him as a war criminal and withdrew their support for him.

Tactically, as a former soldier, it makes no sense to me that anyone would intentionally target civilians and children as the White Helmet reports suggest he did.

There is compelling analysis from Gareth Porter suggesting that phosphine could have been released by an airborne munition striking a chemical depot, since the clouds and casualties (while organophosphate-appearing in some respects) do not appear to be similar to MilSpec Sarin, particularly the high-test Russian bomb-carried Sarin which independent groups like “bellingcat” insist was deployed.

America’s credibility was damaged by Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of having mobile anthrax laboratories. Fast forward to 2017 and we encounter Nikki Haley in an uncomfortably similar situation at the U.N. Security Council calling for action against yet another non-Western head-of-state based on weak, unsubstantiated evidence.

Now Secretary Mattis has added fuel to the WMD propaganda doubters’ fire by retroactively calling into question the rationale for an American cruise missile strike.

While in no way detracting from the horror of what took place against innocent civilians in Syria, it is time for America to stop shooting first and asking questions later.

Ian Wilkie is an international lawyer, U.S. Army veteran and former intelligence community contractor.

 
syria
Posted in foreign policy, government, military, politics, Syria, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Syria Chemical Attack: A False Flag?

‘Why would Assad use chemical weapons on civilians, knowing that it would draw world-wide condemnation and intervention, when the jihadists are surrounded and on the brink of annihilation?’

–Richard Black, Virginia State Senator

Senator Black may be on to something. He is a Republican who believes in wild conspiracy theories, but still….Why would Assad invite attacks from the U.S. and  its allies? I’m still scratching my head….

Posted in foreign policy, military, politics, scandals, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized, war, War on Terror | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Different Brains

A Neuroscientist Explains What Could Be Wrong with Trump Supporters’ Brains

By Bobby Azarian/ Alternet/ April 7, 2018

There’s no doubt that Donald Trump has said many things that would have been political suicide for any other Republican. And almost every time he made one of these shocking statements, political analysts on both the left and the right predicted that he’d lose supporters because of it. But as we have clearly seen over the past year, they were dead wrong every time. Trump appears to be almost totally bulletproof.

The only thing that might be more perplexing than the psychology of Donald Trump is the psychology of his supporters. In their eyes, The Donald can do no wrong. Even Trump himself seems to be astonished by this phenomenon. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.” [3]

Senator John McCain, who has been a regular target for Trump, has a simple explanation for his unwavering support. “What he did was he fired up the crazies.”

While the former Republican presidential nominee may be on to something, he doesn’t exactly provide a very satisfying scientific explanation.  So how exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?

  1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Some believe that many of those who support Donald Trump do so because of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.

The seemingly obvious solution would be to try to reach those people through political ads, expert opinions, and logical arguments that educate with facts. Except none of those things seem to be swaying any Trump supporters from his side, despite great efforts to deliver this information to them directly.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden.

Studies [4] have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed [5] for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.

And if one is under the illusion that they have sufficient or even superior knowledge, then they have no reason to defer to anyone else’s judgment. This helps explain why even nonpartisan experts — like military generals and Independent former Mayor of New York/billionaire CEO Michael Bloomberg — as well as some respected Republican politicians, don’t seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.

Out of immense frustration, some of us may feel the urge to shake a Trump supporter and say, “Hey! Don’t you realize that he’s an idiot?!” No. They don’t. That may be hard to fathom, but that’s the nature of the Dunning-Kruger effect — one’s ignorance is completely invisible to them.

  1. Hypersensitivity to Threat

Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A classic study [6]in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study [7]published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study [8] found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.

So how does this help explain the unbridled loyalty of Trump supporters? These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you’ve found your protector, you become less concerned with remarks that would normally be seen as highly offensive.

  1. Terror Management Theory

A well-supported theory from social psychology, called Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump’s fear mongering is doubly effective.

The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.

Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.

Not only do death reminders increase nationalism [9], they influence actual voting habits [10]in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions [11] by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives, which can likely be attributed to their heightened fear response.

By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric. Liberals and Independents who have been puzzled over why Trump hasn’t lost supporters after such highly offensive comments need look no further than Terror Management Theory.

  1. High Attentional Engagement

According to a recent study [12] that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn’t necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level.

Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction with entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn’t matter what Trump actually says because he’s so amusing to watch. With Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.

Of course these explanations do not apply to all Trump supporters. In fact, some are likely intelligent people who know better, but are supporting Trump to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and Hillary Clinton that their vote for Trump was a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington.

So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting in 2020? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the booths and check the box that doesn’t belong to a narcissistic nationalist who has the potential to damage the nation beyond repair.

 

Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist, a researcher in the Visual Attention and Cognition Lab at George Mason University and a science writer whose work has been widely published.

Posted in Donald Trump, elections, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All Together Now…..

Posted in media, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Illegal Wars: The New American Way

By Maj. Danny Sjursen/ Truthdig/ March 21, 2018

[T]he 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. …
S.J. Res. 23 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), Sept. 18, 2001

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary … in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq. …
H. J. Res 114 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, Oct. 18, 2002

It’s all so obvious to a detached observer. Nonetheless, it remains unspoken. The United States of America is waging several wars with dubious legal sanction in domestic or international law.

The U.S. military stands astride the Greater Mideast region on behalf of an increasingly rogue-like regime in Washington, D.C. Worse still, this isn’t a Donald Trump problem, per se. No, three successive administrations—Democratic and Republican—have widened the scope of a global “war” on a tactic (terror), on the basis of two at best vague, and at worst extralegal, congressional authorizations for the use of force (AUMF). Indeed, the U.S. is veritably addicted to waging undeclared, unwinnable wars with unconvincing legal sanction.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Here, as in most foreign interventions in the African Sahel, the U.S. (and France) are being sucked into essentially local tribal, resource or ethnic conflicts that masquerade as transnational Islamism. These desert fighters had nothing to do with 9/11, the local Islamic State affiliate didn’t exist in 2001, and Niger is 3,000 miles or so from Saddam’s old haunt in Iraq.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

war 2

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

* * *Across the Greater Mideast today, the U.S. is bogged down in a growing number of dubiously legal wars it can’t seem to win. One look at the strategic map tells a gloomy tale: The U.S. military, ensnared in country upon country, is unable to achieve victory and unwilling to prudently withdraw. The U.S. position in Syria and Iraq is tenuous as ever. American soldiers are surrounded by hostile adversaries and unreliable frenemies on all sides: Iran, Russia, Turkey, Assad and Hezbollah.Matters are even worse than they appear. There’s no discernible strategy, folks. The U.S. holds a bad hand and is playing it badly. The American people hardly care, media coverage these days is all Russia, all the time, and Congress has these wars on autopilot. Furthermore, seen through foreign eyes—which matter, by the way—there’s a distinct gap between U.S. public pronouncements about liberty and sovereignty and America’s adherence to the international laws governing such ideals.

Behind the standard American-freedom rhetoric, and beneath the surface lies an unspoken truth: The USA flouts international law when it suits American interests and stretches domestic authorizations to their breaking point in the name of perpetual, doomed warfare. We the people are all complicit, until, that is, we demand that Congress do its constitutional duty and specifically approve (or shut down) the forever wars.

Democracy dies in the darkness exuded by the clouds of foreign wars. The fate of the republic—what remains of it—hangs in the balance.

The U.S. may be a republic or an empire. It may not be both. Now is the time for choosing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Maj. Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Posted in Afghanistan, America, foreign policy, government, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, military, politics, Syria, war, Yemen | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Unraveling of a President

By Arlen Grossman

The pressure is building up around Donald Trump. As I write this, today was full of disturbing news for the president (as well as most of us). The Dow plummeted over 700 points, his lead lawyer stepped down, he is being sued by several women, as well as by attorneys general for two states over violations of the emoluments clause in the Constitution.

Events are moving swiftly, and Trump surely feels it. Robert Mueller might be near interviewing the president and finishing his investigation, Meanwhile, White House personnel are dropping like flies. His modest approval ratings are at risk.

Dave Granlund / politicalcartoons.com

So what is a beleaguered president to do? For Donald Trump, it means getting rid of any of his remaining moderate, experienced staff, and replacing them with extremist nutcases that he admires from watching cable news shows, especially on Fox News. Ultra conservative Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, Torture Queen Gina Haspel for CIA, and warmonger John Bolton for National Security Advisor are recent presidential picks. As Mueller moves forward, Trump keeps shuffling his lawyers, and brings in Fox TV conspiracy wacko Joseph diGenova, 

Maybe bombing North Korea and/or Iran will boost his popularity, he probably thinks. Saner heads know it will lead to disaster. His tweets are compulsive, mistake-filled rantings of a deranged leader. His paranoia and persecution complex is escalating.

Fasten your seat belts, America, a very bumpy ride is ahead.

 

Posted in Donald Trump, government, military, politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country

By Sinan Antoon/ New York Times/ March 19, 2018

Iraq 2

When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred of the dictator early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late 1990s, I wrote my first novel, “I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,” about daily life under Saddam’s authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator, was a young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat hallucinates and imagines Saddam’s fall, just as I often did. I hoped I would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar.

I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy, irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam. That memory made Mr. Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths.

I was one of about 500 Iraqis in the diaspora — of various ethnic and political backgrounds, many of whom were dissidents and victims of Saddam’s regime — who signed a petition: “No to war on Iraq. No to dictatorship.” While condemning Saddam’s reign of terror, we were against a “war that would cause more death and suffering” for innocent Iraqis and one that threatened to push the entire region into violent chaos. Our voices were not welcomed in mainstream media in the United States, which preferred the pro-war Iraqi-American who promised cheering crowds that would welcome invaders with “sweets and flowers.” There were none.

The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the invasion of Iraq began.

Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.

My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the formation of the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were each followed by their sect and ethnicity. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the most corrupt in the world.

We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit, Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said), and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.

The next time I returned to Baghdad was in 2013. The American tanks were gone, but the effects of the occupation were everywhere. I had low expectations, but I was still disheartened by the ugliness of the city where I had grown up and horrified by how dysfunctional, difficult and dangerous daily life had become for the great majority of Iraqis.

Iraq

My last visit was in April 2017. I flew from New York, where I now live, to Kuwait, where I was giving a lecture. An Iraqi friend and I crossed the border by land. I was going to the city of Basra, in the south of Iraq. Basra was the only major Iraqi city I had not visited before. I was going to sign my books at the Friday book market of al-Farahidi Street, a weekly gathering for bibliophiles modeled after the famous Mutanabbi Street book market in Baghdad. I was driven around by friends. I didn’t expect the beautiful Basra I’d seen on 1970s postcards. That city had long disappeared. But the Basra I saw was so exhausted and polluted. The city had suffered a great deal during the Iran-Iraq war, and its decline accelerated after 2003. Basra was pale, dilapidated and chaotic thanks to the rampant corruption. Its rivers are polluted and ebbing. Nonetheless, I made a pilgrimage to the famous statue of Iraq’s greatest poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

One of the few sources of joy for me during these short visits were the encounters with Iraqis who had read my novels and were moved by them. These were novels I had written from afar, and through them, I tried to grapple with the painful disintegration of an entire country and the destruction of its social fabric. These texts are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, just as their author is.

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

Posted in foreign policy, government, Iraq, Iraq war, politics, war | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

IGNORANCE ISN’T BLISS

The corporate media ignores the rise of oligarchy. The rest of us shouldn’t

By Bernie Sanders/ The Guardian/ March 16, 2018

The rapid rise of oligarchy and wealth and income inequality is the great moral, economic, and political issue of our time. Yet, it gets almost no coverage from the corporate media.

How often do network newscasts report on the 40 million Americans living in poverty, or that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on earth? How often does the media discuss the reality that our society today is more unequal than at any time since the 1920s with the top 0.1% now owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%? How often have you heard the media report the stories of millions of people who today are working longer hours for lower wages than was the case some 40 years ago?

How often has ABC, CBS or NBC discussed the role that the Koch brothers and other billionaires play in creating a political system which allows the rich and the powerful to significantly control elections and the legislative process in Congress?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is: almost never. The corporate media has failed to let the American people fully understand the economic forces shaping their lives and causing many of them to work two or three jobs, while CEOs make hundreds of times more than they do. Instead, day after day, 24/7, we’re inundated with the relentless dramas of the Trump White House, Stormy Daniels, and the latest piece of political gossip.

We urgently need to discuss the reality of today’s economy and political system, and fight to create an economy that works for everyone and not just the one percent.

We need to ask the hard questions that the corporate media fails to ask: who owns America, and who has the political power? Why, in the richest country in the history of the world are so many Americans living in poverty? What are the forces that have caused the American middle class, once the envy of the world, to decline precipitously? What can we learn from countries that have succeeded in reducing income and wealth inequality, creating a strong and vibrant middle class, and providing basic human services to everyone?

Bernie

Until we understand that the rightwing Koch brothers are more politically powerful than the Republican National Committee, and that big banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational corporations are spending unlimited sums of money to rig the political process, we won’t be able to overturn the disastrous US supreme court decision on Citizens United, move to the public funding of elections and end corporate greed.

Until we understand that the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and that people cannot make it on $9 or $10 an hour, we’re not going to be able to pass a living wage of at least $15 an hour.

Until we understand that we live in a highly competitive global economy and that it is counterproductive that millions of our people cannot afford a higher education or leave school deeply in debt, we will not be able to make public colleges and universities tuition free.

Until we understand that we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all and that we spend far more per capita on healthcare than does any other country, we’re not going to be able to pass a Medicare for all, single-payer program.

Until we understand that the US pays, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs because pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever price they want for life-saving medicine, we’re not going to be able to lower the outrageous price of these drugs.

Until we understand that climate change is real, caused by humans, and causing devastating problems around the world, especially for poor people, we’re not going to be able to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into sustainable forms of energy.

We need to raise political consciousness in America and help us move forward with a progressive agenda that meets the needs of our working families. It’s up to us all to join the conversation – it’s just the beginning.

 
Posted in Economics, government, inequality, labor, media, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try

By Elizabeth Bruenig/ Washington Post/ March 6, 2017

 

In the United States, we’ve arrived at a pair of mutually exclusive convictions: that liberal, capitalist democracies are guaranteed by their nature to succeed and that in our Trumpist moment they seem to be failing in deeply unsettling ways. For liberals — and by this I mean inheritors of the long liberal tradition, not specifically those who might also be called progressives — efforts to square these two notions have typically combined expressions of high anxiety with reassurances that, if we only have the right attitude, everything will set itself aright.

Hanging on and hoping for the best is certainly one approach to rescuing the best of liberalism from its discontents, but my answer is admittedly more ambitious: It’s time to give socialism a try.

Contemporary supporters of liberalism are often subject, I think, to what I call “everyday Fukuyama-ism” — the idea, explicitly stated or not, that the end of the Cold War really signaled the end of history, and that we can only look forward to the unceasing rise of Western-style liberal-democratic capitalism. (As the leftist scholar Mark Fisher recounted: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”) This assumption is reflected in the blindsided, startled unease of liberals in the era of President Trump: “There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse,” Andrew Sullivan recently lamented in New York magazine. “For the foreseeable future, nationalism is likely to remain a defining political force,” Yascha Mounk fretted this weekend in the New York Times; “liberals should strive to make nationalism as inclusive as possible,” he warned. 

Against this backdrop of liberal disquietude, the notion that everything either will be or already is all right, granted the correct attitude —  that “we’re better than this,” as Joe Biden confidently declares on his newly launched political action committee’s website — appears particularly frail. It’s hard to square the late-Obama-era insistence that “America is already great” with the palpable sense that something — in the climate, in the economy, in society, in politics, in the wellspring of American ideas — is going badly wrong. What to do? Sullivan’s solution to liberalism’s peril is contemplative “self-doubt and self-knowledge”; Mounk’s is to “domesticate [nationalism] as best we can.”

But my sense is that while Sullivan, Mounk and all the other concerned liberal observers are right that something is wrong with the state of American liberalism, the problem is much deeper than they allow. I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself.

In fact, both Sullivan’s and Mounk’s complaints — that Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual. 

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.  

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.

I don’t think that every problem can be traced back to capitalism: There were calamities and injustices long before capital, and I’ll venture to say there will be after. But it seems to me that it’s time for those who expected to enjoy the end of history to accept that, though they’re linked in certain respects, capitalism seems to be at odds with the harmonious, peaceful, stable liberalism of midcentury dreams. I don’t think we’ve reached the end of history yet, which means we still have the chance to shape the future we want. I suggest we take it. 

 
Posted in America, Economics, economy, government, politics | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments
%d bloggers like this: