Standing Armies and the ‘Specter of Looming Dangers’

Via, a very revealing interview with Colin Powell:

These are remarkable statements for a number of reasons. Let’s take them one at a time.

“Our force has never existed just to be ready to fight wars,” but “to deter wars.”

Well, not never. As James Madison said, “A standing army is one of the greatest mischief that can possibly happen.” But Powell later indicates he is really referring to the post-WWII US military postures. Powell is correct: US defense has nothing to do with defense but rather with offense. Building up a military to overwhelm the capacity of the rest of the world is necessary to deter and rule over other states. Of course, this expansionism does not deter US aggression; only that of others, and this is what Powell left out.

“Our presence in Europe in the days of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, our presence in the Pacific, [are] there to reassure our allies and let anybody know ‘you really don’t want to mess with us.'” 

Indeed, this reiterates how important it is to the foreign policy establishment to rule the world by force and coercion. “Don’t mess with us” means, “if you don’t do as we say, your people will die and your power will be jeopardized.” By “reassure our allies” Powell is referring to the vast number of security arrangements Washington has around the world, guaranteeing we will make their security threats our own. This isn’t out of any concern for our fellow man, of course. It’s nothing less than what a mafia don does: I’ll protect you from bad guys, so long as you agree that your territory is my turf. I will get privileged access to the economy here and you’ll respectfully host the occupation/presence of my militias on your territory.

Of course it wasn’t just Europe and the Pacific. Expanding the empire in Middle East was important too.  As a Top Secret National Security Council briefing put it in 1954, “the Near East is of great strategic, political, and economic importance,” as it “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world” as well as “essential locations for strategic military bases in any world conflict.” And this holds to today, as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report said just last week, the region is vital because it is “home to more than half of the world’s oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas.” It added that “the United States should preserve the model of ‘lily pad’ bases throughout the Gulf, which permits the rapid escalation of military force in case of emergency.”

“The whole structure,” Powell said, “depended on there being a Soviet Union that might attack us.”

What has to be the most revealing portion of Powell’s statement is when he describes the fall of the Soviet Union and how apparently remorseful he and others in Washington were that they “lost our best enemy.” He says it was “one of the biggest challenges” he “ever faced” when the Cold War ended. That is, when we became much safer as opposed to when we might have faced a new enemy. 

Absent the pretext of the Soviet threat, the thinking goes, how will we justify the expanding military and national security state? Powell says of the trumped up Soviet “threat” in no uncertain terms, “we’ve got a good thing going here.” The system – the “whole structure,” as he calls it, far from aiming to eliminate threats, depends upon them.

Washington did scramble to come up with a replacement boogie man and the drug war did a sufficient job for a while. Notably, in 1992, the Defense Department circulated what came to be known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, after then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. “America’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era,” the New York Times reported, “will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” America’s mission, read the DoD document, would be “convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.”

Then 9/11 happened and they got their new “best enemy.” But al-Qaeda is comparably so weak to any nation state that Powell is moved to explain, “We have no peer enemy. There is nobody out there with either the capacity, the economic potential, the potential of population, or an intention of any kind to go to war against the United States.”

There you have it. No peer enemy. No nation in the world with “an intention of any kind” to threaten the US. Yet Washington has refused to even slow the rate of growth in “defense” spending. Fears of unstoppable global terrorism and the ever-present “Iranian threat” continue to fuel a nationalist, pro-war fever.

In the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen argue that we have a system that fuels unnecessary alarm and paranoia. “Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests,” they write. “The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.”

If the American people understood that the overwhelming size and scope of our military sector and our expanding garrison state was simply to increase the wealth and power and control of those in Washington, surely standing armies would once again be publicly derided.

Two additional quotes from James Madison are illustrative here:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Also, see here for a brilliant take on Powell by Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis.

Unexploded Ordnances in Libya

As further illustration of how Libya was not the victimless war it is still made out to be, the Times reports on unexploded ordnances:

The United Nations said this month that NATO, in an exchange not publicly disclosed, had shared details of 313 possible sites of unexploded ordnance from the alliance’s action against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government last year. The alliance provided the latitude and longitude for each site, the weight of the ordnance and a description of the means of delivery (fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunship or naval vessel).

Bravo. At least NATO bothered to disclose where the sites of dangerous unexploded bombs are located. But their report offered no way of addressing the problem, “provided no information about the types of unexploded weapons, or the fuzes used to arm each missile or bomb.”

This information, along with what are known as “render-safe procedures” for each type of weapon, is considered essential by ordnance-clearance teams. It is routinely recorded by modern military forces, via so-called bomb-build sheets, in which each component of a weapon is documented as a weapon is armed and prepared for an aircraft.

Colin King, a former British Army bomb disposal officer and an analyst for IHS Jane’s, said he could see no reason for NATO to withhold ordnance-specific details. “If the damn thing didn’t go off, why wouldn’t you share what it was?” he asked. “People are going to find it anyway. It’s going to be lying on the ground, and it might cost someone their life.”

“It is irresponsible,” Mr. King added. “You are not going to give away much in the way of vital intelligence by saying what it was.”

NATO officially has declined to comment on why this vital information is being kept secret. They also still refuse to comment on the civilian deaths that resulted from their bombing campaign. In a report published last month, Human Rights Watch found NATO killed at least “72 civilian deaths, including 20 women and 24 children.” Nor was there any move to investigate “the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites Human Rights Watch visited,” which raised “concerns of possible laws-of-war violations.”

We Know You Know About Our Well-Known ‘Secret’ Drone Wars

Pro-Publica summarizes how absurd the Obama administration is being on its secret drone wars they keep telling everybody about:

Over the past year, the American Civil Liberties Union and reporters at The New York Times have filed several requests under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about the CIA’s drone program and the legal justification for attacks that killed terrorists and U.S. citizens. The government answered with a Glomar response — neither verifying nor denying that it has such documents.

So both the Times and the ACLU sued, claiming that there is widespread acknowledgement by government officials of drones and targeted killing, as well as the CIA’s involvement.

Last week, the Justice Department submitted a motion in a federal court in New York seeking to dismiss the lawsuits. The government’s argument, it turns out, mostly reiterates its Glomar response.

Any public statements by the administration, the motion states, were carefully phrased to avoid discussing specific operations and don’t constitute official acknowledgement of targeted killing or the drone program. This includes Obama’s statements on the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al Awlaki — “the President plainly did not acknowledge whether the United States was responsible for his death” — and Holder and Brennan’s speeches this spring, which, according to the motion, address only the “potential targeting” of U.S. citizens, but not specific operations.

At this point, these lawsuits aren’t the only thing the administration faces in this respect. Twenty-six members of Congress have called on President Barack Obama to provide a legal justification for the drone war and specifically signature strikes. The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has called for a UN investigation into civilian casualties in the U.S. drone war. And now the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns, is in the beginning stages of investigating the US drone war, demanding the Obama administration explain the legal justification for it and suggesting some of them may have already constituted war crimes. Something’s gotta give.

‘Knowing’ That Preventive War on Iran is Counterproductive

Via Micah Zenko, this short excerpt from New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power:

And the core of the American argument [to Israel] was simple: attack Iran, and you set the program back a few years, but you solve nothing. “We wanted to make it abundantly clear that an attack would just drive the program more underground,” one of the key participants in the talks that day told me later. “The inspectors would be thrown out. The Iranians would rebuild, more determined than ever. And eventually, they would achieve their objective.”

Indeed, an aerial assault would embolden, not subdue, Iran. As former CIA analyst Paul Pillar writes in the March issue of Washington Monthly, overly optimistic war proponents think “the same regime that cannot be trusted with a nuclear weapon because it is recklessly aggressive and prone to cause regional havoc would suddenly become, once attacked, a model of calm and caution, easily deterred by the threat of further attacks.”

More than any other argument, this one (which has been repeatedly emphasized here at should be the most persuasive to the pro-war crowd. That there remain significant calls for a military strike on Iran, I think, has a little to do with psychology and a little to do with grand strategy.

Studies show that when political partisans are presented with evidence that is contrary to their own beliefs, they rarely change their minds, and many times will become even more strongly set in their beliefs. So the partisans who have been arguing for bombing will continue to do so because that’s what they know how to do.

But the smarter set of the pro-war crowd will disregard the insight in the above excerpt because nuclear proliferation per se isn’t really what they care about. They are concerned about America’s ability to rule the world by force. They refer to it as “credibility,” that is, being able to signal to adversaries that our euphemistic threats of all options on the table aren’t just empty words. Enemies must fear actual attack, or else they’ll operate on something other than fear and subservience.

This clears up what seems to be a mystery of why the US would impose supposedly punitive sanctions on Iran despite the intelligence consensus that they have no nuclear weapons program and have demonstrated no intention of getting one. If Iran can ever quickly develop a nuclear deterrent through know-how and technological capability, this constrains Washington’s power to overthrow the regime and replace it with an obedient client (not a first in the case of Iran, of course). That is an unacceptable amount of power to afford an adversary. The threat to Israeli security and the notion that Iran would use nuclear weapons for anything other than to deter aggressive adversaries is quite simply a manufactured concern.

All that said, if the Obama administration knows that an attack on Iran would provoke them to recommit to a weapons program in earnest, why don’t they see that garrisoning Iran’s surroundings, persistent economic warfare, and the Israeli double standard are also provoking Iran?

DEA Kills Another Honduran

Another Honduran was killed this weekend by US Drug Enforcement Agents, according to the New York Times. The DEA claims the man who was killed was a suspected drug dealer and reached for his gun, making the DEA’s shots “self-defense.” No independent observers were there to witness it, so what actually happened is really unknowable.

Just last month, DEA agents cooperated with Honduran security forces (paid for, trained, and armed by Washington) in the killing of four civilians (including two pregnant women…so more like six). In that case, the government kept it from the American people for almost an entire week, and acknowledged the incident and admitted to being involved only after Honduran news media and human rights organizations began publicizing it. Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California and an expert on Honduras, said in the days following that “we have to be very careful about believing what the State Department is saying.”

Beyond the obvious – that the drug war is illegitimate and serves as a pretext for US domination and control over Latin America – these ridiculous “rules of engagement” are allowing commando-style DEA troopers armed to the teeth to engage in military raids all over Honduras. Times:

Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the D.E.A., confirmed the shooting and said that the D.E.A. agent was allowed to fire under the rules of engagement for such operations that were established by an agreement between the United States and Honduras.

“D.E.A. advisers participating in Honduran-led police operations are governed by strict procedures regarding use of force,” she said. “The agent involved in this incident fired in self-defense, as permitted under D.E.A. rules and those of the host country.”

Would any American ever accept a small army of foreign soldiers to secretly and harshly enforce the “law” like DEA agents are doing in Honduras, simply because Washington signed some perverted treaty? The Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), a human rights organization, said in a statement last month that “a foreign army [i.e., the U.S. army] protected under the new hegemonic concept of the ‘war on drugs,’ legalized with reforms to the 1953 Military Treaty, violates our territorial sovereignty and kills civilians as if it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.”

Under the guise of fighting drugs, Washington is imposing itself on countries like Honduras and building a virtual police state. The Obama administration chose to support the illegal military coup in Honduras in 2009, which ousted democratically elected Jose Manuel Zelaya. The coup leaders continued to receive U.S. aid as American military and DEA presence in the country began to expand. This began a descent into what Dana Frank called “a human rights and security abyss.”

“We have seen over the years that whenever the military interfaces with the populace, incidents of human rights abuses go way up,” said George Withers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “We’re concerned that the U.S. is encouraging the use of the military for police work.”

More than 600 U.S. troops are stationed in Honduras and the DEA has a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team based there. By the end of 2011, 42 Honduran law enforcement agents were working with the DEA, despite widespread human rights abuses and forced disappearances of political opponents and journalists.

There is virtually no focus on this in the mainstream and the Hondurans certainly don’t have a voice (although they’re working hard to resist US interventionism), so it seems Washington will continue to be able to wreak havoc on the country for the foreseeable future.