Pressure in Washington to be Pro-War

The Huffington Post reports:

[Connecticut Representative Chris] Murphy also revealed a comment made to him by one of the Republican lawmakers on the trip, who admitted that there is pressure to publicly avoid any criticism of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan so as not to appear unpatriotic.

…According to Murphy, this Republican lawmaker said that “even if he opposed the war, it wasn’t right for him to openly talk about that, [and] if you criticize the war, that you’re putting troops in jeopardy.”

Voters expect informed, sober analysis on the nation’s greatest problems from these people and instead they make policies based on conformity and groupthink. That someone would personally oppose the war, yet continue to conform and support this deadly endeavor should make any voter cringe.

Samuel Johnson was right in 1774: patriotism is “the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

The Expected Pro-Israeli Policy…

News of the Israeli navy firing shots at another Gaza aid ship today has prompted reminiscence of the deadly and illegal attack on the flotilla aid ship to Gaza back almost a year ago now. The ship was carrying sewage pipes to solve what is apparently an ongoing problem in Gaza for many people living without proper sewage systems, threatening health and environment. Properly functioning sewage is apparently a luxury Gazans aren’t allowed to have, among many others.

This comes after George Mitchell’s resignation as well as the shooting and killing of unarmed Palestinian protestors just yesterday. The White House has released a statement on yesterday’s attacks with the ringing praise and support we’ve all come to expect. Given the fact that, as the Washington Post reports, “Israeli military officials have confirmed that preparations are under way to stop any new flotilla,” we can expect the requisite praise and support for this action too. It should, of course, always be reiterated that any Israeli military action against Palestinians is in fact a U.S.-Israeli action against Palestinians. The money, weapons, and political support that allows such Israeli actions comes directly from America.

Mitchell resigned “amid growing frustration over the impasse in peace talks.” He surely felt the negotiations were intractable. Well, of course they were. He had to operate within a very rigid constraint: unreserved, unwavering support for Israel and virtually everything she does. There is no viable settlement with that prerequisite.

A glimmer of hope to those less cynical among us is an expected UN Security Council Resolution for a Palestinian state existing within the pre-1967 borders in September. That deal has been accepted unanimously by the Arab League and even by Hamas. Israel has rejected it. George Mitchell lent credence to it, but he is no longer in the picture. The last resolution which gave a glimmer of hope – to call for the end of settlements – the Obama administration vetoed, so make of that what you will.

Obstinacy and aggression has been the protocol for U.S. policy in Israel-Palestine. September shall prove that position ongoing policy, or a fleeting fad.

Saving Face in Afghanistan

Doug Bandow, in an astute piece over at the National Interest, asks a simple question:

If America is not in Afghanistan to stop terrorism, then what are roughly 100,000 U.S. military personnel, along with tens of thousands of allied troops, military contractors, and aid workers, doing?

It’s a rather popular question these days, but the answer is not as simple as it was in, say, Iraq. Iraq was undoubtedly a strategic gold mine for U.S. national security planners and it fell comfortably into the dominant framework for how they conduct imperial policy. Afghanistan is not so obviously important in the strategic sense.

The Taliban have no broader goals outside ruling Afghanistan and ousting foreign occupiers, so the direct threat justification falls flat. Cries of a fundamentalist caliphate stretching across the region are simply paranoid and ignorant of the fact that our presence inspires such ideology rather than our absence; “Some policy makers,” writes Bandow, “appear to fantasize that only a pro-Western government buttressed by an American military presence can prevent” a potentially violent geopolitical competition between the U.S. and the other regional powers. But that talk is merely the fright of people profoundly committed to superpower status in every corner of the world. And anyway, such a power grab hardly justifies thousands of deaths, endless war, and a bolstering national security state here at home.

So why, then, are we still there? I think the reason may be analogous for the prolongation of the Vietnam War. By 1965, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had admitted the war was unwinnable, but necessary in order to maintain international credibility and prestige. Obama is saving face, as were leaders conducting the Vietnam War.

What’s more is that our very presence as military occupiers and props to a corrupt government is the fuel for the resistance. The U.S. cannot win militarily, because the Taliban and other insurgents will continue to resist. William Oliver Trafton, a U.S. soldier in the war in the Philippines, considered the enemy a lower breed of people and expected a quick U.S. victory. Writing in his diary, he recalled a conversation with his friend:

He says, “Hell, they sure won’t kill only 40 of us.”

I says, “You told me that we could whip the whole thing in two weeks.”

He says, “Haven’t we licked them every time that we have had a fight?”

I says, “Yes, but the damn fools won’t stay whipped.”

Unfortunately, saving face seems to require a military victory over all else. As Bandow says:

A deal would appear to be the best of a bad set of options. The late Richard Holbrooke hoped to negotiate, but Gen. David Petraeus “was looking for something closer to a surrender than a negotiation from the Taliban, and his remains the default position in the Obama administration,” complained Time columnist Joe Klein. Other officials don’t want to talk until the United States has established clear military advantage—but what if the Taliban adopts the same strategy?

On Expanding and Extending the Libyan War

NATO commanders are demanding that the intervention in Libya, initially limited to the aim of protecting civilians, be expanded to destroy the civilian infrastructure of the country and remove Qaddafi from power. Civil institutions – not military – are now being targeted in the bombing campaign and even hospitals have been damaged.

As it happens, top Libyan officials have agreed to an immediate ceasefire provided NATO stop bombing the country. The terrorist rebels that we’re supporting have publicly rejected the offer, but it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will agree. They both may prefer he be arrested and face trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

If the U.S. ultimately chooses a continuation of the war over these other options, it should be understood that the responsibility of prolonging the war – which may have ended promptly – is on America. This is no longer an “intervention” between two belligerent parties; we are a primary actor now. Further targeting of civilians by Qaddafi, further crimes committed by our rebel allies, and further civilian casualties from NATO bombs all rest on the shoulders of U.S. leadership. We can be reasonably sure, though, they won’t be held to account.

Furthermore, now that it has become an open policy to change the regime in Libya, it’s clearer and clearer that the U.S. government has renewed, post-Bush zeal for their long held motto: We Own the World. We choose the leaders of men. Our jurisdiction extends across the globe.

Of course, we know what that looked like in Iraq.

‘A Supine Submission to Wrong and Injustice’

This Friday is a deadline for the Obama administration in the war in Libya. The sixty day limit on the use of military force without Congressional approval imposed by the War Powers Resolution will be reached on May 20th.

Not only does the Obama administration have, as The New York Times reported last week, “no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign,” but it is diligently seeking to do so through loopholes and technicalities. One such consideration is to officially “pause” the engagement, and then “rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.” Another is to stop using Predator drones for bombing, but continue for reconnaissance, giving the appearance of a non-military participation in this fundamentally U.S.-led NATO war.

Sure to regain prominence in what will become Part Two of the debate on the Libyan intervention, is the humanitarian justification. On May 8th, Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon reiterated this justification, saying “we need to continue that civilian protection mission and continue to put the pressure on Gadhaffi.”

The humanitarian justification for the bombing campaign has been sufficiently refuted elsewhere, so I’ll spare readers further myth-busting. Less discussed, though, is whether preemptive strikes to protect civilian populations is even the acceptable route.

Obama promised in his presidential campaign to significantly intensify the war in Afghanistan. The year 2009 saw record numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, with a 24% increase from the previous year. Those records were broken the following year, with deadly night raids becoming more and more common. The military offensive in Marjah brought catastrophes to innocents, and on the whole more innocents were killed by the U.S. and its allies than by insurgents.

Obama also made clear in his campaign that he would readily disregard Pakistani sovereignty by conducting Predator drone attacks which consistently kill innocent men women and children. Numbers vary on this, but well over 1,000 civilians, and possibly a few thousand have been killed by such attacks.

These were policies that were expected of Obama. The consequences for civilians were likewise predictable. Would it thus have been acceptable for China to unleash a bombing campaign on Washington in response to Obama’s election?

Is anybody in the mainstream establishment arguing for that intervention? The answer is no and the reason is that the dogma of nationalism, American Exceptionalism, and imperial culture is so deep in the mindset of our policymakers, that they can’t even perceive the contradiction. None of the principles they apply to the United States apply to any other state, and vice versa.

In one of America’s first imperial adventures – an 1895 intervention over a territorial dispute between Britain and Venezuela over Venezuela’s Guiana – President Cleveland declared in rhetorical defense of so-called humanitarian intervention, “There is no calamity which a great nation can invite which equals that which follows from a supine submission to wrong and injustice.” An applicable addendum for both then and now might be: “except when said injustice is carried out by us.”