William Pfaff, The Pundit Who Hated Militarism and War

William Pfaff died on April 30, 2015. His death is nothing less than a serious loss to the shrinking number of American daily newspaper columnists who question and contest American Exceptionalism and its “unnecessary and unwinnable” wars.

Pfaff was the singular heir of American writers who preceded him in condemning our historic addiction to war. And the more he criticized the U.S. for shooting first and thinking later, the fewer America dailies printed his columns. The New York Times, which owns the International Herald-Tribune where his work regularly appeared, rarely if ever published his piercing anti-interventionist columns. He was, after all, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq invasion when the paper went overboard in favor of the war. His few daily newspaper outlets were limited essentially to Newsday and the Chicago Tribune though liberal journals like the New York Review of Books, William Shawn’s New Yorker, which printed some seventy of his pieces, and Commonweal, the liberal Catholic magazine, welcomed him.

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America’s Other Dark Legacy in Iraq


When the United States, the United Kingdom, and the “coalition of the willing” attacked Iraq in March 2003, millions protested around the world. But the war of “shock and awe” was just the beginning. The subsequent occupation of Iraq by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority bankrupted the country and left its infrastructure in shambles.

It’s not just a question of security. Although the breathtaking violence that attended Iraq’s descent into sectarian nightmare has been well documented in many retrospectives on the 10-year-old war, what’s often overlooked is that by far more mundane standards, the United States did a spectacularly poor job of governing Iraq.

It’s not that Iraq was flourishing before the occupation. From 1990 to 2003, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq that were the harshest in the history of global governance. But along with the sanctions, at least, came an elaborate system of oversight and accountability that drew in the Security Council, nine UN agencies, and General Secretary himself.

The system was certainly imperfect, and the effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi people were devastating. But when the United States arrived, all semblance of international oversight vanished.

Under enormous pressure from Washington, in May 2003 the Security Council formally recognized the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Resolution 1483. Among other things, this resolution gave the CPA complete control over all of Iraq’s assets. 

At the same time, the Council removed all the forms of monitoring and accountability that had been in place: there would be no reports on the humanitarian situation by UN agencies, and there would be no committee of the Security Council charged with monitoring the occupation. There would be a limited audit of funds, after they were spent, but no one from the UN would directly oversee oil sales. And no humanitarian agencies would ensure that Iraqi funds were being spent in ways that benefitted the country.

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Buy Our Rice, Ingrates!

Fresh off yesterday’s story of US rice farmers being “furious” that Iraqis are buying their rice from other countries now that the US occupation is over, twelve members of Congress have fired off a letter to Iraq’s Trade Minister pressing for him to get Iraqis back on the American long-grain variety.

Rep. Ted Poe (R – TX), one of the Congressmen in question, said the Iraqis should be more grateful. “We liberated their country for one thing,” Poe insisted, adding that “we would think they would consider the United States in trade since we spent billions of dollars not only to liberate their country, but to rebuild their infrastructure.”

Interestingly, the Congressional letter makes a complaint seemingly opposite to the complaint made by American farmers yesterday. The farmers protested that Iraq’s Trade Ministry had lowered standards to the point where Uruguay and other nations suddenly had access to the market. The letter, by contrast, claims Iraq’s standards are “too high” and put American companies at a disadvantage by requiring them to bag up all the rice before they ship it out.

Iraq’s Trade Ministry has said that much of the shift is a function of the Iraqi public preferring Basmati rice, which the US doesn’t produce. There is no law keeping the US out of Iraq’s rice market, but American farmers simply aren’t growing the right kind of rice for the Iraqi dinner plate.

Anonymous Are Cowards, Say Lawyers Who Defend Admitted War Criminals

I am a bit high off the news that activist group Anonymous hacked a law firm, Puckett & Faraj, which defends military clients, and leaked 2.6 gigabytes of emails. Principal Neal Puckett successfully defended Frank Wuterich, who led the Marine death squad responsible for the Haditha massacre. In Nov. 2005, as random revenge for the roadside-bombing death of a comrade, the Marines broke into several homes in the Anbar province town of Haditha and slaughtered 24 people, all civilians.

Wuterich received absolutely no jail time whatsoever. Instead, he got a pay cut and demotion for pleading guilty.

Now, everyone accused of even the most violent crimes deserves a lawyer — civil libertarians have unfortunately been forced to stridently argue this in recent years. But only the most brutal, sadistic, mass-murdering criminals seem to get a lawyer these days — at least up until you hit a certain station, and then no lawyer is necessary because no charges will ever be brought. Anyone else accused of applicable crimes is thrown in a hole or extrajudicially executed. This is why Puckett & Faraj seem to be a legitimate and symbolic target.

Having just escaped having to serve on a jury, I can tell you lawyers aren’t always the smartest people in the room. So it’s hardly surprising to see the twisted logic in the following tweet from Puckett & Faraj:

“Puckett Faraj cyber-attacked Friday by cowards for defending Frank Wuterich from the government the hackers seek to destroy – go figure.”

Several problems here. 1) Wuterich *is* the government. 2) Anonymous and other activists — remember Occupy Wall Street? — are angry specifically over the unequal treatment given government actors in government courts versus the rest of us. Glenn Greenwald just wrote an entire book about this. That is precisely what happened in the Wuterich case. 3) As is it literally deadly to fight against the ruling system head-on, it is from a position of self-preservation, not cowardice, that the apparatuses of state are attacked anonymously.

Should law firms who represent war criminals be so attacked? It depends. Let’s call it an iffy means to a just end, exercised on a key pillar of an oppressive system. All things are not equal.

“This may completely destroy the law firm,” admitted Puckett & Faraj’s business manager in an email.

Wuterich and his pals no doubt have a name for this. It’s called “collateral damage.”


How War-Monger-in-Chief Will Again Get the “Peace” Vote

Politicians constantly utter what they know to be falsehoods in order to garner votes and high esteem from an ignorant electorate. The latest and greatest of such sideshows is – and will be – Obama’s war in Afghanistan.

Military and administration officials have repeatedly explained that the Afghan war will continue long past Obama’s fabled December 2014 deadline for withdrawal. Top British commander, Lieutenant General James Bucknall, said the other day that “December, 2014, is not the end of the campaign. It’s a long-term commitment,” and that “we will reduce numbers – but we will not go away.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said just last week that “We will not take our leave” in 2014 and that it’s too early to tell how large the occupation would be after the deadline and for how long it would last. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, too, has said “It is clear that no one is rushing to the exit.”

US General John Allen, the new commander of the occupation of Afghanistan, last week disavowed the 2014 date, saying “we’re actually going to be here for a long time.”

The Daily Telegraph confirmed that Obama administration officials were working on a deal with the Afghan government to have a large scale occupation – at least 25,000 troops and many more contractorsthrough 2024. And people thought ten years in Afghanistan was a lot.

The Obama administration’s so-called shift in war strategy – from country-wide military occupation to targeted special operations and training missions – is Orwellian claptrap for more of the same. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, in remarks in Washington in mid-September, said that by 2014 “the US remaining force will be basically an enduring presence force focused on counterterrorism.” The technocratic pedantry obscures the reality that the war will continue.

Yet, watch and see in the upcoming 2012 campaign how much Obama will use this 2014 date as a stump speech to coddle gullible Obama voters into casting their ballots – again – for a reincarnation of their supposed nemesis, George W. Bush. See if Obama gets reelected on a promise that the war in Afghanistan has nearly ended (that is, if recession-conscious Americans can conceive of going to the ballot box with any intention other than voting themselves other peoples’ money).

As a matter of fact, watch how much Obama’s similarly broken promises vis-à-vis ending the Iraq war will be completely stricken from the presidential debates. The Obama administration has spent years badgering the Iraqis into accepting a large contingency of US troops and contractors to remain in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline for a full withdrawal. To push this through, Maliki circumvented the Iraqi Parliament to make the decision dictatorially. Now that Obama has succeeded in strong-arming the continuation of the US occupation of Iraq, they are demanding US soldiers maintain immunity from Iraqi law.

Unfortunately for Obama, the Bush administration failed to secure a deal for a full scale contingency of tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Back in 2007 Bush administration had drafted the first Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which detailed a prolonged and continued US troop presence in Iraq with no specified limits and called for “facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments” and for US forces to work indefinitely to “deter foreign aggression against Iraq.” This was overly egregious for Iraqis and couldn’t pass muster in Iraqi politics. Thus the 2008 SOFA demanding full pullout in December 2011. Too bad for Obama, since he almost certainly would have signed on to that plan and is now trying to resurrect it.

These realities about Obama’s Iraq policies are unlikely to receive more than 60 seconds of air time in the presidential debates or in the uncritical after-debate punditry. Afghanistan will get some focus, but Obama will insist – beyond all the evidence and repeated admissions by top military and administration officials – that the end is right around the corner, after all the “progress” he’s made in Afghanistan. And Americans will simply nod, acquiesce, and then vote.

What Changed? Nothing.

Justin Elliott had a good piece in Salon yesterday, which we featured here. But when I went to read it, the subtitle made me laugh out loud.

“The president promised early on to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. What changed?”

What changed? LOL. Nothing. Anything Obama said that didn’t involve escalating something — he shook his fist at Pakistan even when “bomb bomb Iran” McCain was cautious about bombing a nominal ally — was a total lie. Seriously, the man hasn’t kept any campaign promises. Even domestic stuff like Obamacare was a betrayal of his progressive base — it just duped the left into getting on board a plot to deliver all of us into the clutches of the corporate insurance oligarchy. How did we really think the wars would go?

I’m not saying I had good judgment myself; I thought he’d be marginally better than Bush on foreign policy. Instead, he is worse in every way. And yet there are still partisans who slaver over him as long as he’s still preceded by that magic D. Democrat, not Disgusting. He shot bin Laden in the f’n face! PROGRESSIVE!

Not to go on too long, as I can. Nothing changed, Justin Elliott. Obama was and is a liar, especially on Iraq. But hey, leaving a few troops in Iraq when he said he’d take them all out (well, aside from thousands upon thousands of contractors) gives him the opportunity to end the Iraq War three times! A true peacemaker.