Long wars, violence and change in America

It’s tough these days being a non-violent peace activist. Many see the notion of “peace is the way” as laughable, and the government equates peace with military domination.

The bi-partisan War Party in America won’t budge from its imperial wars despite majority polls and protests urging they do so. The right-wing base continues to narrow its range of toleration on everything. And the courts come down on the side of corporations, state power and a culture that has elevated guns into a religion.

I’ve worked in the peace movement for 30 years, and I believe in non-violently speaking truth to power. But the prospects for peace have never seemed gloomier or the situation more absurd.

Holding our soldiers accountable

The US Army is holding Specialist Bradley Manning incommunicado in Kuwait on charges of leaking to WikiLeaks video of Apache helicopter pilots gunning down two Reuters cameramen and a number of Iraqis in a Baghdad neighborhood. The video is devastating in what it reveals about cold-blooded hi-technology warfare in a place like Baghdad. See it at: http://www.collateralmurder.com/

WikiLeaks has arranged for three pro-bono lawyers to assist Manning in his case. However, Manning must request they be allowed to see him. Since the Army will not inform Manning of their existence, he cannot ask for them to see him. Joseph Heller would love it, a perfect Catch 22.

It's the war, stupid

Following the tidal wave of media buzz over General Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, you quickly notice the story succumbing to the gravity of our media-circus culture, to the point it has become a story about celebrity and score keeping.

Would Obama fire McChrystal? How will the scandal tarnish the various individuals mentioned: US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke National Security Advisor James Jones? Who will come out on top of the heap and who will be banished into oblivion?

The real, existential questions about the war in Afghanistan that should be discussed in our highest public forums are somehow always lost in the excitement of watching careers on the high wire.

 From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James JonesTeam Obama: From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James Jones

All modern scandals, some renowned person has said, can be reduced to someone blurting out the truth. That describes this Olympian dust-up perfectly. But what might have been a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper into the truths revealed has apparently been lost.

Truth through a soda straw

The truth about American politics is this: disguised by the theatrics of squabbling Democrats and Republicans, Washington governs according to limits prescribed by a fixed and narrow consensus. The two main parties collaborate in preserving that consensus. Doing so requires declaring out-of-bounds anything even remotely resembling a fundamental critique of how power gets exercised or wealth distributed.
-Andrew Bacevich

Barack Obama has two serious leak problems.

One is a real leak — of oil from the bowels of the Earth into the Gulf of Mexico and onto the shores of the Gulf States. The other is a metaphoric leak — of information from the vast reservoir of secrecy our military and its wars have become.

Dishonesty, the notion of “too big to fail” and Bacevich’s consensus are at the core of both leak problems.

Milo Minderbinder in Afghanistan

1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder
“We’re gonna come out of this war rich!”

Yossarian
“You’re gonna come out rich. We’re gonna come out dead.”

-From the Buck Henry screenplay of Catch 22

No one has captured the absurd spirit of US war-making better than Joseph Heller in Catch 22. Here’s one of the greatest literary symbols for capitalism, Milo Minderbinder, on the future of US warfare:

“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo explained. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”

In the Israeli minefield

It’s like entering a minefield to seriously discuss Israel and Palestine, a tale of two peoples who claim the same land.

I’ve entered this minefield before and have been called an ”anti-semite” and an “Israel hater” for saying pretty much what the sentence above suggests, that Palestinians feel a legitimate bond with the land Israel claims and holds with its military prowess. The individual who called me those names is an antiwar liberal on everything but Israel, at which point he becomes a jackboot militarist without a shred of mercy.

Unless otherwise directed …

I’ve worked in journalism for 35 years. I did graduate study in journalism, I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter and I’ve freelanced magazine articles and newspaper op-eds. Now I blog.

I’ve learned that certain ideas are not permitted in the mainstream press. Well-paid gatekeepers might say these ideas are misguided, wrong or irresponsible, but that’s not really the reason. It’s because certain ideas are not in alignment with the middle-brow assumptions our mainstream press operates within. It also has to do with a commercial inclination for celebrity journalism and a fetish for scorekeeping over analysis.

Here’s a personal example. For three weeks, since the Times Square bombing attempt, I’ve been in a back-and-forth exchange with the op-ed editor of a major city newspaper over a 900-word piece focused on the motivations of would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad.

Honduras: Bad faith down in The Gulch

In Spanish, the word honduras means depth. The example often used is meterse en honduras – to go beyond one’s depth. It comes from the adjective hondo – deep or low.

I’ve often wondered what the Spanish conquistador or priest was thinking when he decided circa 1500 to call the place The Depths– or with some liberties, The Gulch.

When I was in Honduras, I recall the capital Tegucigalpa as a series of hills and deep gulches, with the hillsides noted for poor communities of thousands of slapped-together shanties. The Tegucigalpa airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world; it’s a bit like dropping down and circling inside a teacup before landing.

So maybe that old Spaniard was onto something. If Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” maybe Honduras is the gulch where they just get mired in muck.

Mister Obama's War hits a speed bump

Mister Obama’s War has hit a speed bump in Times Square. The question is will the President and members of Congress pay any attention to it and slow down, or will they floor the accelerator and race into Pakistan?

The speed bump is a nobody named Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old, westernized Pakistani, highly educated, and a naturalized American citizen with a wife and two kids. A casualty of the US financial meltdown, a career in the finance industry fizzled and his $285,000 home went underwater and was foreclosed.

Shahzad then trekked to North Waziristan in Pakistan along the Afghan border, where someone allegedly taught him how to make a car bomb. Fortunately, that training was either inadequate or he was a lousy student.

Following on the bloody Fort Hood shooting and the failed underpants bomber, Shahzad’s action has become leverage for greater US military intervention into the rugged Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan.

Saving Face in Afghanistan

In the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America,” Daniel Ellsberg tells about a fellow Rand Corporation war planner circa 1968 who described the US commitment to the war in Vietnam this way:

“We are 10 percent concerned about the Vietnamese; we are 20 percent concerned about the Chinese; and we are 70 percent concerned about saving face.”

The United States has now clearly arrived at the same insidious predicament in Afghanistan.

US soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tameUS soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tame

Sure, we are concerned about al Qaeda and other violent elements hostile to the United States. The threat from al Qaeda is real – as is the fact that a history of foreign, and especially US, intervention in Muslim lands is at the root of this hostility. This backstory, of course, is embargoed from mainstream American minds — as our military policies rely on yet more intervention in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week an Americanized Pakistani who had lost his job as a financial analyst and whose $285,000 home had been foreclosed failed in a bumbling attempt to bomb Times Square. Already, demagogues like Senator Joe Lieberman are working the incident as a means of emasculating the Constitution, calling among other things for revocation of the man’s US citizenship.

Former CIA operative Bob Baer told MSNBC that Americans should not be surprised at attacks like this, given the killing of dozens of Pakistanis by remotely piloted drones each week in the Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan. Former CIA European station chief Tyler Drumheller added this: “We cannot think that we’re going to attack them and they won’t attack us.”

Sure, the nations of the Middle East and South Asia have problems, and many people there are hostile to the US and its ally Israel. Sure, the Taliban are far from free-market westerners. But none of this justifies a military occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban, at least up to this Time Square incident, have never attacked us and had shown no interest in doing so; and al Qaeda has reportedly moved on from Afghanistan.

Besides having no impact on the effort to defeat al Qaeda, supporting 100,000 very expensive US troops and a massive military infrastructure in Afghanistan is actually playing into al Qaeda’s hands, since the tremendous cost of supporting this military bootprint in such an inaccessible, rugged place furthers Osama bin Laden’s clearly expressed desire to drive the US to bankruptcy.

We can quibble about the percentages, but it’s clear the US government and the US military are, again, in the costly face-saving business. The face they are saving has to do with US military prestige and the policy, at a time of great domestic economic stress and need at home, of escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of doing everything possible to ratchet hostilities down and pull the troops out.

SECRECY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS

Forget the PR. The decision to escalate has to do with the fact that the war is not going well and the hope that if they just keep it going long enough, a combination of our immense power and determination will somehow wear the insurgency down and disprove the old notion of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires.”

Meanwhile, it is difficult for critics to get at the truth about Afghanistan thanks to the incredible secrecy of our military operations and our wars. This is one side of a two-sided monster. The other side is the military’s powerful public relations capacity. There’s the secret world of managing the wars, and there’s the PR world of explaining them to the tax-paying public. And never the twain shall meet.

Back in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg blew the lid off this monster when he xeroxed and released the so-called Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, what the government and the military learned was not to let such a thing happen again. The Obama administration is currently going after one New York Times reporter, James Risen, in court and is working in other areas to plug other leaks.