Saturday, October 13, 2012

Threat Inflation and other tools for making the public go along with "wars of choice."

So if there aren't any looming geopolitical threats, how do you get the United States to take military action? One obvious tactic is threat-inflation: you treat modest military challenges of the sort just described as if they were the reincarnation of Stalin's Russia or the Third Reich. It helps if some of these leaders are loudmouthed clowns like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and if you can count on self-interested allies to make your case for you. That's basically what happened with Iraq, and advocates of war with Iran are operating from the same playbook. Fortunately, thus far the hard sell isn't working.
Next, you can also engage in task-deflation, meaning that you claim that dealing with these various troublemakers can be done cheaply and quickly. Clinton told us in 1996 we'd be in the Balkans for only 12 months; he was off by about nine years. In 2002, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld correctly forecast that a small U.S. force could topple the Taliban, but he failed to realize that creating a stable Afghanistan would take a much larger foreign presence, require more than a decade, and was still likely to fail. The neoconservative geniuses who dreamt up the Iraq War also promised victory would be swift, pay for itself, and would quickly transform the Middle East into a sea of pro-American democracies. Wrong on all counts, alas. Yet even Barack Obama succumbed to this tendency, arguing that a short-term "surge" in Afghanistan would turn the tide and produce a far better outcome in the long run. Doesn't seem to be the case.
In the annals of post-Cold War military intervention, the Panamas and Libyas (maybe) are the exception. Instead of swift and cheap victories, we tend to get long and protracted commitments over relatively minor interests. And once that happens, public support evaporates and you're forced to leave without finishing the job.
Finally, as the New York Times' David Sanger has argued, presidents can try to keep these wars going by engaging in concealment. To the extent that you can, keep the fighting off the front page and don't let the taxpayers who are paying for it know what is really going on. Don't tell them very much about night raids, targeted killings, or the full extent of drone warfare, because they might begin to question the long-term efficacy of these tactics and be concerned that their tax dollars are killing a lot of innocent people by mistake. To do this, of course, you have to prosecute anyone who leaks information about these activities, unless they are a top-level official leaking to a tame journalist or former SEAL or other military figure with patriotic credentials. It also helps to have an all-volunteer force, so that the human costs of the war are confined to a narrow sector of society and so most young people (and their families) don't have to bear any of these costs themselves.
Read the whole piece

Monday, October 8, 2012

What if the US were invaded and occupied?

And what if the occupying force wanted to train and arm Americans to operate the government they imposed after they withdrew their own troops?

Lets say, totally hypothetically, that the same foreign government that was killing children in your land with flying robots and had paid bounties for alleged "terrorists" to torture them and make them disappear forever in prisons, also recruited you to work for them as one of their soldiers.

Might you be tempted to shoot a few of them if they gave you opportunity to do so?

Read the reports. We've passed the 2000 mark of Americans killed in Afghanistan. Many of those (especially lately) were killed by a member of "our" Afghan security forces.

It is insane for us to be surprised about this.

We are now entering our twelfth year. I prophecy that, when our thirteenth year begins, NATO will be assuring us that the war is "on track."

And it is. To Hell.

Friday, September 28, 2012

U.S. Terrorism

Excerpts from an article by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic on U.S. Terrorism in Pakistan.

 "It is a continuous tension, a feeling of continuous uneasiness. We are scared," he laments. 
"You wake up with a start to every noise."  
...They are trapped. Terrified. Powerless.  
Remember how you felt on 9/11? Every day, U.S. foreign policy makes innocent people feel even worse. 


Ponder a few interviews from the report -- decide for yourself. 
All these stories take place in Northwest Pakistan's tribal areas, a remote part of the country filled with poor people. Most are guilty of nothing at all. A minority are militants. Even among them, almost none poses an imminent threat to the American homeland. Just traveling to the nearest major city requires a journey of hours or even days spent traversing multiple military checkpoints. There are Taliban, some of whom pose a threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and other bad guys fighting the dodgy Pakistani government. Some locals sympathize with the bad guys. Many others want no more to do with them than you want to do with the nearest street gang to your house. Why haven't you eradicated it? That's why they haven't gotten rid of the militants.  
An interview with a typical mother is as good a place to begin as any. She described what happens when her family hears an American drone hovering somewhere overhead. "Because of the terror, we shut our eyes, hide under our scarves, put our hands over our ears," she told her interviewer. Asked why, she said, "Why would we not be scared?" Said a father of three from a different family unit, "drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don't see them, you can hear them, you know they are there." 
Said a day laborer, "I can't sleep at night because when the drones are there ... I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can't sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared." Added a politician, people "often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones." 
Would you have nightmares if they flew over your house? 
"When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they're always fearful that the drone is going to attack them," an unidentified man reported. "Because of the noise, we're psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. ... Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head." A journalists who photographs drone strike craters agreed that children are perpetually terrorized. "If you bang a door," Noor Behram said, "they'll scream and drop like something bad is going to happen." Do your kids?  
The terrified parents react there as they would here. Many pull their kids out of school, fearing they'll be killed by drones if they congregate in big groups. Kids make the same decision for themselves: "The children are crying and they don't go to school," says Ismail Hussain. "They fear that their schools will be targeted by the drones."
Faheem Qureshi is still just a teenager.  
Back in 2009, he was the sole survivor of the first drone strike that President Obama ordered. He was "one of the top four students in his class before the drone strike fractured his skull and nearly blinded him," the report states. He's struggled ever since. "Our minds have been diverted from studying. We cannot learn things because we are always in fear of the drones hovering over us, and it really scares the small kids who go to school," he told his interviewer. "At the time the drone struck, I had to take exams, but I couldn't take exams after that because it weakened my brain. I couldn't learn things, and it affected me emotionally. My mind was so badly affected." 
Of course, it isn't just parents and children who are affected.  
Safdar Dawar, who leads an organization of tribal journalists, gave a superb description of what life is like for every innocent person in North Waziristan: "If I am walking in the market, I have this fear that maybe the person walking next to me is going to be a target of the drone. If I'm shopping, I'm really careful and scared. If I'm standing on the road and there is a car parked next to me, I never know if that is going to be the target. Maybe they will target the car in front of me or behind me. Even in mosques, if we're praying, we're worried that maybe one person who is standing with us praying is wanted. So, wherever we are, we have this fear of drones." 
Said Fahad Mirza, "We can't go to the markets. We can't drive cars. When they're hovering over us, we're all scared. One thinks they'll drop it on our house, and another thinks it'll be on our house, so we run out of our houses." Some refuse to leave their houses. Funerals are sparsely attended. Friends no longer visit one another's homes. Yet no one ever feels safe anyway. 
Some go crazy from the stress.  
Others just go homeless. 
Says the report, "In North Waziristan, extended families live together in compounds that often contain several smaller individual structures. Many interviewees told us that often strikes not only obliterate the target house, usually made of mud, but also cause significant damage to three or four surrounding houses." 
A 45-year-old farmer with five sons had that experience: 
A drone struck my home... I was at work at that time, so there was nobody in my home and no one killed... Nothing else was destroyed other than my house," he explained. "I went back to see the home, but there was nothing to do -- I just saw my home wrecked... I was extremely sad, because normally a house costs around 10 lakh, or 1,000,000 rupees [US $10,593], and I don't even have 5,000 rupees now [US $53]. I spent my whole life in that house... my father had lived there as well. There is a big difference between having your own home and living on rent or mortgage... I belong to a poor family and my home has been destroyed. 
Said another man interviewed in the report: 
Before the drone attacks, it was as if everyone was young. After the drone attacks, it is as if everyone is ill. Every person is afraid of the drones. 
America is terrorizing these innocent people.

Have you any deal-breakers?

First of all I'd encourage you to read the whole article by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic.  But if you don't have time, below are some of the points made that are most salient to the theme of this blog.

I find Obama likable when I see him on TV. He is a caring husband and father, a thoughtful speaker, and possessed of an inspirational biography. On stage, as he smiles into the camera, using words to evoke some of the best sentiments within us, it's hard to believe certain facts about him:     
  1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn't "precise" or "surgical" as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue. 
  1. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.  
  1. Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security. 

Sometimes a policy is so reckless or immoral that supporting its backer as "the lesser of two evils" is unacceptable. If enough people start refusing to support any candidate who needlessly terrorizes innocents, perpetrates radical assaults on civil liberties, goes to war without Congress, or persecutes whistleblowers, among other misdeeds, post-9/11 excesses will be reined in. 
If not? 
So long as voters let the bipartisan consensus on these questions stand, we keep going farther down this road, America having been successfully provoked by Osama bin Laden into abandoning our values. 
We tortured. 
We started spying without warrants on our own citizens. 
We detain indefinitely without trial or public presentation of evidence. 
We continue drone strikes knowing they'll kill innocents, and without knowing that they'll make us safer. 
Is anyone looking beyond 2012? 
The future I hope for, where these actions are deal-breakers in at least one party (I don't care which), requires some beginning, some small number of voters to say, "These things I cannot support."   
Are these issues important enough to justify a stand like that? 
I think so. 

But if you're a Democrat who has affirmed that you'd never vote for an opponent of gay equality, or a torturer, or someone caught using racial slurs, how can you vote for the guy who orders drone strikes that kill hundreds of innocents and terrorizes thousands more -- and who constantly hides the ugliest realities of his policy (while bragging about the terrorists it kills) so that Americans won't even have all the information sufficient to debate the matter for themselves?

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans -- along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers -- just aren't valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama's tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man's transgressions, have done over and over again.   

Keen on Obama's civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers?  

Monday, September 24, 2012

ACLU sues over refusal to comply with FOIA requests re drone wars

As a result the ACLU has gone to court to argue that the CIA cannot deny the existence of a programme that has been so widely reported, including in great detail in off-the-record briefings by administration and agency officials. Jameel Jaf
fer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, said: "It is preposterous. The assertion that this programme is a secret is nothing short of absurd.

"For more than two years, senior officials have been making claims about the programme both on the record and off. They've claimed that the programme is effective, lawful and closely supervised. If they can make these claims, there is no reason why they should not be required to respond to [FOIA] requests."

"The memorandum justifying the legal basis for the targeted killing has now been requested by at least 10 members of Congress and three different lawsuits but it remains so secret that that acknowledging its existence is a classified matter."

It's secret because there is no justification.
Read the rest here.

Criminal Act vs Motive

Analogous Story

Note:  I wrote this in January of 2010.  I updated it slightly for today's post.

Here's a hypothetical story. Disclaimer: I did not have any particular person in mind, it is completely made up. Any similarity to any living person is purely coincidental.

A man kills another man in a violent act of cold blooded murder. The murdered man had an affair with the murderers wife. The murdered man has a history of promiscuous relationships with married women. The murderer is known to be a guy with a bad temper and tendency towards violence and even being abusive to his wife.

Who is guilty of the crime here? The murderer of course. He should be convicted and tried and subject to the highest form of punishment for his act. In deed, there is not much to like about this guy and perhaps even his wife will now be better off if he is put in jail and kept away from her.

Could the murder have been avoided? Most definitely. If the murdered guy had not had an affair with this particular women, he would not have been murdered by the woman's husband. But that's not to say that he wouldn't have encountered another man who might have reacted similarly. The problem is this guy's life style. He needed to stop being promiscuous and that would give him the greatest chance to avoid harmful conflict with another angry man in the future.

By pointing out the moral flaws of the murdered man are we saying that it is his fault that he was murdered? No, not at all. And to suggests that the murderer is not to blame for such a terrible act because the murdered man was the cause would be simply outrageous and totally unacceptable as well as completely un-just.


Now let's apply this story in an analogous way to the 9/11 attacks and US foreign policy.

The terrorist acts of 9/11 were terrible and inhuman acts of violence against civilians. They were despicable deeds which should be punished. All who planned and participated in them should be found and brought to justice. But what was the motive and why did this small group of men do these terrible things?

Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attackers have stated the following as the primary reasons for making war on the US:
  • US Position against Muslims in Palestine (support for Israel). 
  • Occupation of the Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries (Islamic holy land).
  • US actions in Iraq. Pre 9/11 this would have been enforcement of a blockade and no-fly zones where thousands of civilians were killed by starvation and aerial bombing. 
  • US support for tyrannical governments in: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and other middle eastern Gulf States.
By taking note of these positions, does it mean that we are saying it is our fault that the 9/11 attacks occurred? Not at all. Like the story I made up, this gives no excuse what so ever for doing such a heinous act against innocent civilians. Analysis of motive has no bearing on the guilty party in the crime. The perpetrators of the attacks and all who helped or planned the attacks should be hunted down and brought to justice.

But it is important to note that our politicians and leaders are unwilling to acknowledge these reasons as being the primary motives. In fact, they are giving misleading motives to the attackers. For example, statements are made such as, "They hate us for our freedom." Why would politicians do this? What would they gain by having these misleading motives accepted by the general public?

The founders of our country were against interventionism. They wanted free and open relations with all. They believed in a military for the purpose of defending the country. By pointing out the motives of the 9/11 attackers and other terrorists acts against this country I hope to ignite a strong reaction against our meddling in the affairs of other countries. Our results in these interventions are extremely poor. We seldom get what we are seeking by doing it. We are better off not being the policeman of the world. We are better off setting a good example for other countries to follow. While I don't excuse the 9/11 attackers for what they did, it is safe to say that if we did not have military bases in the middle east, and if we were not propping up repressive dictatorships, and if we did not give unquestioning support to Israel, we very likely could have avoided 9/11 all together. Let's get a grip on foreign policy by going back to the golden rule. How do we want other nations to treat us? Let's start treating them the same way!

Counter argument: it doesn't matter what they say or what their motive was, they are Islamic extremest. Everyone knows that Islam is all about killing infidels and eternal rewards for engaging in Jihad. We should wipe these guys off the face of the earth.

This is basically a statement of a genocidal policy. I personally am not comfortable with it. I have more faith in the Gospel message to change and transform the Islamic world. I don't see a need to be an agent of judgment and I as a Christian am not called to such a mission. I would not vote for any politician who articulated this kind of mission or thought. Would you?

Update: related content

Many conservative Christians will offer up the Quran as a fundamentally violent primary scripture of the Islamic faith. I am not an expert on the Quron but I believe it is important to listen to people who have experience with Islam and know the language. One such person is Professor Juan Cole. Here he provides counter examples of passages in the Quran for those who characterize Islam and the Quran as violent.