Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Peace A Chance

The interim agreement with Iran to shut down its nuclear program took a long time to get done.  As Dafna Linzer at MSNBC notes, it could have been done a lot sooner had we not had a certain president in office.

The sad truth of Sunday’s nuclear agreement with Iran is that it could have come 10 years earlier and with far fewer costs.

It took a Mideast war, an accelerating nuclear program, a crisis with U.N. inspectors and crippling sanctions before the sides started talking.

More importantly, it was the election of President Obama and the return of the reformist leadership in Tehran that made an historic deal between the United States and Iran even possible.

[...]

When the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, it was by a terrorist organization that was no friend to Iran.

Acting from inside Afghanistan and Pakistan – two nations that border Iran – al-Qaeda’s actions destabilized the region and brought on a swift counterattack by U.S. forces who remain in the region.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda members streamed across Iran’s borders. Many were caught and identified. The most dangerous, including Osama bin Laden’s relatives, were imprisoned. Low-level fighters were returned to their home countries – but not before Zarif secretly shared their identities, finger prints, passports and other information with the U.S. government.

There was other quiet but vital cooperation along the Iranian-Afghan border to stop al-Qaeda,  the heroin trade and warlords from smuggling weapons and goods out of Afghanistan.

The Bush administration benefited greatly from all of it but that’s not the impression it conveyed to the American public or the Iranian people.

Iran’s leaders, working through a Swiss diplomatic channel, sent the State Department a lengthy proposal for embarking on negotiations. Tehran’s leaders sought a “grand bargain,” with everything on the table, including restoring relations with Israel, and giving up any interest in pursing nuclear capabilities that could be used for weapons.

If only they had been greeted with silence. Instead, Bush used his 2003 State of the Union address to enlist Iran into what he deemed an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea.

So rather than find a way to peace and possible reconciliation that could have prevented war, civil unrest, and a winding down nuclear threats, we spent ten years rattling our sabres and stuffing a sock in our flight suit to prove that American exceptionalism is da bomb… literally.  We spent ten years being told by draft-dodgers that war is the answer to all our problems and great for the bottom line at Halliburton and BP.  Instead we got death and the permanent enmity of an entire segment of the world’s population.

Obama and Rouhani must sell this deal at home, and it will tough for both. The American public still carries the scars of a lengthy hostage crisis that followed Iran’s political and religious revolution and are reluctant to trust a new and possibly vulnerable leadership. Rouhani is under pressure from those very same revolutionary guards who see Washington as the root of Iran’s corrupt past.

Failure going forward would certainly embolden the hardliners on all sides, and push toward conflict, not resolution.

But if the deal sticks – a big if – Rouhani will be the first Iranian leader in more than 30 years who unclenched his fist – delivering his people back into the global fold. Obama may well be remembered as the Nobel laureate who removed the threat of nuclear war through the promise of extending his hand.

It’s long past time that we matured to the point where we realize how incredibly insane it is to think that the only way to achieve peace is through war.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Into Syria

From the New York Times:

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country’s civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Supplying weapons to the rebels has been a long-sought goal of advocates of a more aggressive American response to the Syrian civil war. A proposal made last year by David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and backed by the State Department and the Pentagon to supply weapons was rejected by the White House because of President Obama’s deep reluctance to be drawn into another war in the Middle East.

To quote the immortal Han Solo, I have a bad feeling about this.

Once we do this, we are in it with no way out other than to win, and the only way to win is by sending more money and material to yet another war in the Middle East.  And when it’s over — assuming that it is — we can then add it to the list of countries we own over there.  We all know how that’s gone for us in the last fifty years.

I am sure that the White House and the president will come up with a cogent, well-thought out, and perfectly reasonable explanation of why we must do this.  They always do — to keep America safe, to protect our allies, to pursue the ambition of freedom and democracy that we all crave.  It sounds so good going in… and so very hollow when the planes start landing at Dover and the insurgents, once fighting the government there, start throwing bombs at the foreign invaders.  Somehow they never seem to think of that side of the equation.

I am sure that Mr. Obama will come up with the appropriate talking points, including his emphasis on his “deep reluctance” to go to war.  And I’m sure he’ll tell us it has nothing whatsoever to do with being goaded into it by a former president who used schoolyard taunts to get him to go.  We always go to war for the most noble reasons, right?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hubris

I’ll be a little late for work, but I’m watching the re-run of “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War” on MSNBC.  It’s based on the book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn.

A decade ago, on March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq that would lead to a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 service members wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. The tab for the war topped $3 trillion. Bush did succeed in removing Saddam Hussein, but it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true. Three years after the war began, Michael Isikoff, then an investigative reporter for Newsweek (he’s since moved to NBC News), and I published Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, a behind-the-scenes account of how Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants deployed false claims, iffy intelligence, and unsupported hyperbole to win popular backing for the invasion.

A lot of people knew we were being lied to, that the Bush/Cheney crowd had been looking for any excuse to invade Iraq, including making up bullshit reasons to go to war, and conning journalists and like-minded pundits into buying it.  A lot of us made it clear that we didn’t believe anything they were telling us.  And yet we went anyway.

I’d like to think that it would never happen again.  After all, we got lied into Vietnam, and the wounds are still raw.  But we as a nation have a short term memory when it comes to launching ourselves into the role of the world’s heavily-armed moral leader, and the lesson that we seem to learn is that we never learn the lesson.

The worst part is that no one will ever be held accountable.  That guarantees that it will happen again.  And again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heroics

Chris Hayes got in trouble with folks in the orcosphere for a comment he made about Memorial Day and the word “heroes.”

Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable—uncomfortable—about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

As you can well imagine, that got a lot of tails puffed up over on the right, especially from the folks who gladly sent our troops to fight a war based on lies and fears. So of course he had to munch his words lest the chicken hawks at Fox News and the fearless troops of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists have his scalp.

On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

The lesson here is that if you aren’t speaking from first-hand experience, choose your words carefully. So I will defer to someone who does — John Cole at Balloon Juice, a veteran.

Not one thing he initially said offends me, and his point is worth understanding. The more we mindlessly cheer our war dead, the more likely we are to engage in more wars where we kill more of our kids for no good reason. Calling everyone a hero in a misguided war just makes it easier to make more “heroes.” That was the point Hayes was trying to make.

Hayes wasn’t shitting on our war dead. He was trying to keep us from making more dead 19 year old “heroes.” Being bold enough to voice that opinion is a far more noble tribute to our war dead (aren’t we always told they fought for our freedoms, including freedom of speech?) than all you fat fuckers like me in the heartland, grilling steaks, swilling beer, flying the flag, and high-fiving each other saying “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY,” convinced you’ve done your duty because you have a yellow ribbon on your Lincoln Land Yacht or Mercury Marquis Medicare Sled.

Chris Hayes, voicing an uncomfortable truth, is more of a patriot than any of you assholes with your mindless patriotism gleefully cheering our kids off to pointless wars to die as… “heroes.”

What he said.

Heroics

Chris Hayes got in trouble with folks in the orcosphere for a comment he made about Memorial Day and the word “heroes.”

Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable—uncomfortable—about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

As you can well imagine, that got a lot of tails puffed up over on the right, especially from the folks who gladly sent our troops to fight a war based on lies and fears. So of course he had to munch his words lest the chicken hawks at Fox News and the fearless troops of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists have his scalp.

On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

The lesson here is that if you aren’t speaking from first-hand experience, choose your words carefully. So I will defer to someone who does — John Cole at Balloon Juice, a veteran.

Not one thing he initially said offends me, and his point is worth understanding. The more we mindlessly cheer our war dead, the more likely we are to engage in more wars where we kill more of our kids for no good reason. Calling everyone a hero in a misguided war just makes it easier to make more “heroes.” That was the point Hayes was trying to make.

Hayes wasn’t shitting on our war dead. He was trying to keep us from making more dead 19 year old “heroes.” Being bold enough to voice that opinion is a far more noble tribute to our war dead (aren’t we always told they fought for our freedoms, including freedom of speech?) than all you fat fuckers like me in the heartland, grilling steaks, swilling beer, flying the flag, and high-fiving each other saying “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY,” convinced you’ve done your duty because you have a yellow ribbon on your Lincoln Land Yacht or Mercury Marquis Medicare Sled.

Chris Hayes, voicing an uncomfortable truth, is more of a patriot than any of you assholes with your mindless patriotism gleefully cheering our kids off to pointless wars to die as… “heroes.”

What he said.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I. That day, once called Armistice Day, is now Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

If Only They’d Known

Salon.com has a piece by Gregory Levey about soldiers who go AWOL and end up in Canada. They may think that they are out of reach of U.S. law, but some law enforcement officers, including some Canadians, are making it tough for them.

With the Iraq war in its fifth year, an increasing number of American soldiers have been going AWOL and fleeing to Canada, particularly over the last six months. One lawyer who works on their behalf puts the number of American war resisters currently living in Canada at 250 or more. Advocates for them here talk of a kind of “underground railroad” that has developed south of the border to help war resisters make their way north.

Ever since the Vietnam War, many Americans have viewed Canada as a liberal oasis, ready to welcome those who no longer want to take part in Uncle Sam’s wars. But the reality is more complicated these days, especially with the conservative Harper government in power since 2006. Although the Canadian people are still largely welcoming, some war resisters say they have faced hostility here. And all of them who are seeking refugee status to remain in the country face complex legal obstacles, according to experts on Canada’s refugee laws. Meanwhile, the alleged cooperation between Canadian and U.S. law enforcement authorities to track them down raises thorny legal questions of its own.

Speaking by phone recently from an undisclosed location in the Canadian prairies, Key told Salon that he generally feels safe in Canada, although he said one person threatened to “put him on a boat and take him back to the U.S.” and another told him that his daughter “deserved to be shot in the head.” He said that he was unnerved after he heard about Snyder’s arrest in B.C. in February. “After what I saw in Iraq,” he said, “I know that a snatch-and-grab operation doesn’t take long.”

It would be illegal under Canadian law for U.S. officials to make an arrest on Canadian soil, according to Audrey Macklin, a professor at the University of Toronto Law School. “U.S. law enforcement officers have no jurisdiction here,” she said. The picture gets murkier, however, with the prospect of Canadian police working on behalf of U.S. officials. “Sometimes officials cooperate in cross-border criminal investigations,” Macklin said. But the incidents involving Snyder and Key, she said, didn’t strike her as typical cross-border cooperation. “It’s sheer conjecture on my part, but I do wonder if it is more about intimidation.”

For those of us who were of draft age during the Vietnam war and were opposed to the war, and certainly for those of us who grew up near the Canadian border, the lure of making the trip across the Ambassador Bridge was tempting if that letter from Selective Service arrived. I knew of several people who made the trip, and it was not an easy choice for them to make. Giving up home and country and moving to a foreign land, even if it was remarkably similar and welcoming, was a frightening thought, especially when there was, at the time, no likelihood that they could return without the possibility of being arrested hanging over them. But they believed that it was more important for them to avoid involuntary service in a war that they didn’t believe in, and they made the choice to go when they felt that they did not have the option. The liberal government of Pierre Trudeau eased the transition to Canadian citizenship, and at least one of my acquaintances has never looked back in spite of the amnesties granted by Presidents Ford and Carter. He has a life, a family, and a country that chooses its battles carefully.

These soldiers today face a different world. First, they volunteered to serve; they made the conscious choice to put on the uniform. And while I fully support the idea of being a conscientious objector — I was one and still am — making the transition to C.O. status or going AWOL after joining up begs the question: if you object to the war in Iraq, why did you join up in the first place?

There could be a lot of reasons. For many young men, the military provides the only opportunity for advancing their education. There’s also the sense of duty and patriotism that honestly comes from the heart, and serving in the military is a part of that as well. However, there is also the stark reality that the mission of the military is to defend the country — either reactively or preemptive — by means of force. That, apparently, was not taken into account when they took the oath.

But it’s not like they were told what really would happen when they enlisted. Recruiting has become a Madison Avenue sell job that is impressive in its ability to hit all the right notes that appeal to their target: the testosterone-laden 18-25 year-old males. The Army is running a commercial on Spike TV where two young men are playing a video game and one of the soldiers inside the game taps on the screen and says “You two look like you’re ready for real action.” Aside from the borderline rough trade gay porn aspects, the ad is creepy in that it implies that killing is just a game and you can always hit the Reset button. There are no pictures of the wounded soldiers lying in their own feces at Walter Reed, put there because they were ill-equipped to go to war. There are no pictures of the car bombs that are exploding every day and the Americans caught in the cross-fire of the civil war between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. And there is no chart that shows that the number of soldiers being sent back to Iraq for their fourth or fifth tour who are not combat ready.

If the soldiers who have gone to Canada had known what they were getting into, would they have still signed up? Are they allowed to have a change of heart and an awakening of their conscience once they have seen the harsh reality? (Apparently our culture of violence — TV and video games — doesn’t truly reflect that. What a shock.) Each one has a different answer. But it’s not a heck of a lot different than the same question being asked of presidential candidates, especially those who were in the House or Senate when the vote to go war in Iraq was taken in 2002: if you knew then what you know now, what choice would you have made? Both must answer for their choices, and it tells us a lot about them in their answers.