Tag Archives: Civil War

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Service is for Suckers

Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.

As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.

It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.

The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.

What you might not know is that this isn’t new.

The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.

During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”

For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.

Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.

Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.

Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.

Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.

Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”

Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama Destroyed Libya

Barack Obama destroyed Libya.

What he did to Libya is as bad as what Bush did to Iraq and Afghanistan. He doesn’t deserve a historical pass.

When Obama took office in 2009, Libya was under the clutches of longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But things were looking up.

Bush and Gaddafi had cut a deal to lift Western trade sanctions in exchange for Libya acknowledging and paying restitution for its role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In a rare triumph for Bush, Libya also agreed to give up its nuclear weapons research program. Libyan and Western analysts anticipated that Gaddafi’s dictatorship would be forced to accept liberal reforms, perhaps even free elections and rival political parties, in order to attract Western investment.

Libya in 2009 was prosperous. As citizens of a major oil- and natural gas-exporting nation, Libyans enjoyed high salaries, low living expenses, generous social benefits, not to mention law and order. It seems like a mirage today.

Looking back, many Libyans miss their former tyrant. “Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa,” notes Garikai Chengu of the Du Bois Institute for African Research at Harvard University. “However, by the time he was assassinated, Libya was unquestionably Africa’s most prosperous nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

As a dictator, Gaddafi was guilty of horrendous human rights abuses. But life was better then than now. Women enjoyed more rights in Libya than in any other Arab country, particularly after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein in Iraq. By regional standards, Libya was a relatively sweet place to live.

In February 2011, militant Islamists based in the eastern city of Benghazi launched an armed insurgency against Gaddafi’s central government in the capital of Tripoli. The rebels were linked in the imaginations of American newsmedia and U.S. foreign policy officials to the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt’s Tahrir Square. But the Benghazi-based rebels, with close ties to Al Qaeda, were ideologically closer to the Free Syrian Army fighters who eventually metastasized into ISIS.

Within the CIA and Defense Departments, no one was sure who the insurgents were or what they wanted. Nonetheless the Obama administration covertly supplied them with at least $1 billion in cash and weapons. CIA agents and U.S. Special Forces served as “boots on the ground,” training opposition fighters how to use sophisticated new weapons.

Obama threw Gaddafi, whose regime was secular and by all accounts had been cooperative and held up his end of the deals with U.S., under the bus.

American forces jammed Libyan military communications. The U.S. fired missiles to intercept Libyan missiles fired at rebel targets. The U.S. led numerous airstrikes against units loyal to Gaddafi. U.S. intervention turned the tide in favor of the Benghazi-based rebels.

In October 2011, one of Obama’s killer robot drones participated in Gaddafi’s assassination. Game over.

Before invading Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Bush about his “Pottery Barn rule“: if you break it, you own it.

Obama has broken the hell out of Libya.

The New York Times describes Libya as “veer[ing] toward complete chaos.”

In 2015, the UK Guardian reports, Libya is in danger of meeting the official international definition of a failed state: “Libya is wracked by violence, factionalism and political polarization – and by the growing menace of jihadi extremism. Two rival governments, parliaments, prime ministers and military forces claim legitimacy. One side is the Islamist-dominated Libya Dawn coalition in Tripoli, the capital. The other camp, Dignity, which is recognized internationally, is based in Tobruk and Bayda. Hundreds of rival militias exist across the country. In recent months the homegrown fighters of Ansar al-Sharia have been challenged by Islamic State (Isis), who released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. Oil production, the source of most state revenues, has declined massively. Cash is running out and basic services are facing collapse as the financial situation deteriorates. Hopes for change generated by the Arab spring and the demise of Gaddafi’s dictatorship have faded into despair and dysfunction.”

“Libya is falling apart. Politically, financially, the economic situation is disastrous,” says UN envoy Bernardino León.

To Obama’s credit, he admits that he screwed up in Libya. Unfortunately, he drew the wrong lesson. In 2014, he told an interviewer that a large ground invasion force might have helped Libya’s post-Gaddafi government succeed. Because that worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if he really believes that, why doesn’t he order in the troops?

Obama’s real mistake was to depose a secular socialist autocrat and allow him to be replaced by a bunch of crazy religious fundamentalist militias whose factionalism ensured they’d never be able to govern.

Bush committed this error in Iraq. Obama made it in Libya. And now he’s doing it again in Syria.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Lose-Lose

War is raging in Syria between the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State (ISIS). The United States doesn’t want either side to win. The solution, naturally, is careful calibration to keep both sides equal until they both kill each other.

Big Loss/Win for the President

Rather than news or politics, political cable news and network news cover the horse race: why this event is good for a politician and why that one isn’t. Ignored by the horserace are the real-world implications of the news, including how tragedies and triumphs affect actual real (but ordinary) citizens.

Baghdad 2014

As Iraq spirals into sectarian civil war, one of the recurring stories on American media outlets is the mixed feelings of the American veterans who served in the invasion and subsequent occupation. While it’s understandable that they are wondering whether their sacrifices were worth it (hint: no way), shouldn’t we be giving at least equal time to the Iraqis who are living through the consequences of our war there?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Schools Should Teach Nowology

Everyone has a strong opinion about education. But the controversies are always about the same topic: testing, teachers unions, funding, merit pay, vouchers/school choice, charter schools. Is college a smart investment? Is affirmative action fair? Has political correctness supplanted the basics?

I keep waiting for someone to bring up Now. As in the study of now — what’s currently going on in the fields of politics, history, literature, mathematics, science — everything.

Can we call it Nowology?

From K through 12 through senior year of college, American education focuses obsessively on the past. No matter what you study, the topics either relate to the past or the knowledge is dated.

Since I was a history major in college, I’ll focus on that.

I’ve never understood why history is taught chronologically. A book’s opening is crucial; either you get hooked straight away, or you get bored and turn blasé. So how is it that textbook publishers think it makes sense to start a fourth-grade history textbook with prehistoric humans who lived 10,000 years ago? It’s tough enough for me, at age 50, to relate to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. How can a typical American 9-year-old, who lives in the suburbs, connect intellectually to people who foraged for food (not in the fridge)?

Another problem with teaching history chronologically is that teachers rarely make it to the relevant, interesting history students might actually care about — what’s going on now. From junior through senior high, my high school teachers got bogged down in the battlefields of the Civil War. We never once made it as far as Reconstruction (which is actually fascinating), much less to the controversies of my childhood (Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis).

TV, radio and newspapers — that’s where what mattered was discussed. My classmates and I had fathers who served in Vietnam. We had neighbors who’d dodged the draft, whose faces stared at us from wanted posters at the post office. We argued over Nixon and Ford and Carter, but all that stuff — the controversy, the drama, the Now — took place outside school.

The not-so-subliminal message soon sunk in: school is where you learn about old stuff. Now stuff is everywhere else.

This is, of course, exactly the opposite of how we choose to teach ourselves.

Example: pop culture, like movies and music. No one’s musical education begins with recordings of recreations of primitive music, simple claps or banging objects together. Most children start out listening to contemporary music — whatever they hear on Pandora, Spotify, the radio, TV, etc. Those who decide to dig further usually work backward. They listen to older works by their favorite artists. They hear a musician talk about the bands that influenced them, and they check them out.

(When I was a kid, friends were surprised that Paul McCartney had been in some other band before Wings.) They might wind up getting into ragtime or Bach. Last. Not first.

Ditto for movies. No one starts out watching silent films.

There is some discussion of teaching history in reverse chronological order in other countries. Writing in the UK Prospect last year, Christopher Fear of the University of Exeter argues: “We should begin by showing children how to scratch the surface to find the recent pasts of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations — pasts which they can talk about together.” But the British too continue to teach history the boring/chronological way.

We’re constantly worrying about whether our schools are preparing children to compete in the global marketplace. To support their calls for reform, activists (mostly, but not exclusively, on the political right) point to surveys that show that Americans are woefully ignorant about basic facts such as evolution, essential geographic knowledge as the location of the country where U.S. troops have been fighting, killing and dying for a decade and a half, and even heliocentricity.

Sure, it would be nice if more Americans cracked open a newspaper (or its online edition) now and then. On the other hand, a lot of this material ought to be taught in schools — and it isn’t. Day one of American history class should begin with Obama, Congressional paralysis, the early jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign, America’s clash with Russia over Ukraine, and the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these subjects naturally require digging deeper, back in time, to explain why and how what’s going on now is happening.

And it’s not just history. Studying physics at Columbia in the 1980s, no one taught us about the latest advances in cosmology and quantum mechanics — some of which, ironically, were being discovered in labs in the same buildings by the same professors who were filling our heads with obsolete material.

Nowology: better late than never.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Obama To Arm Assad Against US-Armed Anti-Assad Rebels

When Obama began arming and financing the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, Assad and objective observers warned that the West would regret establishing an outpost of radical jihad in the Levant. Two years later, their worst predictions have come true — and Obama is considering reaching to Assad so he can kill the rebels who were armed and trained by the United States.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Quagmire Pattern

Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria

The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.

There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).

During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.

The U.S. must get involved!

If not us, who?

Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.

The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.

It works. The regime falls. Yay!

Civil war ensues. Not so yay.

The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.

Then the quagmire begins.

The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.

If they can withdraw.

The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.

Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.

Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.

Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.

However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.

The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)

The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.

The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.

Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.

There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”

“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.

So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?

“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”

In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.

That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Slave Wages

Every time Democrats argue for increasing the minimum wage, Republicans trot out the same old arguments: it will increase unemployment, employers will move overseas, and it will increase the barrier for entry for new workers. Studies repeatedly show that none of these things are true, of course, but yet they persist to be argued and reported.