Tag Archives: Israel

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Game of Drones – New Generation of Drones Already Choose Their Own Targets

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“The drone is the ultimate imperial weapon, allowing a superpower almost unlimited reach while keeping its own soldiers far from battle,” writes New York Times reporter James Risen in his important new book “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.” “Drones provide remote-control combat, custom-designed for wars of choice, and they have become the signature weapons of the war on terror.”

But America’s monopoly on death from a distance is coming to an end. Drone technology is relatively simple and cheap to acquire — which is why more than 70 countries, plus non-state actors like Hezbollah, have combat drones.

The National Journal’s Kristin Roberts imagines how drones could soon “destabilize entire regions and potentially upset geopolitical order”: “Iran, with the approval of Damascus, carries out a lethal strike on anti-Syrian forces inside Syria; Russia picks off militants tampering with oil and gas lines in Ukraine or Georgia; Turkey arms a U.S.-provided Predator to kill Kurdish militants in northern Iraq who it believes are planning attacks along the border. Label the targets as terrorists, and in each case, Tehran, Moscow, and Ankara may point toward Washington and say, we learned it by watching you. In Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”

Next: SkyNet.

SkyNet, you recall from the Terminator movies, is a computerized defense network whose artificial intelligence programming leads it to self-awareness. People try to turn it off; SkyNet interprets this as an attack — on itself. Automated genocide follows in an instant.

In an article you should read carefully because/despite that fact that it will totally freak you out, The New York Times reports that “arms makers…are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.”

More from the Times piece:

“Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control. After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.

“Britain’s ‘fire and forget’ Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.

[…]

“Israel’s antiradar missile, the Harpy, loiters in the sky until an enemy radar is turned on. It then attacks and destroys the radar installation on its own.

“Norway plans to equip its fleet of advanced jet fighters with the Joint Strike Missile, which can hunt, recognize and detect a target without human intervention.”

“An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” says Steve Omohundro, a physicist and AI specialist at Self-Aware Systems. “They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably.”

As usual, the United States is leading the way toward dystopian apocalypse, setting precedents for the use of sophisticated, novel, more efficient killing machines. We developed and dropped the first nuclear bombs. We unleashed the drones. Now we’re at the forefront of AI missile systems.

The first test was a disaster: “Back in 1988, the Navy test-fired a Harpoon antiship missile that employed an early form of self-guidance. The missile mistook an Indian freighter that had strayed onto the test range for its target. The Harpoon, which did not have a warhead, hit the bridge of the freighter, killing a crew member.”

But we’re America! We didn’t let that slow us down: “Despite the accident, the Harpoon became a mainstay of naval armaments and remains in wide use.”

U-S-A! U-S-A!

I can see you tech geeks out there, shaking your heads over your screen, saying to yourselves: “Rall is paranoid! This is new technology. It’s bound to improve. AI drones will become more accurate.”

Not necessarily.

Combat drones have hovered over towns and villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last 13 years, killing thousands of people. The accuracy rate is less than impressive: 3.5%. That’s right: 96.5% of the victims are, by the military’s own assessment, innocent civilians.

The Pentagon argues that its new generation of self-guided hunter-killers are merely “semiautonomous” and so don’t run afoul of a U.S. rule against such weapons. But only the initial launch is initiated by a human being.” It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet,” Mark Gubrud, a physicist who is a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told the Times. “This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control.”

If that doesn’t worry you, this should: it’s only a matter of time before other countries, some of which don’t like us, get these too.

Not much time.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Five Wrongs Make a Right

6 Wrongs Make No Right

Voter ID laws passed by dozens of states prevent Americans from choosing from two parties, neither of whom care about their concerns. At a certain point, you have to wonder: do multiple wrongs make a right?

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Calling the IDF

Calling the IDF

State prisons keep botching executions of inmates, prolonging death to obscene lengths of time such as nearly two hours in Arizona. How hard is it to kill a person? Israel has killed 1500 Gazans, all accidentally? Surely there’s a way to turn two wrongs into a right.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Clueless in Gaza – We Americans Support Democracy, But Only When the Elections Go Our Way

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“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.

This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.

The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.

Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.

Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.

The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.

Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.

To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.

Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.

The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.

Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.

Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.

In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)

Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”

The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.

Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)

Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.

What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.

Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.

Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)

He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.

Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.

I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

 

 

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War and Peace, Made in USA

War and Peace, Made in USA

As the largest, most expansionary military empire in history and the world’s number one arms supplier, often to both sides in conflicts, the United States is once again offering, hilariously, to broker a peace agreement, this time between Hamas in Gaza, and Israel. First you start the war, or at least expand it, then you get credit for making peace!

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Are All Soviets Now

Not-So-Secret “Secret Bombings” Have Big Implications

Did Israel bomb Damascus yesterday? Of course it did. According to Syrian rebel sources, 42 Syrian army soldiers were killed. But Israel – following its customary policy – won’t admit it. This has happened before. Usually, Syria doesn’t say anything about Israeli airstrikes. (The Syrian government’s complaint about Sunday’s airstrike is unusual, and thus cause for concern that the civil war might escalate into a regional conflict.)

According to experts, the official silence following not-so-secret secret bombings reflect the fact that even enemies have to cooperate sometimes. If Syria acknowledges that it has been the victim of what international law and anyone with a dictionary defines as an act of war, Syrian citizens and non-Syrians throughout the Muslim world would pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad into a war it can’t win. Knowing this, the Israelis – who don’t want a war that could unite the fractious Arabs against them and set the Middle East ablaze – let Assad save face. By refusing to confirm or to deny, they quietly gloat over what everyone knows, that they can come and go as they please over Syrian airspace (or fire long-range missiles from Israeli territory, since even the Syrians don’t seem sure what hit them yesterday).

We live in a time that bears out the most dystopian of George Orwell’s predictions, yet even in a world of bluster and BS few news events are as surreal and mind-blowing as a so-called secret bombing. There is, after all, nothing secret about bombs. Especially when they fall into a densely populated metropolis. Certainly the families of those 42 dead soldiers are in the loop.

“Imagine an airstrike on a US weapons depot and no one claims responsibility,” the political cartoonist Kevin Moore tweet-asked. “Would we be so blasé about it?” We would be if we were a weak nation and the attacker was a strong one.

Not that this is a first-time occurrence.

Older readers remember the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970, when President Richard Nixon ordered the carpet bombing of North Vietnamese supply bases in eastern Cambodia and Laos, a violation of international law. It was a sensational scoop for to readers of the New York Times and members of Congress (who hadn’t been informed), but if you were there, there was nothing secretive about the 100,000-plus tons of ordnance dropped in 3800-plus sorties by American B-52s.

Tens of thousands of Cambodians, including many civilians, were killed.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, however, the bombings were cloaked by a conspiracy of silence. The international media found out about it right away but coverage was scant and tentative. Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, supposedly sent his tacit approval through back channels; for its part, North Vietnam couldn’t say boo because they weren’t supposed to be in Cambodia either.

The US drone war in Pakistan bears similarities to Cambodia, though it features a delicious extra dollop of deception.

As I reported in 2010, the United States isn’t so much occupying Afghanistan as it is using eastern Afghanistan as a staging area to launch drone strikes against tribal areas in western Pakistan. Again we have the ridiculous spectacle of something that couldn’t possibly be less secret – Hellfire missiles streaming out of the sky from buzzing drones circling Pakistani cities in broad daylight and blasting homes and cars – while both the Americans firing the weapons and the Pakistani government whose territory they are landing on officially deny knowing anything about them. Although Pakistani officials either claim helplessness in the face of American military might or condemn the drone strikes outright, thousands of people have died in hundreds of attacks under the Bush and Obama administrations as the result of a brutal quid pro quo: the CIA kills political dissidents and other “enemies of the state” on the Pakistani regime’s hit list in exchange for the privilege of killing “terrorists” it deems a threat. (It recently came out that CIA drone operators fire blindly, without knowing who they’re killing.)

The United States has similar arrangements with Yemen and Somalia.

Oh, and the U.S. doesn’t even officially acknowledge that it has a drone program. It’s classified. If it exists. Even though Obama jokes about it.

I wonder whether the lawyered-up officials who gin up these pssst arrangements worry about the geopolitical implications. For at least 200 years – arguably since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – the Western world has been governed on the basis of strictly defined borders. In the postwar era the United Nations has served primarily as an attempt to enshrine the sovereignty of nation-states. At the core of contemporary international law is the doctrine that invading the territory or airspace is an act of war, particularly when the victim is internationally recognized as sovereign. So how does that square with secret bombings?

If Israel can carry out acts of war against Syria with impunity, without suffering any sanction, and if United States can do the same in Pakistan, who is to say which cross-border incursions of the future are acceptable and which are not? If Syria and Pakistan tacitly consent to their territory being bombed, but don’t sign formal agreements to allow it, can they legitimately claim to be sovereign independent states? It seems to me that both the bombers and the victim countries are messing around with issues with huge potential ramifications without thinking them through.

When political leaders wallow in “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” absurdism, citizens roll their eyes and learn to reflexively distrust everything they see and hear from officials and in mainstream media. How, for example, can you take an Israeli government seriously that has had nuclear weapons since the 1970s but refuses to admit it (and sabre-rattles with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, which probably doesn’t exist)? Or a United Nations that refuses to call them to account under nuclear nonproliferation treaties?

The greatest enemy of political stability is alienation. Citizens don’t have to like their leaders to hand them the tacit consent of the governed. But if a regime wants to stay in power, the people have to believe their government more often than not. It can’t be perceived as totally full of crap.

Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sure, all rules are arbitrary. But once you start breaking your own rules, you undermine the basis of legitimacy for the system you’ve created and hope to perpetuate. If we go back to the basis of nationhood – you have a right to exist if you can carve out borders, defend them, and repel invaders – we unwind the world order that has been in place for nearly half a millennium. Which may be for the better. But it’s probably something that we should all discuss.

In the open.

(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

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