Joe Biden is running a presidential campaign predicated on the assumption that there is a middle ground between two extreme sides on every issue. Truth is, the mood of the electorate is binary on a lot of things and are they really wrong? It’s not like you can save just half the planet.
Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” (“Buck” is a disused term for “accountability,” not money.) What Truman’s phrase meant — it says a lot about the state of things that it needs to be explained — was that he, like the captain of a ship, accepted responsibility for everything that happened under his watch.
With Barack Obama, there’s nary a buck to be found. To paraphrase the 1970 movie “Love Story,” working for the United States government means never having to say you’re sorry.
Days before Obama took office in 2009, Obama signaled that federal workers who break the law would have nothing to worry about. During his campaign he’d promised to prosecute the CIA and military personnel who tortured Afghans, Iraqis and other Muslims under orders from Bush and Cheney. People who voted for him expected him to follow through. The CIA torturers were worried sick. Their victims looked forward to seeing justice served.
Breaking his pledge, Obama issued the monsters a “get out of jail free” card. There wouldn’t even be an investigation, much less indictments. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he said. The new president traveled to Langley to reassure the torturers everything would be cool. (“I will be as vigorous in protecting you as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”) He even cooperated with the Republicans who approved of torture to pressure other countries not to file charges against U.S. torturers.
After 9/11, Americans asked themselves: why do they (Muslims in general, foreigners in particular) hate us?
No need to ask that one anymore.
One telltale sign that the government is engaged in a cover-up is timing: when it releases a report just before the weekend news blackout, you know something nasty is afoot. Obama’s latest whitewash, dumped online Friday, is the Administration’s attempt to drown its responsibility for one of the most heinous acts of mass murder in years in 3000 pages of spin, dissembling and circular logic.
On October 3rd, an AC-130 fixed-wing gunship — a fearsome array of high-caliber weaponry best described as a hovering battleship — unleashed an hour of hellfire on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, killing 42 doctors, staffers and patients, and wounding many others. The facility was completely destroyed. MSF (the French acronym for the group) pulled out. There is no longer any high-quality trauma care available in a major city in an active conflict zone.
It is now universally acknowledged that the attack was a mistake.
At the time, however, the Pentagon lied and denied. “Collateral damage,” they first said — they were aiming at something else. For an hour. Over and over. Then they said the Taliban were firing at U.S. forces from inside the hospital. (Never happened.) Next they blamed Afghan forces for calling in the airstrike. (They couldn’t have, and didn’t.) Finally, they admitted it was U.S. Special Forces.
Ultimately the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan issued an actual apology on March 22nd. “They hit us six months ago and are apologizing now?” spat Zabiullah Niazi, an OR nurse who lost his eye, one finger and the ability to use his hand, in the attack — and, like the other victims, has yet to receive compensation.
The heavily-redacted 3000-page report issued Friday by the Pentagon “describes a mission that went wrong from start to finish,” according to The New York Times. What stands out is the Americans’ obsession with protecting themselves at all cost, all others be damned — an attitude that has characterized the post-9/11 War of Terror.
“Even after Doctors Without Borders informed American commanders that a gunship was attacking a hospital, the airstrike was not immediately called off because, it appears, the Americans could not confirm themselves that the hospital was actually free of Taliban,” reports the Times. “‘Immediately calling for a cease-fire for a situation we have no SA’ — situational awareness, that is — ‘could put the ground force at risk,’ an American commander [said].” If you’re trying not to hurt innocent people, prudence dictates that you hold fire until your target is positively identified. Here, as usual in U.S. war zones, the default mode was to keep firing no matter what.
This is reckless disregard for human life writ large. So who will be held accountable?
“The punishments for the attack will be ‘administrative actions’ only, and none of those being disciplined will face criminal charges because the attack was determined to be unintentional… The punishments include suspension, removal from command and letters of reprimand, which can seriously damage or end a career.”
Reckless disregard for human life is a war crime. For example, former Rwandan official Clément Kayishema was convicted by an international tribunal for several counts of war crimes related to murder of Hutus in 1994, one of which was his reckless disregard for the possibility that his actions would lead to people’s deaths.
Forty-two people were murdered in Kunduz. So what if it’s just manslaughter or second-degree murder, rather than premeditated first-degree murder? Justice demands prison sentences, not letters added to personnel files.
I’d start with the guy who sits behind Harry Truman’s old desk.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Shockingly for patriotic Muslims, thousands of naive young Muslims are committing treason against their own people, rejecting their homeland to travel to the United States, where they join the terrorist military. Why would anyone join a group responsible for horrific atrocities, which have been documented on video?
Americans Aren’t “War Weary.” Obama is Just Lazy.
Americans, our pundit class has decided, aren’t going along with President Obama’s hard-on for firing cruise missiles into Syrian cities because they’re “war weary.”
True, the wars have cost us. At 12 years and counting, the illegal and unjustified U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is America’s longest war. We’ve been in Iraq — following one of the most brazen acts of aggressive warfare in our blood-soaked history — for 10. Eight thousand American soldiers have gotten themselves killed; more than 50,000 have been wounded. (To conform to the journalistic standards of U.S.-based opinion writing, I shan’t mention the hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and so on slaughtered by U.S. invasion forces.)
As tragically wasteful as those casualties have been, the price we’ve paid has been low by historical standards. Roughly 700 U.S. combat deaths a year is a drop in the bucket compared to, say, Vietnam (6,000 a year), Korea (12,000) and World War II (100,000). Unlike those earlier conflicts, the post-9/11 war on terrorism has been a remote, irrelevant abstraction to most Americans.
“Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain,” General Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff told members, told graduates at West Point. “But I fear [civilians] do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that just a third of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a direct family member who has served in uniform since 9/11 — the lowest rate in memory.
About 2.2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq — not much fewer than the 2.7 million who went to Vietnam. The difference is that today’s volunteer military is less broadly representative of American society.
A woman recently introduced me to her brother. “He just got back from Iraq,” she said. “Afghanistan,” he corrected her. His sister! “Thank you for your service,” a man walking told him, without waiting for a reply. The vet’s face hardened. Nobody gets it.
Civilians never did, not fully — but the disconnect was never this big.
“War-weary”? You must first notice something before you can get tired of it.
Until the Syria debate, antiwar liberals like New York Congressman Charles Rangel have been decrying the gap between civilians and the military. His proposed solution? Bring back the draft. Rangel and others reason that if more young people — not just poor, undereducated, underprivileged yokels from the sticks — had “skin in the game,” it would be harder for politicians to start one war after another. “A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” Rangel argues. After Obama proposed bombing Syria, Rangel renewed his proposal.
The United States has been at war throughout 90% of its history. I am 50 years old, born a few months before the assassination of JFK; my only peacetime president has been Jimmy Carter. War-weary? Like Orwell’s Oceania, the United States of America is always at war. We love war. War is what America does best, war is what America does most. War is 54% of the federal budget!
As noted above, there have been relatively few casualties in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Because media coverage has been so sanitized and pro-military, these wars’ gruesome atrocities, the My Lais and napalm attacks — Mahmudiya, Panjwaii, white phosphorus that dissolved people in the battle of Fallujah — have barely been reported, so there have been few Vietnam-type images piped into our living rooms to elicit disgust or guilt. Even the fiscal effects have been deferred; the wars are officially off the books and thus aren’t tallied as part of the budget deficit.
Given how little the current wars have personally affected us, why would we be war-weary?
If Obama doesn’t get his war against Syria, he has no one to blame but himself.
The dude is just lazy.
Think of the list of American wars, just since 1990: the Gulf War, Serbia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, Libya…it isn’t hard to con Americans into a war. Unlike Bush and his warmongering predecessors, however, Obama isn’t willing to do the propaganda work.
These things can’t be rushed. Bush spent a year and a half making his phony case to invade Iraq. Countless speeches, endless bullying, tons of twisted arguments and faked WMD reports.
Obama wanted to go to war four days after the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. How many Americans were even aware of the story? Remember, this was late summer, peak vacation season. First you tear Americans away from the barbecue, then you get to barbecue the Syrians.
As has been widely noted, Obama’s messaging was all over the place, confusing a public programmed to digest its politics in bumpersticker-length slogans and talking points. Allowing yourself to be seen golfing right after calling for war hardly conveys the requisite sense of menace, much less the urgency of an imminent threat.
When JFK wanted the public to sign off on nuclear brinksmanship with the USSR, he went on television with spy plane photos of Cuba’s missiles. Despite considerable evidence that the rebels or a rogue officer were responsible, Obama says he has proof that the sarin gas attack was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet, unlike Kennedy, he won’t pony up the proof. Why not? As Russian President Vladimir Putin observes, that’s crazy fishy: “Claims that proof exists but is classified and cannot be shown are beneath criticism. If the U.S. says that the al-Assad regime is responsible for that attack and that they have proof, then let them submit it to the U.N. Security Council.”
Militarism is our thing, but Americans need to think their enemies threaten them directly before they’re cool with war.
Team Obama admits that Syria is not a direct or imminent danger to the U.S., but that we must attack them as a deterrent to other supposed future possible maybe enemies, namely Iran and North Korea. No dice. Only one in five Americans buys that. If Iran or North Korea is a threat, then attack those countries, not Syria.
Obama’s verbiage is telling: “I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States.”
Could not honestly claim. As opposed to something like this: “Assad’s use of chemical weapons is not an imminent, direct threat, so we have time for a Congressional debate.”
Americans are good at reading between the lines. Another reason — not war-weariness — that Obama might not get his Syria war.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Writing in the Washington Post, a veteran who served in the occupation of Afghanistan reminisced about killing innocent civilians, including children, and wondered aloud whether such killing was wrong. He justified his actions based on the military’s escalation of force guidelines. Of course, every military has had such guidelines in order to justify doing whatever it is that they felt like.
President Obama signed a new law last week that broadens federal limits on protests at military funerals for members or former members of the Armed Forces. The changes cover services held in private places as well as military cemeteries. Apparently this excessive respect for the war dead only applies to dead Americans.
Why Doesn’t Anyone Call Out Romney for Warmongering?
Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel’s GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis’ superior “culture.”
As if spewing one of the most overtly racist lines in recent presidential campaign history wasn’t enough, eschewing “containment” (read: “diplomacy”), Romney also endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter’s nuclear program—Israel’s own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK since it’s a U.S. ally—from moving forward.
“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney said, stating that “no option should be excluded.”
He didn’t say how he knew the intentions of Iran’s leaders. Clairvoyance? Bush had it too.
Though Mitt slightly walked back his campaign’s sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States could easily wind up getting dragged into. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that “we have all options on the table. Those include military options.”)
Most criticism focused on Romney’s flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president’s foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama’s approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.
As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan and nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.
Warmongering has gone mainstream. It’s a given.
In a way, Romney’s willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, so do the citizens of the country on whose behalf we’d be killing and dying, Israel. But even Romney’s Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney’s tough-guy act on Iran.
The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it’s nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option, that the military option is always on the table. You’ve heard that line so often that you take it for granted.
But did you know that “keeping the military option on the table” is a serious violation of international law?
The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an “armed attack.” As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of “imminent threat.” In 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote what remains the standard definition of “imminent,” which is that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The enemy’s troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There’s no time for diplomacy.
Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t come close to this definition, even from Israel’s standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! Magazine: “It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That’s a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word ‘imminent’ to the point that it has no meaning.”
By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy.
The Allies’ main brief against the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg was not genocide, but that they had violated international law by waging aggressive war. Yet every American president has deployed troops in aggressive military actions.
Aggressive war hasn’t been good for America’s international image, the environment, our economy or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted. But unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney’s, it will go on forever.
(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)
(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.