How to Stop the Next Stupid War before It Starts

News - Afghan War - President Bush Announces Start of War - 7 Oct 2001 - CNN - YouTube

            Americans are politically fractured but they agree that our longest war was a mistake. 77% of Americans, including many Republicans, told a recent CBS News poll that they agree with President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. That’s a reversal from the conflict’s early days, when between 85% and 90% of Americans supported the invasion.

            What changed? We were lied to; now we know it. The Taliban were characterized by the news media as primitive religious fanatics, a fringe group that ruled by fear in a power vacuum created by our abandonment of the anti-Soviet mujahedin in the late 1980s. In fact they were a popular, homegrown phenomenon perfectly situated to frame themselves as a nationalist resistance organization. To whatever extent that Afghans felt “abandoned,” they wanted cash and infrastructure with no strings attached. Instead we imposed a corrupt puppet regime that they viewed as a humiliation.

            The main casus belli, revenge for 9/11, fell apart after the world’s most wanted man was found and assassinated in Pakistan in 2011. If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan? Why were we paying his Pakistani hosts billions of dollars? Voter support for the war evaporated after the killing of bin Laden.

            Barack Obama said “we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq,” which he called the “dumb war.” He argued that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan.” Now most people agree that they were both dumb.

            How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

First we must remember how most wars start—with government lies. From the Tonkin Gulf non-incident to fairy tales about Iraqi soldiers yanking Kuwaiti babies out of ventilators to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, American presidents, generals and media stenographers have conned one gullible generation after another into killing and being killed. The truth eventually comes out. By then, though, it’s too late.

            The next time a president goes on TV to tell us we ought to go to war, we should turn our skepticism dial up to 11. After all, we’ve been lied to so often in the past—why give them any benefit of the doubt?

            Ironically for a country whose values center around free-thinking and rugged individuality, naïvely going along with the call to war is hardwired into our political culture, no matter how outlandish the justification. If the president asks us to sacrifice our lives in a war, we’re expected to comply, no questions asked.

Consider the infamous Supreme Court decision in which chief justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously wrote that “protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” In the case in question, Holmes continued, “the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger…”

In Schenck v. United States the court ruled that, when it comes to war, there is no room for vigorous debate, much less dissent—First Amendment be damned.

 The subject of that case is lost to history: Socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were jailed for the crime of mailing out flyers urging men to resist the military draft during World War I. The “clear and present danger” was not to the country itself. It was to pro-war propaganda. What if the leftists’ argument were to succeed? What if the government had to work harder in order to convince young men to fight and die in the charnel house across the Atlantic?

Holmes came to regret his decision and Schenck was partly overturned and discredited. Yet schoolchildren are still taught that the First Amendment runs into limits with “shouting fire in a theatre.” Those who ought to know better, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, went so far as to write that “while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, no one has a right to falsely shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” in an op-ed favoring gun control in 2012.

 As Christopher Hitchens noted, the governments of Europe and the United States lit and fanned the flames of a war most of its combatants believed to have been pointless. The socialist pacifists were trying to restore sanity.

            Someday, no doubt sooner rather than later, this president or the next will take to the airwaves in order to ask us to support another war. War is the most serious undertaking that a nation-state ever considers. It is therefore the highest duty of every citizen to carefully weigh the evidence and justification given to attack a foreign adversary with an open mind including the jaundiced knowledge that such arguments often unravel after the spilling of a lot of blood.

            If we had lived up to our civic duty back in 2001, we would have done a little digging ourselves. We would have paid attention to the fact that none of the 19 hijackers was from Afghanistan. We would have noted the news reports that bin Laden was already in Pakistan and that the majority of Al Qaeda’s training facilities were also in that country, not in Afghanistan. We would have listened to academic experts and veterans of Russia’s failed occupation during the 1970s and 1980s, who warned that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires” because the one thing that pulled its people together was hatred of foreign invaders.

            We should not have given George W. Bush a blank check to invade a sovereign state that never attacked us and never meant us harm. We should have withheld our support and tacit consent. We should have protested and demanded that Congress stop the war before it began.

            We should never again take a presidential call to war at face value.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No One Should Be Sad When George H.W. Bush Dies (Probably Soon)

            The curtain is about to fall on George Herbert Walker Bush, known colloquially as Bush 41, or simply 41. The patriarch is, if not exactly dying, no longer doing well enough to want to be seen much in public. The final taxi, as Wreckless Eric sang memorably though not famously, awaits.

Do not believe the soon-to-be-everywhere hype.

Dubya’s dad is and was a very bad man.

No one should forget that.

The old Skull and Bones man has skillfully set the stage for — not his rehabilitation exactly, for he was never shamed (though he much deserved it) — his rescue from the presidential footnotery familiar to schoolchildren, that of the Adamsian “oh yeah, there was also that Quincy” variety. The centerpiece of this so-far-going-splendidly historical legacy offensive is his authorized biography by Jon Meacham, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” a demi-hagiographic positioning of HW as a moderate last half of the 20th century Zelig.

This has been done before, compellingly and brilliantly, in Robert Caro’s soon-to-be five-volume (!) biography of LBJ. Caro uses LBJ as a window into his times; that’s what Meacham is up to too. But there’s a big whopping difference between the subjects. LBJ was a man of principle who was also a cynical SOB; Vietnam tarnished his amazing civil-rights legacy. He knew that and regretted it until he died. Dude was complicated.

There is, sadly, little evidence that Bush ever had a big ol’ destiny in mind, good or bad. He may be the first of that crop of presidents who followed them (excepting, perhaps, ironically, his son after 9/11) whose main goal in life was accomplished when he won a presidential election. Clinton and Obama and perhaps Hillary next, they all figured they’d figure out how and why to change America after they took office and some stuff to react to happened (OK, that includes W).

“Mr. Bush may never have achieved greatness. But he’s led a long and remarkable life, which has spanned the better part of the 20th century. He fought in World War II. He started a successful oil business. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives; he served as ambassador to the United Nations and as American liaison to China; he ran the Republican National Committee and, far more important, the C.I.A. He was vice president for eight years and president for four. At 90, he jumped out of an airplane,” Jennifer Senior writes in the New York Times Book Review.

Pardon my shrug. Dude’s a boy Hillary. Great résumé. What did you accomplish at all those gigs? Even at the CIA, he’s remembered for…

Yeah.

Where there’s a record starts with his 1988 run for president. Neither the advantages of incumbency as Reagan’s vice president nor his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’ awkwardness on the campaign trail were enough for him; he felt it necessary to deploy scorched-earth tactics to obliterate a good man, albeit a politician not prepared for the national stage against a GOP that had turned rabidly right under Reagan. Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” ad remains a colossus of scurrilous race-baiting, a dismal precedent that paved the way for Bush 43’s racist whispering campaign targeting John McCain’s adopted daughter in the South Carolina primary and Donald Trump’s glib desire to subject the nation’s Muslims to an Americanized Nuremberg Law.

We won’t hear about Willie Horton during “ain’t it sad HW died” week.

“His campaign tactics may have been ruthless, but in person he was unfailingly decent and courteous, commanding remarkable levels of loyalty. Character was his calling card, not ideas. To the extent that he had one at all, his governing philosophy was solid stewardship: leading calmly and prudently, making sure the ship was in good form, with the chairs properly arranged on the decks,” Senior writes.

Of course he was polite. He’s a WASP. But does it matter? A public figure isn’t notable for what he does behind closed doors.

And Hitler liked dogs and kids.

Bush deserves, as do we all, to be judged for what he set out to do.

It is by his own standards — his wish to leave the ship of state ship-shape when he left for Kennebunkport in 1993 — that he falls terribly short.

It was the economy, stupid…and he was the stupid one. After the stock market crashed in 1989, HW sat on his hands, waiting for the recession to magically go away. As the invisible hand of the marketplace dithered and dawdled, the housing market crashed too. Millions lost their jobs. Countless businesses went under. Lots of misery, much of it avoidable. Much of which could have been mitigated with a little action from the Fed and a Keynesian stimulus package. He did little.

By the time he left, everyone, not least Wall Street traders, breathed a sigh of relief that there was going to be someone at the wheel going forward.

There were, of course, the wars. There’s his good war against Iraq, for which he gets credit for merely slaughtering Saddam’s army as they retreated down the “highway of death” and not going on to kill everyone in Baghdad, as his stupid bloodthirsty son tried to do. Mainly, the Gulf War is a plus because few Americans died in combat (some “war” dead were killed in forklift accidents). Still, it was a war that needn’t have been fought in the first place.

In a now largely forgotten episode, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — then a U.S. buddy — asked permission to invade Kuwait, which was “slant drilling” into Iraqi oilfields and undercutting OPEC cartel prices. It being August, all the big names were away on vacation, so Saddam took the word of a low-level drone at the State Department that everything was cool.

It wasn’t.

If Bush had been a decent manager — the kind of guy who arranges the deck chairs — he would have had better people handling his pet tyrants.

Then there’s the truly sorry invasion of Panama. No one remembers now, but this was Bush’s first personnel dispute with a dictator. General Manuel Noriega was getting uppity, HW decided to put him in his place, the Marines slaughtered thousands of Panamanians. Really, for no reason.

Certainly without justification. Noriega was sent to a US prison, having spent more than two decades on trumped-up cocaine charges. Which you might care about. Noriega wasn’t a nice guy, right?

The trouble is, treating a sovereign head of state like a common criminal scumbag sets some bad precedents.

Now, when the US approaches guys like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to suggest that he leave office, he digs in his heels for fear of winding up in prison or worse. Back in the pre-Panama days, you could convince a guy like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to fly to Hawaii with a duffel bag full of bullion, so everyone could move on.

There’s the goose-gander thing. Why shouldn’t Assad be able to argue that Obama ought to be imprisoned for breaking Syrian law, like those against funding terrorist groups like ISIS?

Bush’s biggest boner may have been his hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than help Russia and the other former Soviet republics come in for a soft post-socialist landing, as in China after Mao, Bush’s guys quietly rejoiced in the mayhem.

Clinton gave us “shock economics,” Yeltsin, mass starvation, the destruction of Grozny and the oligarchs — but Bush set the stage for a mess with which we, and more importantly the Russians, are dealing today.

Any way you look at it, George Bush Senior left the world worse off than it was.

The possibility that he may have been courteous to his minions and henchmen doesn’t change that.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama Starts Gulf War III — And His Pet Media Is Helping

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They can’t help themselves.

Whatever the situation, the reaction of U.S. policymakers is more war.

Weak economy? War will get things going. Strong economy? Military spending will cool it off.

Two wars in the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq) finally winding down (because we’ve lost and people are sick of them)? Time to ramp up secret arms sales to a pair of pipsqueak insurgencies (Libya and Syria).

Other superpowers love militarism. But only the United States would send troops, rather than aid workers, to people devastated by natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes…even within the United States.

As Joel Andreas put it in his seminal graphic novel-format comic, American politicians are addicted to war. And we — even those who identify with the antiwar left — are like an addict’s long-suffering spouse, trapped in a dysfunctional relationship where we enable the militarism we claim to deplore.

The ruling elite’s addiction to militarism is fully visible in President Obama’s announcement that he plans to re-invade Iraq. He’s starting small, with a few hundred military advisers and maybe (i.e., probably) airstrikes via the precise, never-fails, cares-so-much-about civilians technology of drones. Sending a few hundred military advisers was, of course, how JFK initiated America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

But we’ve already been through all that in Iraq. We invaded. We propped up a wildly unpopular pro-U.S. puppet regime. We fought. We lost — and lost big. We withdrew. Now our pet autocracy is collapsing. In Vietnam time, it’s 1975 in Iraq. This is supposed to be the part where we burn stacks of $100 bills, push Hueys into the sea, shove desperate locals off the roof of the embassy in Saigon/Baghdad and get out. Twenty or so years later, we come back and invade the right way — as obnoxious tourists and predatory sneaker company executives.

What’s up with Obama? Why is he treating Iraq like it’s Vietnam in 1962 — as though this were one of those hey, let’s just send a little help and see what happens affairs, as in there’s no way, no how “combat troops” (as opposed to non-combat troops) are going in (again), unless they do?

Even by presidential standards, Obama’s behavior is bizarre. Somewhere in the multiverse there must be one version of this story in which a half-dozen cabinet members, steeled in their resolve by the support of the Secret Service, rush into the Oval Office and bundle the President off to an institution that can give him the treatment he seems to require.

Alas, we live here.

In this weirdass country, the President’s re-invasion of Iraq is supported by 320 million enablers — not least of whom is the media.

It’s not just the sickening worship of all things soldierly, as when so-called journalists say “thank you for your service” to armchair generals who will never be on the wrong end of a shot fired in anger. The media drowns us in so much misinformation that it’s impossible for all but the most dedicated between-the-lines readers to come to an intelligent assessment of the facts.

Consider, for example, The New York Times. Given how often the paper has gotten burned by its pro-militarist establishmentarianism (supporting the failed right-wing coup attempt against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, not returning Edward Snowden’s phone call), you’d think its editors would be reluctant to support Gulf War III.

And yet.

A June 17th piece bearing the headline “Your Iraq Questions, Answered,” in which Times reporters reply to readers, is illustrative.

One reader asks: “ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamist insurgent militia threatening the U.S. puppet regime of Nouri al-Maliki, currently in control of half the country] seems to have legit online following. Is this reflective of support on the ground?”

Rod Nordland, Kabul bureau chief but reporting from Iraq, replies: ISIS has a huge and very aggressive social media operation, but I don’t know how anyone could characterize that as a legitimate following. I suspect a lot of their followers, clicks and retweets are voyeuristic because the material posted is so bloody and savage, and ISIS is completely unapologetic about it. Hopefully, most of their following is aghast.”

So much for any smidge of journalistic objectivity.

Then things turn really stupid:

“Most people in the territory ISIS controls do not seem terribly supportive of them, but they hate the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government far more, and ISIS takes pains to treat the Sunnis in their dominions with consideration — at least at first. That is the central challenge that the Iraqi government faces, to convince people in ISIS-dominated areas that their government wants to include them, and has more to offer than the ISIS extremists.”

Anyone who has studied history or read Che Guevara — which you’d hope an employee of The New York Times might have done — knows that ISIS, as a guerilla army outgunned and outmanned by the central government it seeks to overthrow, would never have gotten as far as it has without substantial support among civilians.

Even more egregious than Nordland’s failure to convey this truism to Times readers is his closing combination of childlike naiveté and taking sides. Maliki has been in office for eight years. If he were interested in building a pluralistic post-sectarian political coalition, rather than ruthlessly excluding all but his own Shiites from positions of influence, he would have done so by now. Even with ISIS on the road toward Baghdad, he hasn’t shifted his Shiite-centric approach.

With the most respected news source in the United States spoon-feeding such nonsense, it’s no wonder we can’t break free of the militarist traps laid for Pentagon generals by defense contractors, for the President by his generals and for us by the President.

When’s the last time you read an uncompromising antiwar opinion on the op-ed page of a major newspaper? Have you ever seen someone completely against war interviewed on network television news — even on “liberal” MSNBC? Even the state radio for the intellectual elite, NPR, rarely grants airtime to experts who oppose militarism. I’m an addict — to news — and I can honestly say that it’s rare to see more than one antiwar talking head on TV in a year…and that’s on daytime shows with low viewership.

As long as the alternatives to war aren’t allowed a voice, our addiction to war is safe.

(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “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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