My CSM oped on need for negotiated transition in Syria

People with an interest in escalating tensions and sowing conflict within Middle Eastern countries always say “There is no time!” for diplomacy or negotiation…. and that “If lives are to be saved then we have to take military action…”
In mid-March, I was stunned to see how rapidly those arguments took hold among “western” political elites, within the space of just a few days, with regard to Libya. So I looked around to see where they might be deployed by those same people again and, in the interest of trying to head off yet another horrendous western military adventure (conducted, as in Libya, under the guise of an “urgent humanitarian intervention”) I started thinking about what all of us in the global antiwar movement could do to draw up constructive and timely proposals for determinedly non-violent policies that could help to de-escalate the tensions in troubled countries and then move speedily to defusing the and resolving the very real political problems that have been the cause of these conflicts.
On March 28, I published this modest blog post, titled “What can be done in Syria (and could have been done in Libya)”.
Then I thought about it all a bit more. I have of course been following the news from Syria: Gradually escalating protest gatherings, many of them nonviolent but with some acts by armed insurgents at the fringes of some of them (as in Banias on April 10); A regime response on the streets that has been considerably more measured than that of the Bahraini-Saudi security forces in Bahrain (or, that of Qadhdhafi, in Libya) but that has still, by now, killed just over 200 people: The president, Bashar al-Asad, trying to announce some small steps of reform– but probably far too little, too late; and his and the Baath Party’s organizing of sizeable counter-demonstrations.
I’ve also taken notes of interventions like this one (Ar.) from veteran Syrian democracy activist Michel Kilo, which is titled “Yes, there is no alternative to a political solution”.
So on Tuesday I wrote an op-ed on the subject for the Christian Science Monitor— my first piece there for a long time. It was published on their website today under the title Syria protests: Is there a peaceful path to democracy?
I really want people, here in the U.S., there in Syria, and everywhere else, to be thinking a lot harder about how all the many wonderful tools of diplomacy can be deployed in the interest of helping people from all sides and factions in Syria start to figure out new, much more democratic (that is, egalitarian and accountable) ways to organize their political life together.
I based this particular proposal on some writing I did in Al-Hayat back in the 1990s, when I was arguing that the political situations inside both Iraq and Syria were similar to Apartheid-era South Africa in that in both those countries, members of a minority group were controlling all the levers of power (and in effect using the pan-Arabist ideology of Baathism to mask that fact), and using their national-security apparatuses and the ever-present risk of war to quell any internal dissent in the name of protecting that part of the Arab homeland…
In Syria’s case, I know the country has real enemies. Israel is still, quite illegally, occupying Syria’s fertile Golan region which it has also (even more illegally) annexed to itself! The U.S. has had a determined policy of supporting a covert form of regime change in Syria, for many years. But just because a country has real enemies doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t also exploit fears of “national security” threats in order to quell internal dissent.
So because I care a lot about Syria and have friends at every point on the country’s political spectrum, I really do want them to be able to escape the complex and harmful political tangle they have found themselves in after 48 years of single-party, Baathist rule… And I really hope they can do this without suffering the train of even worse worse consequences that followed the overthrow of the (as it happens, deeply competing) Baathist regime in Iraq at the extremely violent hands of the U.S. military.
Which brought me– back in the 1990s, and again today– back to South Africa, and the way that the 40-plus years of single-party “National Party” minority rule there was ended through the four-year-long, on-again-off-again negotiation that ran from 1990 through 1994. That transition to democracy was very far indeed from wholly peaceful, and it has been very far from successful in resolving all the country’s problems in the 17 years since 1994. But still, South Africa’s transition was successful at the political level in creating a new, much more democratic and inclusive political system and a new, much more inclusive political culture and sense of national belonging among all the country’s people.
And crucially, the “slaughter of whites” that many “white” South Africans feared would happen once the people of other races were given political power… never happened. Despite all the centuries of violence and repression that the country’s people had experienced since the arrival of the first “white” colonists, the negotiations of 1990-94 finally allowed them to escape from the previous, long-sustained cycles of killing, retribution, despair, more killing, and mayhem without end.
So that kind of a negotiated “grand bargain” is what I would hope, for Syria’s people. I could write a lot more about this… And I am sure there must be some other, better ideas out there, too. So let’s talk about them! Let’s focus on discussing nonviolent, political and diplomatic actions that can be taken… so that no-one again can stand up again and make the claim that “There is no time for diplomacy at this point! There is no alternative to taking military action!”
There is always an alternative. Here, in the case of Syria, is one modest sketch of a suggestion.

Cordesman on the slippery slope of warmaking

I generally have broad respect for the military assessments made by Anthony Cordesman, and his latest assessment of the situation in Samantha’s War in Libya contains much excellent analysis.
Including this opening paragraph:

    At some point in time, it will be critical to examine the historical record behind the French, British, and US intervention in Libya and why they dragged NATO and allies like Qatar and the UAE into such a gamble. It seems likely, however, that the choice to act came after watching the rebels advance with seeming ease towards Qaddafi’s overthrow and suffer what still seemed like limited reverses. Given past cases, it is likely that regional, intelligence, and military experts in each country all expressed caution and gave warning about the problems and uncertainties involved, but were overruled by their respective political leaders – who saw their staffs as needlessly cautious.
    What is already certain is that the end result was a set of decisions that focused on short term considerations and bet on the outcome…

Then, this:

    there is nothing amusing about the fact that the lives and futures of some 6.6 million Libyans are at stake. The Franco-Anglo-American gamble now seems far too likely to fail at their expense. Moreover, it seems likely to drag the other nations that support the operation into their failure — along with part of the reputation of NATO and credibility of the UN…
    A weak, divided, poorly led, and badly equipped and supplied set of rebel forces can only hang on with the present level of air support. Yesterday’s announcement that British and French military advisors are going to help is not going to alter that situation quickly. It will take months more – at a minimum – to properly train and equip them and it will take a radical shift in rebel leadership to give them meaningful unity and discipline.
    In the interim an enduring war of attrition will turn a minor humanitarian crisis into a major one

So what does Cordesman recommend? If he truly had the “humanitarian” interests of the Libyan people as his prime goal, surely he would join me in calling an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and the speedy deployment of all international diplomatic mechanisms possible, with the aim of resolving the very tough political matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents.
But no. He argues instead for a massive escalation of the western war effort:

    France, Britain, the US and other participating members of the Coalition need to shift to the kind of bombing campaign that targets and hunts down Qaddafi’s military and security forces in their bases and as they move – as long before they engage rebel forces as possible. Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters need to be targeted for their attacks on Libyan civilians, even if they are collocated in civilian areas. They need to be confronted with the choice between exile or death, and bombing needs to be intense enough so it is clear to them that they must make a choice as soon as possible.
    This kind of operation cannot be “surgical’ – if “surgical” now means minimizing bloodshed regardless of whether the patient dies. Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Coalition will also need to avoid the trap of blundering into some kind of ceasefire

His text illustrates something very important about the nature of war. War is a slippery slope. Once you think it’s okay to engage in it, it can very easily face you with exactly the same kind of tough dilemma that Cordesman describes.
For what it’s worth, I think he may be right that, as between launching a huge, “a-l’outrance” escalation now and continuing with the current half-hearted western war effort, probably the escalatory approach would cause less human suffering over the short run of, let’s say, six months.
But then what? As we saw in Iraq, 2003, even a decisive western military victory that succeeds in ousting a hated Arab opponent doesn’t solve the problems of that country’s people. Indeed, in Iraq, on April 9, 2003 the Iraqi people’s travails had barely started to begin.
Look, I have a personal confession to make. Back in 1991, during the early days of the (very speedy) western military campaign to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, I was still a supporter of the utility of war (under some circumstances.) Up to the eve of Operation Desert Storm, I had been publicly urging Pres. Bush to give diplomacy and negotiation every single chance he could. But when he did not do that but instead launched the military effort, I then publicly urged him– as Cordesman does here– to pursue the war wholeheartedly and with massive force, in order to make it short and decisive.
Afterwards, I hated myself for having written those belligerent newspaper columns; and sometime in the mid-1990s I became a completely convinced pacifist.
I completely understand the technical-military expertise and deep realism that Anthony Cordesman brings to his analysis. And I believe that Cordesman– unlike so many of the armchair analysts and liberal hawks who have been baying for this war– does have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of warfare. But because of my own experience in 1991, I urge him to follow the path I adopted in the years after 1991… Above all, people should never let themselves get railroaded and rushed into reaching the conclusion that “only” war can solve their problems. This is never the case. There is always a better way.

Obama’s (and Sarkozy’s) nonexistent ‘casus belli’ in Libya

Hat-tip to Harvard’s Steve Walt for this fine article, in which he identified and linked to two other fine articles that took apart the ‘rationale’ adduced by Presidents Sarkozy and Obama for their decision to undertake acts of war against Libya on March 19.
In this one, the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Chapman writes,

    In his March 26 radio address, Obama said the United States acted because Gadhafi threatened “a bloodbath.” Two days later, he asserted, “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
    Really? Obama implied that, absent our intervention, Gadhafi might have killed nearly 700,000 people, putting it in a class with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. White House adviser Dennis Ross was only slightly less alarmist when he reportedly cited “the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred.”
    But these are outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them” — but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.
    “We have left the way open to them,” he said. “Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” He pledged that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”

He also quotes Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, as having said,

    Qadhafi did not massacre civilians in any of the other big cities he captured — Zawiya, Misrata, Ajdabiya — which together have a population equal to Benghazi. Yes, civilians were killed in a typical, ham-handed, Third World counterinsurgency. But civilians were not targeted for massacre as in Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, or even Kosovo after NATO intervention.

Chapman also wrote,

    I emailed the White House press office several times asking for concrete evidence of the danger, based on any information the administration may have. But a spokesman declined to comment.
    That’s a surprising omission, given that a looming holocaust was the centerpiece of the president’s case for war. Absent specific, reliable evidence, we have to wonder if the president succumbed to unwarranted panic over fictitious dangers.

The second article that Walt linked to in that section was this March 22 piece by Alan Kuperman himself. Kuperman is a very thoughtful analyst of the uses and many known abuses for the concept of humanitarian “intervention”, whose work I think I have cited here on JWN before.
He argues,

    Proponents of such intervention claim it is the only way to protect Libya’s populace. But intervening actually magnifies the threat to civilians in Libya, and beyond. That is because armed uprisings, such as Libya’s, typically provoke massive state retaliation that harms innocents. By contrast, non-violent movements, as in Egypt and Tunisia, rarely trigger so brutal a response.
    By helping rebels, we thus increase the risk of retaliatory massacres or even genocide. Indeed, The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was ” provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.

Kuperman makes these very poignant points:

    But did Gadhafi massacre civilians or plan to commit genocide?
    His forces certainly harmed innocents while defeating rebels in urban areas, as U.S. forces have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did threaten “no mercy” in Benghazi, but Gadhafi directed this threat only at rebels to persuade them to flee. Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.
    No-win situation
    Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked. Tragically, this same dynamic has cost thousands of lives in other wars.
    In Bosnia’s conflict of the early 1990s, for example, the most influential Muslim politician, Omer Behmen, later told me that his whole strategy was to ” put up a fight for long enough to bring in the international community.” The result? Three years of war and 100,000 dead.
    In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.” NATO’s intervention backfired by escalating the conflict, leaving 10,000 dead and a million expelled from their homes.
    In Darfur, Sudan, the top rebel leader fought for three years and then rejected a peace offer in 2006, despite retaliation that killed more than 100,000. Abdul Wahid al Nur later explained that he was waiting for greater U.S. and British intervention “like in Bosnia.”

His piece ends with a really helpful, five-point plan to try to ensure that “humanitarian” support does not end up getting used/abused to fuel cycles of violence that increase the suffering of noncombatants.
The three key ones are:

    •Deliver purely humanitarian aid — food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical care — in ways that minimize the benefit to rebels. The United States admirably is delivering supplies to Libyan refugees across the border in Tunisia and Egypt. But we should ensure that relief sites do not become rear bases for Libya’s rebels. If local governments are unwilling to patrol the refugee encampments, we should organize multilateral policing.
    •Expend substantial resources to persuade states to address the legitimate grievances of non-violent domestic groups. Ironically, Obama has applied little pressure on Yemen and Bahrain, which slaughtered peaceful protesters, but he bombed Libya for responding to armed rebels. This sends precisely the wrong message to the Arab street: If you want U.S. support, resort to violence.
    •Do not coerce regime change or surrender of sovereignty unless also taking precautions against violent backlash — such as golden parachutes, power-sharing, or preventive military intervention. If the White House insists on Gadhafi’s departure, it should guarantee asylum for him and a continuing share of power for his senior officials and allied tribes. Simply demanding regime change could drive him to genocidal violence as a last resort, while the international community lacks the will for a preventive deployment of ground troops.

I have to confess I have been in a near-depressive state since March 19, the day Pres. Obama launched the current, extremely irresponsible and damaging (bordering on criminal) NATO-GCC attack on Libya. Okay, I admit that maybe I was naive, believing a good amount of “that hope-changey thing” that Obama promised us when he was a candidate. A good part of why I supported his presidential bid with such energy was precisely because, back in 2003, he’d opposed the decision to attack Iraq… Then he launched the escalation of the war in Afghanistan… And now, he’s launched this other, completely avoidable war.
I’ve been quite depressed, too, to see how many of my friends and close allies have supported this latest war, on allegedly “liberal” or “pro-liberation” grounds that, while I understand what they’re talking about, I find absolutely unconvincing.
As Chapman and Kuperman persistently asked: where was the evidence for the imminence of any act of mass atrocity in Benghazi??
Back on March 27, I blogged about the report the on-the-ground ICRC delegation published about the humanitarian situation in and around Benghazi on March 18. No mention there of any impending humanitarian disaster. Indeed, from the actually humanitarian (as opposed to faux-humanitarian) point of view, the situation in Benghazi was apparently getting a little better on March 18, with aid shipments getting through, etc.
… Oh yes, plenty to get depressed about. But I have two exciting books my publishing company is working on and some pretty exciting (fingers crossed!) developments in the family, as well… And getting depressed certainly doesn’t help anyone build the kind of awareness and the kind of movement that is needed to bring an end to all these insane wars.
Also, lest I forget, the whole of Steve Walt’s piece there, “Is America Addicted to War?”, is definitely worth reading.

This is what good statecraft looks like

Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store has a terrific piece titled “Why We Must Talk” in a recent issue of the NY Review of Books. In it, he makes a strong argument why “we”– in this case, I think, western advocates of democracy– need to start talking seriously to, among other, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Here is the core of his argument:

    Many of those who most strongly oppose dialogue in international relations prefer to live in a world they wish existed. Some of them believe that imposing a particular political system in other countries by the use of force is worth large expenditures of wealth and of life. Others take the view that a “clash of civilizations” requires us to build walls to protect our society from an inevitable global threat. Some maintain that the willingness to negotiate and compromise will be interpreted as a sign of moral and military weakness. None of these approaches points to a plausible way forward. And the cost of pursuing any of them is high.
    In contrast, defending and employing dialogue is neither a naive nor utopian strategy. It shows strength to be willing to talk to the adversary. It is not weakness. And it is not cowardice to debate your opponent and try to persuade the world to follow you by speaking your values. It may take some courage.
    In this sense, the defense of dialogue springs from a perspective best described as principled realism—an approach that attempts to find solutions that both improve the world and recognize the constraints of the current global order. As defenders of dialogue, we always keep open the option of walking away rather than talking. But we also believe that we shouldn’t be so quick to do so. The fact that there may be some positions and conflicts that cannot be resolved does not mean that the possibilities of dialogue shouldn’t be actively explored. Dialogue is more important to our globalized world than it ever has been. We must therefore defend it all the more strongly. At a time that seemed far more dangerous than our own, John F. Kennedy formulated the principle that has since been too often disregarded: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The essence of democracy, after all, is the proposition that political differences must be resolved through discussion and deliberation based on mutual respect and the key notion of the equality of all human persons, rather than through the application of brute force or the application of superior power. And this is not just the case at the domestic level: It also applies between nations.
I am so glad Store made this case– which is very similar to the case made by Turkey’s current leaders, too, as well as by many Swiss officials. If these important actors in the community of democratic nations are making this case, why is it so very hard for politicians in the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world” to see the value of these arguments?

Arab tragedies and role of the “west”

Today is the eighth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and today the US is preparing to once again join a military action against an Arab country, Libya.
I wonder how many of Pres. Obama’s advisers have ever even heard the term “Tripartite Aggression”? That is the way Arabs refer to the military action– which also had a veneer of UN respectability– that Britain, France, and Israel launched against Egypt in 1956.
Now, those two long-faded European powers have once again been preparing to take part in a tripartite act of war against an Arab country. And this time, the third party is the United States.
At a time when U.S. allies Bahrain and Yemen have been cracking down very lethally on internal protesters, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the “western” powers to send their military in to punish Col. Qadhdhafi for doing the same in Libya.
What makes the contrast even more poignant is that in Bahrain, at least– and to a large extent also in Yemen– the protesters restrained their actions to acts of nonviolent mass protest, whereas in Libya from very early on the anti-Qadhdhafi movement took on the full aspect of a military insurrection. The Libyan protesters stormed armories and barracks, handed out weapons to all comers, and worked actively to persuade serving military officers to turn their arms against the government forces.
So it is that armed insurrection that the “western” powers are now supporting, while Bahrain’s nonviolent democracy activists are being mown down by western arms in their own streets.
How will it end in Libya? Who knows? The animal spirits of warfare take their own course, as we have seen in Iraq over the past eight years. The invasion of Iraq has notably not turned out well– either for the Iraqi people themselves, whose society was largely destroyed during the fitna (social chaos) that followed, or for the “west”, since the political upshot in Iraq has been an extension of significant Iranian power into the whole country.
55 years ago, the British-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt didn’t turn out well for the “western” powers involved, either. For Britain, 1956 was essentially a last gasp of empire that completely overstretched the London’s capabilities and led almost directly to the collapse of Britain’s ability to extend its power “East of Suez”.
How will this all end in Libya? I suppose there is still time for determined diplomacy by well-meaning non-belligerent powers to get both sides to back down and agree to the ceasefire earlier specified by the Security Council. If so, that ceasefire needs to be monitored. A monitoring body acceptable to both sides needs to be formed. The terms of national reconciliation would need to be negotiated.
The French, however, and the British, and several of those Arab countries that have been so eager to crush the nonviolent democracy in Bahrain, all seem determined to get into the fight against Qadhdhafi, most likely with the aim of bringing him down. (Correction: the Arab powers have been eager to instigate others to get into the fight, not to do it themselves.)
The attempt to act through imposing (among other things) a “no-fly zone” that would, in the view of the authors of this proposal, serve to handicap the Tripoli forces considerably met with a rather severe challenge today, when a first plane was shot down over the rebels’ stronghold in Benghazi– but it turned out to be a rebel-piloted Mirage. If both the rebels and the government forces have planes in the air liable to being shot down, how can the western forces discriminate between them? (And anyway, the no-fly rule is definitely supposed to apply to everyone.)
But let’s say the western forces do take military action. What then? All the commentators in their capitals say they are ready only for a short engagement– nothing like the no-fly zone and tight blockade that the US and UK maintained around Saddam’s Iraq for 12 long years, 1991-2003, causing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and costing the US a huge amount of money to maintain. So if they are really planning on a “short” engagement this time, it’s likely they are including a decapitation element in their plans. That is, killing Muammar Qadhdhafi in the presumed hope that something better might follow.
Do these people have no memory? Can they not even cast their minds back to the tragedy Iraq suffered after the regime was forcibly toppled there?
In the imagination of some, like Samantha Power and perhaps her boss Barrack Obama, war can be harnessed to worthy humanitarian ends.
Neither Samantha Power nor Barrack Obama has ever, as I have, lived in a war zone. War is quintessentially anti-humanitarian. It visits terrible suffering on children, women, and men– usually for many, many years.
Yes, the humanitarian/political challenge in Libya was searingly acute. (As has been the challenge in Bahrain, and Yemen.) All the powers in the world should be applying themselves to the goal of ratcheting down the violence and finding nonviolent ways to resolve both the underlying political problems and the host of new problems that have been caused by the act of armed insurrection itself.
I pray there is still time.

H. Shue on advanced militaries targeting civilian infrastructure

The Oxford philosopher and ethicist Henry Shue has just published an extremely important piece of analysis (PDF here, pp. 2-7) that unpacks the timely issue of why it is that first-world militaries that have well-stocked arsenals of Precision-Guided Munitions (PGMs, also known as ‘smart bombs’) are also among those agitating hardest to loosen up the constraints that the laws of war have placed on bombing civilian targets.
This matter has, of course, great relevance both to the practice of the U.S. and the Israeli militaries during their wars of recent years, and to the current Israeli campaigns against what that government calls “lawfare”, that is, the attempt made by many in the international community (but not the U.S. government) to hold Israel to the same standards of international law, including the laws of war, as everyone else.
Shue lays out the basic conundrum he is investigating in these terms:

Continue reading “H. Shue on advanced militaries targeting civilian infrastructure”

David Swanson’s ‘War is a Lie’

My neighbor and friend, the antiwar activist David Swanson, recently published a terrific book that takes on, one by one, all the main myths/lies that warmongers use to try to persuade people that wars are effective, moral, and necessary. The book’s title ‘War is a Lie’ is a subtle reference to (and its contents a good complement to) Smedley Butler’s 1935 classic study ‘War is a Racket’.
Here are some of David’s chapter titles:

    Wars Are Not Fought Against Evil
    Wars Are Not Launched in Defense
    Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity
    Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers
    Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields
    Wars Are Not Won, and Are Not Ended By Enlarging Them

David shares the fruits of some of his wide reading on the subject, packing really informative quotes and arguments into each chapter.
One of the most important chapters is Ch.8, “Wars are not fought on battlefields”. Here, he takes on the notion that many people still somehow have– and that also, I should note, is sustained to some degree by the way the international laws of war are framed– that warfare is something that takes place on a defined “field” that is outside and separate from heavily populated areas like cities… and that therefore the lethal effects of wars can somehow be prevented from inflicting too much damage on noncombatants. Well, that may have been the case back in the mid-19th century when the laws of war were first being framed. But the wars of the 20th century were increasingly fought in the midst of, and against, large concentrations of civilians. (And then, of course, there was Israel’s Gaza War of 2008-2009… ) So the notion that wars can somehow be ‘safely’ fought without harming civilians– or even, in the extreme warmongers’ fantasy, to help to ‘save’ civilians!– is clearly long out-of-date.
In that chapter, David notes further that within the war-planning and operations parts of the U.S. Pentagon and the CIA, the concept of a “battlefield” has been extended even further– to include just about anywhere where the U.S. government agencies feel they want to employ their lethal force, whether that is in (already war-ravaged) Somalia, (already war-ravaged) Yemen, Pakistan, or elsewhere… and also, that the protections that the U.S. Constitution gives to citizens at home in the U.S. are also, these days, frequently suspended in the name of a “war-on-terror”-related state of emergency. The “battlefield” has now become so large and so amorphous that it has swallowed us all up, to some degree.
Chapter 11, “War Does Not Bring Security and Is Not Sustainable” makes the key argument of the book. As I have argued here at Just World News for many years now– and also in my 2008 book “Re-Engage”– throughout the 20th century the instruments of military power were very rapidly losing their utility in real, geostrategic terms, that is, in terms of being able to actually realize and sustain the geopolitical goals their authors claimed for them. Indeed, in many cases, the use of military power rapidly ends up being seriously counter-productive for its user at the geostrategic level. The U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s assaults against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09 all fall into that category.
The reasons for the now actually counter-productive nature of warfare are several. But the three I would focus on are:

    (1) The fact that war wagers have progressively lost the capacity they once had to control the information environment, which throughout the 20th century became increasingly multi-faceted and globalized. That trend has accelerated in recent decades and cannot be reversed– thank G-d! So though the war wagers may continue with their lies and fabrications, they are no able to control what has now become an increasingly globalized, and multi-sourced, “message”.
    (2) The fact that norms of human equality became increasingly institutionalized and internalized throughout the 20th century. In the 19th century, colonial powers fought wars of extermination throughout the global south with only very infrequent references to the fact that the beings they were wiping out were actually just as fully human as themselves. (The one author I wish David had included in his book is Sven Lindqvist, whose “Exterminate All the Brutes” and “A History of Bombing” are really informative classics on this subject.)
    (3) The increasing financial burden that war waging and war preparations impose on countries that rely disproportionately on this instrument of global power. Does this development need explaining any more, today, to the U.S electorate???

Well, here we are in the 21st century of the Common Era, and given the violent history of the past decade, evidently the arguments about the disutility of warfare still need to be made, again and again and again… Depressing, really. But thank goodness David Swanson has taken up the effort. Buy the book!

D. Broder and the war fever in Washington

Just how serious the current, rising epidemic of war fever is in Washington DC is indicated by a column in today’s WaPo in which veteran pundit David Broder argues quite clearly that for Pres. Obama, “orchestrating a showdown” with the regime in Iran in 2011 and 2012 will be a successful policy at both the political level and that of the U.S. economy.
Broder, whom I hitherto long respected as a voice of relative (and relatively conservative) sanity on the Washington DC, seems to have lost his capacity for rational argument.
The last five paragraphs of his column need to examined in full:

    What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
    Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
    Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
    I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

The rhetorical thrust of that last paragraph is confused. “I am not suggesting… that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century… ”
The claim that he is “not suggesting … that the president incite a war to get reelected” is perhaps true in some purely technical sense. But if he is not suggesting that Obama “incite a war”, he certainly is arguing outright that,

    he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I almost do not know where to start in explaining the intensity of the disappointment I feel in reading this piece from Broder.
Let me try:
1. David Broder has not traditionally been one of the war-mongers (like Jackson Diehl, Jim Hoagland, etc) on the WaPo’s opinion page. I think I remember him expressing some caution when writing back in 2002 about the possibility of an imminent war with Iraq. If the irrationalities of war fever have reached even into David Broder’s soul at this time, then the miasmas in Washington must be even worse than I thought.
2. No-one who has any idea of the effects warfare has on the lives and livelihoods of the residents of the war-zone should ever talk or write glibly at all about the possibility of yet another of humankind’s too-long history of wars being launched. Broder may write that the implications of the possibility of another war “are frightening”. But then, he goes to say that Obama can— and also, by very strong implication should— do this if he wants to be “regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”
David Broder, what has happened to your sense of humanity??
3. At the purely “technical” level, the argument that launching a war (sorry, “orchestrating a showdown”) with Tehran will ipso facto be good for the U.S. economy is just mind-boggling. David Broder, don’t you remember all the claims made in 2002 that invading Iraq would help the U.S. economy by “bringing down the cost of oil”– and that even if that did not occur, well anyway, the whole invasion and occupation would be largely self-financing because the Iraqis and others would end up paying for it, not the U.S. taxpayer. Why, I believe you even argued against some of those claims back in 2002.
But what effect did the invasion of Iraq actually end up having on the U.S economy? It has been– continues to be– a horrendous drain, having eaten up more than $1 trillion already, and still counting.
Where, David Broder, can you find even one shred of evidence that a war against Iran would be any better for the U.S. economy than that?
Your FDR/World War II argument is flawed, as well. It was true that World War II ended up, at some level, being “good” for the U.S. economy. But by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that Pres. Roosevelt entered the war with the goal of improving the U.S. economy. For him and other members of his generation, the searing economic privations that they had seen the previous World War inflicting on Europe was a powerful disincentive to go to war. When Washington did enter the war it was because the U.S. Navy had been attacked.
No-one has attacked the U.S. on this occasion.
Indeed, the almost certain effects that a U.S. “showdown with the mullahs” would have on the world economy, and therefore on our own, are staggeringly negative. World oil markets could be brought to a standstill. Most other major players in the world economy would not blame Iran for this. They would blame the country that unnecessarily escalated the tensions with Iran toward the “showdown”. The costs they might impose on the U.S.– economically and in other ways– could well be staggering. (Remember that the soundness of the dollar is, actually, dependent on the kindness of strangers.)
… You mention none of these probable economic consequences of a war. Indeed, you don’t even attempt to adduce any evidence as to why, in the 2010’s, the forcing of a “showdown with the mullahs” could be good for the U.S. economy at all. You just write, “as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve;” and you use the facile comparison with FDR and World War II– which happened in an era when the world’s economy, as well as its political balance, were very different from today.
You are discussing an extremely serious issue here in a way that is intellectually lazy to the point of near-dishonesty, as well as mind-bogglingly belligerent.
David Broder, I am very disappointed.

Military spending: The real crisis for Israel and the U.S.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Didi Remez we learn that many of the ‘scare stories’ about Hizbullah, Lebanon etc, that have been coming out of Israel’s defense ministry in recent days have been motivated by– no, not any real concern about new developments in Lebanon, but more by a desire by defense minister Ehud Barak to fight hard against… the finance ministry’s current demands for spending cutbacks.
Remez translates into English an article in today’s Maariv that starts with this:

    “Ehud Barak is the most expensive defense minister in Israel’s history”; “The IDF is impertinently disregarding all of the Brodet Commission’s findings, while deceiving the public”; “it’s interesting how every time the military budget is on the table, they release from the stocks Hezbollah’s missile array and expose sensitive classified material,” — these are just some of the harsh statements that were heard over the weekend among senior Finance Ministry officials and directed against the IDF and the security establishment.
    A brutal struggle over the Defense Ministry’s budget is expected next week. Finance Ministry officials, headed by the finance minister versus the security establishment headed by the defense minister. A personal dual in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to give the final ruling.

Over at the excellent Global Issues blog, the info page on “World Military Spending” is headed by this great quote from U.S. founding father, proud Virginian, and president James Madison:

    Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Well, the folks in Israel who have turned down every attempt to broker a fair peace with their neighbors might have reflected on those words a few times over the past 62 years.
Israelis have been extremely lucky in the past 40 or so years to have had many of their military costs borne by the U.S. taxpayer through the always generous aid the U.S. congress has continued to send to Israel’s military. But many of Israel’s military costs– especially the manpower-related costs– can’t easily be dollarized, and therefore remain as a burden on the Israeli economy. ( Xinhua had this recent interesting article on the financial burden of Israel’s war-fighting and war-preparing projects.)
But in today’s United States, the picture of bloated military spending being sustained by (and in turn sustaining) the pursuit of numerous, apparently unresolvable wars– or, as it’s also known in mil-speak here, “the long war”– is exactly the same. And this, in the midst of a continuing, deep crisis in the civilian, real-world economy at home.
That page on the Global Issues site contains lots of very informative data, if you scroll down beneath James Madison. Including the stunning big pie chart that shows in ways no-one can misunderstand the fact that the U.S. (which has less than 5% of the world’s population) currently accounts for 46.5% of world military spending.
Of course this is not sustainable. Small wonder that current U.S. defense secretary Robert gates has spent quite a lot of time recently (e.g. here) trying to argue for some serious cuts in military spending.
But where to cut, and how? How to pull back the U.S. military from its present, extremely expensive engagement in war-zones (present and future) in more than 20 distant countries around the world– without further destabilizing those countries? And how to manage the loss of jobs in some U.S. communities that cutbacks of big-ticket weapons-system production would inevitably cause?
Those, of course, are the big strategic questions.
The U.S. public needs to start rationalizing our country’s interaction with the other 95% of humanity– and to start bringing our defense spending under some kind of real control– by taking the following steps:

    1. Let go of the idea that the U.S. is any kind of an “indispensable nation” when it comes to reducing inter-group tensions and building real, inclusive political stability in other countries around the world. We aren’t. Most often– including in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan– the injection of a heavily militarized U.S. presence has made the situation considerably worse for the peoples of those countries. Those peoples may (or may not) need help from outsiders to get their sharp internal problems resolved. But if they do, there are many, many other international actors– including regional groupings, ad-hoc groups of neighboring countries, or the U.N. itself– that are infinitely better equipped to provide that help than the geographically and culturally distant U.S., whose reliance on a heavily militarized foreign policy only exacerbates tensions wherever it goes.
    2. Work with the other countries of the world to regenerate the U.N. and other international institutions on a basis of real equality and mutual respect among the world’s peoples, rather than continued U.S./western dominance of those bodies.
    3. Start planning to convert our massive and bloated defense industries into industries that serve the regeneration of our civilian national economy. Factories producing MRAPs and Hummers? They could and should be turned into factories producing rail cars and modern, green buses. Factories producing surveillance drones and cruise missiles? Shouldn’t they be producing solar panels and the hardware needed for a decent national broadbank initiative, instead? Etc, etc.
    4. Establish programs around the U.S. to take advantage of the (non-lethal) skill-sets the military has worked hard to inculcate in its members, and put those skills to use in rebuilding our nation, first, from the level of individual communities that are currently under great stress through the level of repair and regeneration of our crumbling infrastructure. Supporters of the military and of military spending make one good argument when they note that the military has done well at building a building a strong workforce that is generally well integrated as between different races, ethnicities, and even (to some extent) between men and women. (Though not, alas, between straight people and gay people.) So now, let’s take some of the money that continues to pour into sustaining those units as military units, and re-form them as a Civilian Community-Building Corps, to work at home.

… Anyway, these are a few of my ideas right now. Not original, I know. But still, increasingly urgent for us all to think about. These wars are dragging us all down. And there is, certainly, a far, far better way for Americans and Israelis to resolve the problems we face in our relations with the rest of the world’s peoples.

My grandfather goes looking for his own grave (and other Maltese mysteries)

Ninety-five or so years ago a teenager in New Zealand, hearing news of the– perhaps still “heroic”– early phases of the British involvement in the Great War, was desperate to enlist, but too young to do so. So he borrowed his elder brother’s birth certificate and went to enlist in the Otago Rifles.
(What on earth were his parents thinking?)
I believe his name was Cyril Howard Marlow. His brother’s name was George Stanley Marlow, so that was the name Cyril adopted upon enlistment.
The family have, as yet, no records of the early months of his service. But I think that by August he was in Gallipoli, and perhaps had been there for some months already.
Conditions of service for all the New Zealanders who fought in World War I were extremely harsh, and they were achingly far from home. (There was even a Maori Battalion. Can you imagine the kinds of assignments they got, and how those Maoris serving a distant British king felt about it all?)
Gallipoli is a 20-mile-long peninsula that forms the northern shore of the vital Dardanelles Strait, that links the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara. The British imperial war command wanted to take the peninsula from the Ottoman Empire, and Australians and New Zealanders formed a significant part of the invasion force that landed in April 1915. Things did not go well for any of the invaders… By August 1915 they were badly bogged down; and that month saw some notable setbacks for them, as the nimble Ottoman defenders commanded by the 34-year-old Lt.-Col. Mustafa Kemal found ways to trap them and push them back.
(I’ve blogged previously about the importance the Gallipoli battles paradoxically came to have in the formation of Australian and N.Z. national identity, including here.)
So, back to Cyril Howard Marlow… What we do know about the lad is that, most likely, he was wounded at Gallipoli and evacuated on one of the stream of hospital ships that carried the casualties from there to military hospitals the British rapidly organized on the island of Malta.
On September 12, 1915, he died in one of those hospitals. He was buried under the name he’d used to enlist with, that of George Stanley Marlow, in the military cemetery at Pieta (Our Lady of Sorrows), a small town just outside the Maltese capital, Valetta.
Today, I went to visit his grave. The meticulous record-keeping of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) enabled me to find it fairly easily.
George Stanley Marlow was my grandfather. He lived in London by the time Cyril Howard died. Seven months after Cyril’s death, George’s wife gave birth to their first child, who was my mother.
Later, the couple had another daughter, and then a much longed-for son. The son was named Howard Norman, in memory of his paternal uncle, deceased at Gallipoli, and his maternal uncle Norman Williams, who also perished in World War I.
Howard Norman Marlow enlisted as an aviator in World war II and was killed in North Africa.
The cemetery in which Cyril Howard Marlow lies is a testament to the tragedy and criminality of war. The grave he is buried in– like all those in the WW-I section of the cemetery– contains the bodies of three deceased servicemen. The CWGC says on its website that this because of the difficulty of digging numerous, appropriately deep graves during the conditions of war. That’s as may be. But what also became evident from the walk I took around the cemetery was that in the weeks between late August 1915 and the middle of October, the Commonwealth soldiers were being buried there at an extremely fast rate. In fact, just about all of the graves I saw in the section of the cemetery, which contains the crammed-together remains of more than 1,300 soldiers– most of them Brits but with a strong representation of “ANZACs”– had dates of death listed in just that short, seven-week period of late summer 1915.
If those were the ones who survived long enough to die on Malta, imagine how many more died in the hospital ships along the way and had to be buried at sea. Imagine how many more died on the field of battle itself.
So I guess that Cyril Howard was “lucky” to survive as long as he did and to end up buried in a sweet, peaceful cemetery in Pieta, Malta, in a place where his great-niece can come visit his grave.
One of my sisters tells me that my grandfather came to Malta once, to visit his little brother’s grave. That must have been an odd sensation– seeing your own name on a gravestone.
But he died in 1956 or so, when I was still a little girl, so I can’t ask him about it.
… And then, of course, I can’t help but contrast my own ability to go pay my respects at the grave of this ancestor, and the way the CWGC carefully tends the graves of the British dead around the world, with the way the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles has been trying to tear up the extremely ancient Ma’moun Allah (“Mamilla”) cemetery in West Jerusalem.
I am really delighted to see that various U.S. civil rights organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild, have been taking up the campaign to stop the Wiesenthal Center in its tracks there. Their project, which is to build a so-called “Museum of Tolerance” right on the site of that ancient cemetery, is an outrage.