Go to links

Saturday, March 24, 2007

It's the empire, stupid!

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, James Carville famously coined the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid", in order to keep the Clinton campaign on message.

Carville was wrong. It's not the economy. It's the empire.

As we observe this fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, let's remember the 3,218 American soldiers killed and the 24,042 wounded. Let's remember the $410 billion that have been wasted so far.

But let's also remember the Iraqis killed (as many as 655,000), the Iraqis wounded (who knows how many?), and the amount of Iraqi treasure wasted (who knows how much?).

And while we're at it, let's remember the Iraqis killed by the brutal sanctions imposed by Clinton during the 1990s (as many as 500,000). To the Iraqis, there probably isn't much of a moral difference between Clinton's economic warfare and Bush's conventional warfare.

Let's also remember this:

In 1996 then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, in reference to years of U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iraq, "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

To which Ambassador Albright responded, "I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it."

That remark caused no public outcry. In fact, in January the following year Albright was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as President Clinton's secretary of state.

--Sheldon Richman in "Albright 'Apologizes'" at

Let's also remember that these sanctions were one of the main reasons given by Osama bin Laden for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And let's remember that Bush dragged the U. S. into invading Iraq--a country that had not attacked the U. S. and had not threatened to attack the U. S.--based in part on his implication, which turned out to be false, that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in 9/11. So Clinton's sanctions led to 9/11, which led to the present Iraq war/occupation. What will the Iraq war/occupation lead to?

Of course, just as history did not begin on 9/11, it did not begin with Clinton's sanctions. In January 2003 (i.e., two months before the invasion), Sheldon Richman wrote as follows:

It is indisputable that the U.S. government has picked fights where it did not belong. This is true throughout the Middle East and in nearby Afghanistan at least since the end of World War II.

The CIA helped Saddam Hussein to gain power in Iraq. Then the U.S. government encouraged him to go to war with Iran, because Iran became our enemy after the people there overthrew the brutal shah, whom the CIA restored to power in 1953. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. government gave Hussein export credits, intelligence data, and the capacity to make biological weapons. His use of chemical weapons was no big deal to our misleaders, though retrospectively, they are appalled.

The troubles for America in Afghanistan started in the late 1970s when the Carter administration got the bright idea of luring the faltering Soviet Union into its "Vietnam." Afghanistan had a secular, pro-Soviet regime. Carter's national-security team, led by Zbigniew Brzezinski, encouraged Islamic radicals to cause trouble for the regime in the hope that the Russians would intervene to save it and keep the peace on its border. Part of this effort was a Pakistani and Saudi program to get Arab radicals to fight in Afghanistan to expel the Russian infidels.

The plan worked like a charm. The only problem was that the radicals wanted to expel another foreign invader after they were done with the Soviets: the U.S. government. A particularly charismatic and wealthy Saudi was among the mujahideen, who were embraced as "freedom" fighters" by the Carter, Reagan, and first Bush administrations. His name was Osama bin Laden.

(Incidentally, this policy of encouraging sectarian radicals was not new. The U.S. government had previously supported the rise of religious rivals to the secular Arab leaders it feared, such as Egypt's Nasser. Likewise, the Israelis nurtured the religious Arabs who became Hamas in order to deprive the secular Arafat of followers. Such is how "blowback" operates.)

When the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait (an invasion condoned in advance by the United States), hatred of the U.S. government increased for its stationing of troops near the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia and imposing a monstrous embargo on Iraq, depriving the people of food, medicine, and sanitation facilities. These were the main reasons cited by bin Laden for the September 11 strikes.

Another occasion for extended U.S. meddling in the Middle East has been the five decades of unwavering support for Israel against the Palestinians. While many Palestinians have engaged in murderous violence against innocents, it cannot be denied that the root of the problem is that the land of innocent Arabs has been taken from them and many have been killed and oppressed in the process.

The fruits of intervention

This long train of abuses by the U.S. government has understandably created seething resentment. How should an Arab feel when missiles and bombs with the words "Made in the USA" come crashing into his home, killing his children? Fortunately, most people in the Middle East distinguish the American government from the American people. Polls done by John Zogby routinely confirm this. They don't hate us. They hate our government's policies. So should we.

Unfortunately, a small number of fanatics don't make that distinction — hence, events like the World Trade Center terrorism. (No, this doesn't mean "we" deserved 9/11. It means the U.S. government failed us by putting us at risk and then was impotent to protect us.)

--"Arrogance Is Humility" at http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0301c.asp.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The point is not to excuse but to understand

From "Thinking about Foreign Policy" by Sheldon Richman at http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0612b.asp:

Short excerpt:

Americans rarely see their government’s policies through the eyes of those who suffer them.

Longer excerpt:

. . . in the world of state relations, threats and aggressive acts rarely come out of the blue but rather are preceded by provocations. Americans grow up believing that the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor was an unexpected act of treachery, but that’s because their schoolbooks and news media never told them of the long prelude of economic warfare committed against the Japanese by the Roosevelt administration. The point is not to excuse the attack, but to understand it. Likewise, the 9/11 attacks were not the beginning of a conflict with Arabs and Muslims. For 50 years the U.S. government had pursued policies and backed regimes in the Middle East that were
responsible for thousands of deaths and much hardship. Again, the point is not to excuse but to understand. Americans rarely see their government’s policies through the eyes of those who suffer them.

We should keep these historical points in mind whenever attacks are made on our homeland, military, embassies, etc. When politicians (of either party) start clamoring for the U. S. to retaliate for such an attack, we should look hard to see if there is reasonable evidence that the U. S. itself has provoked the attack. If so, perhaps the best way to resolve the conflict is for the U. S. to stop the provocation!

We should also keep these historical examples in mind whenever politicians start clamoring for the U. S. to intervene in the affairs of other regions or countries or to impose economic sanctions on other countries (e.g., Iran). In short, we should do our best to prevent our political leaders from provoking attacks on us in the first place.

We lost Iraq because we didn't tax ourselves enough?

From a critique, by the Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, of a recent NYT column by Tom Friedman.

Short excerpt:

If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq.

Longer excerpt (N. B.: SOME BAD LANGUAGE):

What we have to remember about America's half-baked propaganda machine is that, dumb as it is, it always keeps its eye on the ball. The war in Iraq is lost, everyone knows that, but there are future wars to think about. When a war goes wrong, the reason can never that the invasion was simply a bad, immoral decision, a hopelessly f****d-up idea that even a child could have seen through. No, we always have to make sure that the excuse for the next war is woven into the autopsy of the current military failure. That's why to this day we're still hearing about how Vietnam was lost because a) the media abandoned the war effort b) the peace movement undermined the national will and c) the public, and the Pentagon, misread the results of the Tet offensive, seeing defeat where there actually was a victory.

After a few decades of that, we were ready to go to war again -- all we had to do, we figured, was keep the cameras away from the bloody bits, ignore the peace movement, and blow off any and all bad news from the battlefield. And we did all of these things for quite a long time in Iraq, but, maddeningly, Iraq still turned out to be a failure.

That left the war apologists in a bind. If after fixing all of the long-held Vietnam excuses Iraq could still blow up in our faces, that must mean that we not only misjudged Iraq, but we were wrong about why Vietnam failed, too. Now, if we're ever going to pull one of these stunts again, we're going to need to come up with a grander, even more outlandish excuse for why both wars were horrible, bloody failures. . . .

Vietnam and Iraq failed not because they were stupid, vicious occupations of culturally alien populations that despised our very presence and were willing to sacrifice scads of their own lives to send us home. No, the problem was that we didn't make an effort to "re-evaluate tax and spending policies" and "shift resources" into an "all-out" war effort.

The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night around to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.

Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull for even suggesting this, of course. We're talking about one of the richest men in media, a guy who in recent years got still richer beating the drum for this war from his $9.3 million, 11,400 square-foot mansion in suburban Maryland. He is married to a shopping mall heiress worth nearly $3 billion; the Washingtonian says he is part of one of the 100 richest families in America. And yet he has the b***s to turn around and tell us that the pointless, asinine war he cheerleaded for failed because we didn't sacrifice enough for it. Are you reaching for the railroad spike yet?

This being tax season, I want you all to think about this Friedman column as you prepare your returns, because I'll bet anything he's surfing ahead of a trend here. If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq.

You're going to hear that we didn't have money to pay for body armor, when the reality is that the reason troops didn't have body armor in recent years is that congressmen robbed the operations and maintenance accounts of the defense budget to pay for earmarks/pork projects (they took $9 billion in pork and earmarks out of the O&M allotment in 2005, for instance). They robbed the part of the budget that paid for ordinary soldiers‚ gear so they wouldn't have to touch the F-22 Raptor, the CVN(X) aircraft carrier, or any of the other mega-expensive and mostly useless weapons programs. I mean, think about it -- how else can you spend $600 billion dollars on the military every year and not have body armor for the soldiers deployed at war? Somewhere, someone who doesn't need it has to be sucking up that money.

But trust me, the myth is going to be that you didn't cough up enough for the war. It's your fault we failed, not Tom Friedman's. So put all three of your hands in your pockets and dig out that change you're holding back. We'll need it for his next great idea.

-- http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/48941/