ACTION ALERT: Tell the Washington Post to conduct a new poll asking an unbiased question on US drone strike policy Take Action
(January 30, 2013) — A key reason many in Congress haven’t spoken up against the drone strike policy is that many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the policy. A key reason many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the drone strike policy is that the Washington Post said so in February 2012.
But the question the Washington Post asked in its February 2012 poll, and the way the Post reported it, were highly misleading. And in the last year, a lot of criticism of the drone strike policy has appeared in mainstream press that hadn’t appeared before.
As the Senate considers the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, where he will oversee CIA drone strikes, urge the Washington Post to ask the public an unbiased question on drone strikes.
In February 2012, under the headline, “Poll finds broad support for Obama’s counterterrorism policies,” the Washington Post reported that “The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obamaâ€™s drone policy.” 
This Post report had the effect of convincing many people that the drone strike policy was overwhelmingly popular. But here is the question that was actually asked:  “â€¦ thinking about the following decisions of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove … c. The use of unmanned, “drone” aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas.”
The Post assumed there was no meaningful distinction between current policy and targeting “terrorist suspects.” That was the “official story” the Administration had just put out.
On January 30, 2012, just before the Washington Post poll was conducted, in an unprecedented and widely reported public discussion of the policy, President Obama described the policy as “pinpoint strike on al Qaeda operatives.”  But as the New York Times reported a few months later,  In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.
But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
If those State Department officials were right, then describing the policy as targeted on “terrorist suspects” was misleading, and the Washington Post poll question and report were biased.
Urge the Washington Post to ask a poll question on drone strikes that takes account of the State Department officials’ criticism that drone strikes have not been targeted on “terrorist suspects,” as most people would understand that phrase.
Thank you for all you do to help bring about a more just foreign policy,
Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen, Sarah Burns and Megan Iorio
Just Foreign Policy http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/wapo-drones-poll
1. “Poll finds broad support for Obamaâ€™s counterterrorism policies,” Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, February 8, 2012 http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-02-08/politics/35445649_1_drone-program-support-for-drone-strikes-drone-policy
2. “Washington Post-ABC News Poll, February 1 to 4, 2012” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postabcpoll_020412.html
3. “Obama’s drone comment was no slip-up, official says,” Dan Lothian and Reza Sayah, CNN, January 31, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/31/politics/obama-pakistan/index.html
4. “Secret â€˜Kill Listâ€™ Proves a Test of Obamaâ€™s Principles and Will,” Jo Becker and Scott Shane, May 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html
Senators: Question Brennan and
Other Admin Nominees on Drone Policy!
(January 30, 2013) — President Obama has announced his picks for his national security leadership team: Chuck Hagel at Defense, John Kerry at State, John Brennan at CIA. But first, each of these nominees must face a Senate confirmation hearing where Senators will be able to ask — and Administration nominees answer — questions about US drone strike policy in open session.
Urge the President and the Senate to use this opportunity to increase the transparency and accountability of U.S. drone strike policy. Sign the Petition Here.
WASHINGTON (January 24, 2013) — The US military is weighing a redefinition of what constitutes a “prompt global strike” weapon, and the result could be to expand the kinds of conventional arms available to hit targets on short notice virtually anywhere around the world, according to defense sources.
These might include weapon systems with shorter range and slower response times than previously considered, Global Security Newswire has learned.
“Some of the combatant commanders are beginning to understand that cost is important,” said one retired strategic-weapons officer, referring to mounting pressures to reduce the defense budget. “And it’s coming down to a fight over prompt global strike.”
The individual is one of several current and former military officials who requested anonymity in this article to allow more candid discussion of sensitive topics.
The Defense Department is grappling with a possible $52 billion funding shortfall in this fiscal year if the White House and lawmakers fail to agree by March 1 on how to avoid the so-called budget sequester. This would come on top of nearly $500 billion the Pentagon has already slashed from its 10-year spending plans.
With dollars increasingly short, combat commanders and service chiefs lately are battling not as much over war-fighting plans as they are over getting a piece of the budget pie. That has made the global-strike mission an attractive catch that senior brass are vying to control, according to several informed sources.
For prompt global strike scenarios, the military has in the past said it needs a capability to hit targets anywhere around the world with just one hour’s notice.
Until now, that tall order appeared to require a state-of-the-art — and expensive — long-range weapon system, costing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a pop. Such arms could be procured only in small number as a niche capability, one that would be used solely against the most important targets and when no other weapon platforms were available.
Those assumptions, however, are likely on the brink of major change.
Emerging from a top-level Pentagon meeting in November appears to be a mandate for the four military services to explore development of short-, medium- and long-range weapon systems for the mission, officials tell GSN. Consequently, the word “global” could soon fade from the prompt global strike moniker.
Madelyn Creedon, the assistant Defense secretary for global strategic affairs, hinted at that notion in public comments last August, saying that future such arms might alternatively offer “a mostly global strike” capability.
In fact, even the idea of “prompt” is being questioned at the highest ranks in an effort to relax some of the most costly aspects of the effort. Use of off-the-shelf weapons that take a bit longer to arrive at target could diminish the necessity for technological breakthroughs, somewhat dampening talk of costly hypersonic darts that skim the atmosphere en route to targets, in minutes’ time, halfway around the world.
Some expect that Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will soon tell other Pentagon leaders that the global-strike mission could be expanded to weapons capable of hitting targets within two hours of receiving a launch order, rather than the earlier 60-minute objective, according to defense officials and experts.
Over the past several years, all three military services have developed candidate conventional technologies for quickly attacking high-priority targets at long range. Yet, neither a Navy conventionally armed submarine-fired ballistic missile nor futuristic Army and Air Force concepts for land-based, hypersonic boost-glide weapons have moved from research and development to field deployment. Each has been hamstrung by cost, technical or operational concerns, or a combination of these impediments.
The idea behind developing conventional prompt global strike weapons has been to create viable alternatives to using nuclear-tipped long-range missiles during crises in which an important target surfaces but no US or allied conventional forces are available in the area.
Examples of such an urgent target might be a terrorist leader spotted at a remote safe house or a North Korean atomic weapon being prepared for imminent launch, defense officials say.
A top Defense Department panel that reviews what technologies the armed services need for carrying out assigned missions met in closed session on Nov. 6 to consider the conventional prompt-strike mission.
Chaired by Winnefeld, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council was expected to consider a proposal that would have placed principal emphasis on an emerging effort to equip Navy Virginia-class attack submarines with conventional missiles.
Defense officials were mum about what transpired during the secret panel meeting.
Since it occurred, though, staffs serving Winnefeld and the other JROC panel members — the No. 2 officers from each of the four services — have traded at least four different drafts of a memorandum for the vice chairman to sign that would outline military needs for prompt global strike, sources said.
Once finalized, Winnefeld’s memo is believed likely to signal affordability as a new and central objective for the effort. The modified military requirement should also increasingly set the stage for each of the services to once again play a role in the prompt-strike sandbox, officials told GSN.
So, too, should a broader vernacular for defining the mission allow regionally based combatant commanders a new role in “strategic” conflicts that occur in their respective operating areas. No longer would the head of US Strategic Command — where the prompt global strike concept originated nearly a decade ago — necessarily control the use of rapid-attack conventional weapons in conflict, as has been previously assumed.
Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman, on Wednesday would not say whether Winnefeld’s memo had been finalized or what it contained, adding that the matter is classified.
According to other defense officials, though, military leaders plan to launch a fresh review that could offer greater detail on a new set of arms for hitting time-critical targets.
The upcoming review could allow for prompt global strike weapons that require as much as four hours’ notice to be ready for taking on a mission, according to defense officials. The relaxed requirements also could include attack systems with ranges as short as 200 nautical miles or as long as 4,200 nautical miles, sources said.
These changes could generate concern in some quarters about the possibility that anything less than the earlier yardstick — a truly rapid-strike capability with global reach — might allow some future targets to slip away.
For that reason, Winnefeld appears interested in continuing to invest in advanced technologies for prompt global-range strike for the long term, even as more readily available weapons of various ranges and speeds populate the tool chest initially, sources said.
These nearer-term weapons could be capable against “soft targets,” such as assembled troops, or medium targets like buildings or vehicles. Other arms for use against time-sensitive targets could be built to damage or destroy hardened facilities built deep underground, such as command centers or WMD sites, according to some defense officials.
Others said, though, that final word from Winnefeld and his multiservice requirements council about the future of prompt global strike remained in formulation this week.
“It’s an evolving kind of [thing], floating trial balloons,” said one defense source. “It’s up in the air.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(January 9, 2011) — India, a rising power, almost had one (but the Tajiks said no). China, which last year became the world’s second largest economy as well as the planet’s leading energy consumer, and is expanding abroad like mad (largely via trade and the power of the purse), still has none.
The Russians have a few (in Central Asia where “the great game” is ongoing), as do those former colonial powers Great Britain and France, as do certain NATO countries in Afghanistan. Sooner or later, Japan may even have one.
All of them together — and maybe you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about military bases not on one’s own territory — add up to a relatively modest (if unknown) total. The US, on the other hand, has enough bases abroad to sink the world. You almost have the feeling that a single American mega-base like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan could swallow them all up.
It’s so large that a special Air Force “team” has to be assigned to it just to deal with the mail arriving every day, 360,000 pounds of it in November 2010 alone.
At the same base, the US has just spent $130 million building “a better gas station for aircraft â€¦ [a] new refueling system, which features a pair of 1.1-million gallon tanks and two miles of pipes.” Imagine that: two miles of pipes, thousands of miles from home — and that’s just to scratch the surface of Bagram’s enormity.
Spencer Ackerman of Wired‘s Danger Room blog visited the base last August, found that construction was underway everywhere (think hundreds of millions of dollars more from the pockets of US taxpayers), and wrote: “More notable than the overstuffed runways is the over-driven road. [The Western part of] Disney Drive, the main thoroughfare that rings the eight-square-mile base,[…] is a two-lane parking lot of Humvees, flamboyant cargo big-rigs from Pakistan known as jingle trucks, yellow DHL shipping vans, contractor vehicles, and mud-caked flatbeds. If the Navy could figure out a way to bring a littoral-combat ship to a landlocked country, it would idle on Disney.”
Serving 20,000 or more US troops, and with the usual assortment of Burger Kings and Popeyes, the place is nothing short of a US town, bustling in a way increasingly rare for actual American towns these days, part of a planetary military deployment of a sort never before seen in history.
Yet, as various authors at this site have long noted, the staggering size, scope, and strangeness of all this is seldom considered, analyzed, or debated in the American mainstream. It’s a given, like the sun rising in the east.
And yet, what exactly is that given? As Nick Turse, who has been following American basing plans for this site over the years, points out, it’s not as easy to answer that question as you might imagine.
Empire of Bases 2.0:
Does the Pentagon Really Have 1,180 Foreign Bases? Nick Turse / Tom Dispatch
(January 29, 2013) — The United States has 460 bases overseas! It has 507 permanent bases! What is the U.S doing with more than 560 foreign bases? Why does it have 662 bases abroad? Does the United States really have more than 1,000 military bases across the globe?
In a world of statistics and precision, a world in which “accountability” is now a Washington buzzword, a world where all information is available at the click of a mouse, there’s one number no American knows. Not the president. Not the Pentagon. Not the experts. No one.
The man who wrote the definitive book on it didn’t know for sure. The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist didn’t even come close. Yours truly has written numerous articles on US military bases and even part of a book on the subject, but failed like the rest.
There are more than 1,000 US military bases dotting the globe. To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077. Unless it’s 1,088. Or, if you count differently, 1,169. Or even 1,180. Actually, the number might even be higher. Nobody knows for sure.
In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made a trenchant point: “The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?”
For years, the late Chalmers Johnson, the man who literally wrote the book on the US military’s empire of bases, The Sorrows of Empire, made the same point and backed it with the most detailed research on the globe-spanning American archipelago of bases that has ever been assembled.
Several years ago, after mining the Pentagon’s own publicly available documents, Johnson wrote, “[T]he United States maintains 761 active military ‘sites’ in foreign countries. (That’s the Defense Department’s preferred term, rather than ‘bases,’ although bases are what they are.)”
Recently, the Pentagon updated its numbers on bases and other sites, and they have dropped. Whether they’ve fallen to the level advanced by Kristof, however, is a matter of interpretation.
According to the Department of Defense’s 2010 Base Structure Report, the US military now maintains 662 foreign sites in 38 countries around the world. Dig into that report more deeply, though, and Grand Canyon-sized gaps begin to emerge.
A Legacy of Bases
In 1955, 10 years after World War II ended, the Chicago Daily Tribune published a major investigation of bases, including a map dotted with little stars and triangles, most of them clustered in Europe and the Pacific. “The American flag flies over more than 300 overseas outposts,” wrote reporter Walter Trohan. “Camps and barracks and bases cover 12 American possessions or territories held in trust. The foreign bases are in 63 foreign nations or islands.”
Today, according to the Pentagon’s published figures, the American flag flies over 750 US military sites in foreign nations and US territories abroad. This figure does not include small foreign sites of less 10 acres or those that the US military values at less than $10 million.
In some cases, numerous bases of this type may be folded together and counted as a single military installation in a given country. A request for further clarification from the Department of Defense went unanswered.
What we do know is that, on the foreign outposts the US military counts, it controls close to 52,000 buildings, and more than 38,000 pieces of heavy infrastructure like piers, wharves, and gigantic storage tanks, not to mention more than 9,100 “linear structures” like runways, rail lines, and pipelines. Add in more than 6,300 buildings, 3,500 pieces of infrastructure, and 928 linear structures in US territories and you have an impressive total. And yet, it isn’t close to the full story.
Last January, Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told me that there were nearly 400 US and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, forward operating bases, and combat outposts. He expected that number to increase by 12 or more, he added, over the course of 2010.
In September, I contacted ISAF’s Joint Command Public Affairs Office to follow up. To my surprise, I was told that “there are approximately 350 forward operating bases with two major military installations, Bagram and Kandahar airfields.”
Perplexed by the loss of 50 bases instead of a gain of 12, I contacted Gary Younger, a Public Affairs Officer with the International Security Assistance Force. “There are less than 10 NATO bases in Afghanistan,” he wrote in an October 2010 email. “There are over 250 US bases in Afghanistan.”
By then, it seemed, the US had lost up to 150 bases, and I was thoroughly confused. When I contacted the military to sort out the discrepancies and listed the numbers I had been given — from Shanks’ 400 base tally to the count of around 250 by Younger — I was handed off again and again until I landed with Sergeant First Class Eric Brown at ISAF Joint Command’s Public Affairs.
“The number of bases in Afghanistan is roughly 411,” Brown wrote in a November email, “which is a figure comprised of large base[s], all the way down to the Combat Out Post-level.” Even this, he cautioned, wasn’t actually a full list, because “temporary positions occupied by platoon-sized elements or less” were not counted.
Along the way to this “final” tally, I was offered a number of explanations — from different methods of accounting to the failure of units in the field to provide accurate information — for the conflicting numbers I had been given.
After months of exchanging emails and seeing the numbers swing wildly, ending up with roughly the same count in November as I began with in January suggests that the US command isn’t keeping careful track of the number of bases in Afghanistan. Apparently, the military simply does not know how many bases it has in its primary theater of operations.
Black Sites in Baseworld
Scan the Department of Defense’s 2010 Base Structure Report for sites in Afghanistan. Go ahead, read through all 206 pages. You won’t find a mention of them, not a citation, not a single reference, not an inkling that the United States has even one base in Afghanistan, let alone more than 400. This is hardly an insignificant omission.
Add those 411 missing bases to Kristof’s total and you get 971 sites around the world. Add it to the Pentagon’s official tally and you’re left with 1,073 bases and sites overseas, around 770 more than Walter Trohan uncovered for his 1955 article. That number even tops the 1967 count of 1,014 US bases abroad, which Chalmers Johnson considered “the Cold War peak.”
There are, however, other ways to tally the total. In a letter written last spring, Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Barney Frank, Ron Paul, and Walter Jones asserted that there were just 460 US military installations abroad, not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nicholas Kristof, who came up with a count of 100 more than that, didn’t respond to an email for clarification, but may have done the same analysis as I did: search the Pentagon’s Base Structure Report and select out the obvious sites that, while having a sizable “footprint,” could only tenuously be counted as bases, like dependent family housing complexes and schools, resort hotels (yes, the Department of Defense has them), ski areas (them, too), and the largest of their golf courses — the US military claimed to possess a total of 172 courses of all sizes in 2007 — and you get a total of around 570 foreign sites. Add to them the number of Afghan bases and you’re left with about 981 foreign military bases.
As it happens, though, Afghanistan isn’t the only country with a baseworld blackout. Search the Pentagon’s tally for sites in Iraq and you won’t find a single entry. (That was true even when the US reportedly had more than 400 bases in that country.) Today, the US military footprint there has shrunk radically.
The Department of Defense declined to respond to an email request for the current number of bases in Iraq, but published reports indicate that no fewer than 88 are still there, including Camp Taji, Camp Ramadi, Contingency Operating Base Speicher, and Joint Base Balad, which, alone, boasts about 7,000 American troops. These missing bases would raise the worldwide total to about 1,069.
War zones aren’t the only secret spots. Take a close look at Middle Eastern nations whose governments, fearing domestic public opinion, prefer that no publicity be given to American military bases on their territory, and then compare it to the Pentagon’s official list.
To give an example, the 2010 Base Structure Report lists one nameless US site in Kuwait. Yet we know that the Persian Gulf state hosts a number of US military facilities including Camp Arifjan, Camp Buering, Camp Virginia, Kuwait Naval Base, Ali Al Salem Air Base, and Udari Range. Add in these missing sites and the total number of bases abroad reaches 1,074.
Check the Pentagon’s base tally for Qatar and you’ll come up empty. But look at the numbers of Department of Defense personnel serving overseas and you’ll find more than 550 service men and women deployed there.
While that Persian Gulf nation may have officially built Al Udeid Air Base itself, to call it anything but a US installation would be disingenuous, given that it has served as a major logistics and command hub for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add it in and the foreign base count reaches 1,075.
Saudi Arabia is also missing from the Pentagon’s tally, even though the current list of personnel abroad indicates that hundreds of US troops are deployed there. From the lead up to the First Gulf War in 1990 through the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US military stationed thousands of troops in the kingdom.
In 2003, in response to fundamentalist pressure on the Saudi government, Washington announced that it was pulling all but a small number of troops out of the country. Yet the US continues to train and advise from sites like Eskan Village, a compound 20 kilometers south of Riyadh where, according to 2009 numbers, 800 US personnel (500 of them advisers) were based.
Discounted, Uncounted, and Unknown
In addition to the unknown number of micro-bases that the Pentagon doesn’t even bother to count and Middle Eastern and Afghan bases that fly under the radar, there are even darker areas in the empire of bases: installations belonging to other countries that are used but not acknowledged by the United States or avowed by the host-nation need to be counted, too.
For example, it is now well known that US drone aircraft, operating under the auspices of both the CIA and the Air Force and conducting a not-so-secret war in Pakistan, take off from one or more bases in that country.
Additionally, there are other sites like the “covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi,” exposed by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation magazine, and one or more airfields run by employees of the private security contractor Blackwater (now renamed Xe Services). While the Department of Defense’s personnel tally indicates that there are well over a hundred troops deployed in Pakistan, it counts no bases there.
Similarly uncounted are the US Navy’s carrier strike groups, flotillas that consist of massive aircraft carriers, the largest warships in the world, as well as a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine, and an ammunition, oiler, and supply ship.
The US boasts 11 such carriers, town-sized floating bases that can travel the world, as well as numerous other ships, some boasting well over 1,000 officers and crew, that may, says the Navy, travel “to any of more than 100 ports of call worldwide” from Hong Kong to Rio de Janeiro.
“The ability to conduct logistics functions afloat enables naval forces to maintain station anywhere,” reads the Navy’s Naval Operations Concept: 2010. So these bases that float under the radar should really be counted, too.
A Bang, A Whimper, and
The Alamo of the Twenty-First Century
Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans, and Related Agencies early last year, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn referenced the Pentagon’s “507 permanent installations.” The Pentagon’s 2010 Base Structure Report, on the other hand, lists 4,999 total sites in the US, its territories, and overseas.
In the grand scheme of things, the actual numbers aren’t all that important. Whether the most accurate total is 900 bases, 1,000 bases, or 1,100 posts in foreign lands, what’s undeniable is that the US military maintains, in Chalmers Johnson’s famous phrase, an empire of bases so large and shadowy that no one — not even at the Pentagon — really knows its full size and scope.
All we know is that it raises the ire of adversaries like al-Qaeda, has a tendency to grate on even the closest of allies like the Japanese, and costs American taxpayers a fortune every year. In 2010, according to Robyn, military construction and housing costs at all US bases ran to $23.2 billion.
An additional $14.6 billion was needed for maintenance, repair, and recapitalization. To power its facilities, according to 2009 figures, the Pentagon spent $3.8 billion. And that likely doesn’t even scratch the surface of America’s baseworld in terms of its full economic cost.
Like all empires, the US military’s empire of bases will someday crumble. These bases, however, are not apt to fall like so many dominoes in some silver-screen last-stand sequence. They won’t, that is, go out with the “bang” of futuristic Alamos, but with the “whimper” of insolvency.
Last year, rumbling began even among Washington lawmakers about this increasingly likely prospect. “I do not think we should be spending money to have troops in Germany 65 years after World War II. We have a terrible deficit and we have to cut back,” said Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.
Similarly, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas announced, “If the United States really wants to assure our allies and deter our enemies, we should do it with strong military capabilities and sound policy — not by keeping troops stationed overseas, not siphoning funds from equipment and arms and putting it into duplicative military construction.”
Indeed, toward the end of 2010, the White House’s bipartisan deficit commission — officially known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — suggested cutting US garrisons in Europe and Asia by one-third, which would, in their estimation, save about $8.5 billion in 2015.
The empire of bases, while still at or close to its height, is destined to shrink. The military is going to have to scale back its foreign footholds and lessen its global footprint in the years ahead. Economic realities will necessitate that.
The choices the Pentagon makes today will likely determine on what terms its garrisons come home tomorrow. At the moment, they can still choose whether coming home will look like an act of magnanimous good statesmanship or an inglorious retreat.
Whatever the decision, the clock is ticking, and before any withdrawals begin, the US military needs to know exactly where it’s withdrawing from (and Americans should have an accurate sense of just where its overseas armies are). An honest count of US bases abroad — a true, full, and comprehensive list — would be a tiny first step in the necessary process of downsizing the global mission.
Nick Turse is an investigative journalist, the associate editor of TomDispatch.com, and currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. His website is NickTurse.com.
Copyright 2011 Nick Turse
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(September 23, 2012) — There is a massive deception campaign in the US and in its global propaganda, which seeks to portray the United States as a poor set-upon nation that would like world peace, but just has to keep a military stationed around the globe to “police” all the world’s “trouble spots.”
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
That truth is that the US is the biggest warmonger the world has ever known.
Let’s start with its budget. The US, in fiscal year 2012, budgeted a total of $673 billion for the military, plus another $166 billion for military activities of other government departments, such as the nuclear weapons program, much of which is handled by the Department of Energy or of the Veterans Program, which pays for the care and benefits of former military personnel.
There’s also another roughly $440 billion in interest paid on the debt from prior wars and military expenditures. All together, that comes to $1.3 trillion, which represents close to 50% of the general budget of the United States — the highest percentage of a government budget devoted to the military of any modern nation in the world — and perhaps of any government of any nation in the world.
That spending represents also the world’s biggest percentage of national gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to the military (GDP is a measure of all economic activity in a nation).
Looking at the other countries with big militaries — China, Russia, Britain and France, not only does not one come even close in terms of the percent of GDP spent on its military, but taken together, all of their expenditures on their military combined total less than half what the US spends by itself.
Since the late 1960s, the US government has engaged in a sleight-of-hand to hide the scale of its military spending from the American people. It has done this by adding to the federal budget the amount of money spent on Social Security, the nation’s retirement program, and Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
This is not a correct accounting however, because both of those programs are actually funded by a separate payroll tax paid by employees and employers and the resulting trust funds are actually dedicated to the citizens who receive or will receive benefits from the programs.
Using that fraud, the government and the politicians are able to claim that the US “only” spends 24% of the budget on military. Even that would be far above what is spent by any other nation in the world, but it is actually only half of what the US really spends as a share of its general budget.
One reason the US military budget is so huge is that the US operates some 900 bases abroad, in what amounts to a program of global empire. It is estimated that the cost of keeping those bases operating is about $250 billion. Empire costs a lot more than that though.
There’s also the cost of operating a global fleet of ships, including incredibly costly aircraft carrier battle groups. That cost, surely in excess of $100 billion when the cost of the ships is factored in, doesn’t get broken out by the Pentagon.
Then, there is another way the US is the world’s biggest warmonger. This is in its role as the world’s biggest arms merchant.
In 2011, the US sold more than $66 billion in arms to the rest of the world, often, as in the case of India and Pakistan, or India and China, or Israel and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, selling weapons to countries that are mutually hostile to each other or even, as in the case of India and Pakistan, in a state of active conflict along their border.
That $66 billion — an all-time record for the US — was an astonishing and depressing 78% of the global arms market for the year. Russia was the second biggest arms dealer, selling only a paltry $4.8 billion in weapons to the rest of the world.
None of these weapons the US is selling makes either the US or the world any safer.
Indeed, two of the biggest recipients of US military “aid” and weapons sales are Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi regime last year purchased $30 billion in arms from the US. Meanwhile the US has been providing Israel with $3 billion in outright military aid each year for years. Israel also buys billions of dollars in weapons from the US each year.
Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship and a promoter of instability within Syria, while it also props up dictatorships in countries like Yemen and Bahrain. In other countries, like Israel or Colombia, US aid encourages military actions, which could lead to conflicts that would inevitably draw the US in as a participant.
The truth is that none of America’s military spending makes the US safer.
One doesn’t see fanatics traveling to Brazil or China or New Zealand to blow things up. One reason is almost certainly that those countries aren’t stationing their troops within other countries’ borders, and aren’t selling weapons to countries that threaten their neighbors.
The US government tells Americans that all that money they are spending on the military is designed to “protect” them from harm. In fact, the evidence over the years is that it is making Americans more vulnerable and less safe.
Not only that, but the wars that the US has started over the years — in Indochina, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere — have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of young Americans (and of course to the deaths of millions of people in those countries, most of them civilians).
The truth is that a country that spends half of every tax dollar collected from its citizens on its military cannot hope to prosper. As President Dwight Eisenhower, a former top general in the US military who led US forces in World War II, once famously stated in a 1953 address to a group of newspaper editors:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.
“We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
“This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Most of the rest of the world isn’t fooled by American government accounting tricks. Being at the barrel end of the gun, people of other countries know how US military spending is a primary cause of war and terror in the world. But we Americans ourselves need to wake up to the massive damage that our military-obsessed political system is doing to our country, lest it ultimately destroys us.
There is a clear reason that social programs in the US are threatened, that the economy is in a prolonged depression, that our education system is collapsing, and that our standing in the world has plummeted. It is our militarism, and the incredible amount of the national wealth that is being spent on it.
Dave Lindorff is an award-winning American investigative journalist. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1972 with a BA in Chinese language. He then received an MS in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1975. He has worked for a number of major US news organizations, including the Los Angeles Daily News, the Minneapolis Tribune and Business Week, where he served for five years as a correspondent for Hong Kong and China. He is author of a number of books, including Killing Time about the case of death-row prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and The Case for Impeachment about the Bush/Cheney administration, and is founder of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening.net.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(January 30, 2013) — A Dutch court is set to rule on whether Royal Dutch Shell is responsible for pollution in Nigeria, a case activists say could set a precedent for damage claims related to the foreign activities of multinational companies.
A verdict in the unprecedented case is expected on Wednesday.
Four Nigerians and interest group Friends of the Earth filed the suit in 2008 in The Hague, where Shell has its joint global headquarters, seeking unspecified reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta.
The Nigerians — fishermen and farmers — said they could no longer feed their families because the region had been polluted by oil from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities.
The pollution is a result of oil spills in 2004, 2005 and 2007, they said.
It is the first time a Dutch-registered company has been sued in a domestic court for offences allegedly carried out by a foreign subsidiary.
The suit targets Shell’s parent company in the Netherlands and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co (SPDC). It is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria, Africa’s top energy producer, with an output of more than one million barrels of oil or equivalent per day.
Shell argued in court that the oil leaks were caused by “sabotage” and it had cleaned them up.
In October, Shell lawyers said the company has played its part in cleaning up the Delta, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Nigeria’s oil exports.
Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth said if the judgment held Shell responsible for the pollution in the Niger Delta, it could lead to claims against oil majors in other countries.
A Shell spokesperson said the company would only comment after the panel of judges announced their verdict.
The Niger Delta has about 31 million inhabitants and includes the Ogoniland region. It is the main source of food for the impoverished, rural population.
RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestinian Territories (January 29, 2013) — Rasha Al Barghouti takes a few steps towards one of several large bookcases in her Ramallah home, treading slowly just four months after having hip replacement surgery. She takes out a thick blue book, and opens it to a bookmarked page, allowing her fingertips to trace the words as she reads out loud.
The book was written by her grandfather, the late Omar Saleh Al Barghouti, a leading figure of Palestinian resistance who took part in the national movement against the British occupation. During the 1948 war, when Al Barghouti was forced into exile, hundreds of his books, documents, newspapers and intimate memoirs were looted from his Jerusalem home.
The irreplaceable items representing a slice of Palestinian intellectualism were never located, except for a few — which, to Rasha’s surprise, were found in Israel’s National Library . “For years, we wondered what happened to my grandfather’s books,” said the 61-year-old, who works at Birzeit University, just outside Ramallah. “One day my sister and I looked up his name on the website of the National Library … and we found two of his books.”
Rasha later found out that a whole section of the library was dedicated to her grandfather’s books, a revelation that to this day moves her to tears. Al Barghouti’s large collection is part of some 70,000 books that were looted just before and during the Nakba (or “catastrophe”) of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee their homes.
About 40,000 of these books were stolen from private homes in mostly affluent Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem; others from cities such as Jaffa, Nazareth and Haifa. Many were either recycled into paper (because they “incited” against the nascent Israeli state) or taken to the National Library, where some 6,000 remain with the letters AP — for “abandoned property” — labeled on their spines.
The Great Book Robbery, a documentary recently shown in Ramallah, chronicles the large-scale pillage of these priceless pieces of Palestinian culture.
Library director Oren Weinberg told Al Jazeera that “the collection of books … is stored in the library for the Custodian for Absentee Property. “The books are under the legal authority of the Custodian for Absentee Property in the Ministry of Finance, [which] holds decision-making authority regarding their use.”
The Ministry of Finance did not respond to repeated requests for comment before the deadline for publication of this report. Similarly, no ministry spokesperson was made available to interview as part of the documentary.
The documentary — which has also aired in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem over the past month — was based on the research of an Israeli PhD student named Gish Amit, who stumbled upon documents chronicling the “collection” of these books while carrying out research on his doctoral thesis.
Amit said he did not even know how important his accidental findings were until much later. “This was not a spontaneous act, nor was it a rescue,” Amit told Al Jazeera. “It was based first and foremost on the library’s organised plan to confiscate and to loot the Palestinian culture, and they really didn’t think Palestinians were capable of keeping these cultural treasures.”
The documentary paints a picture of a pre-1948 Palestine that was a hub for intellectuals, literary critics, writers and musicians before entire villages were destroyed, people were exiled or forced to flee, and Palestinian culture was decimated. Once a hub for art and culture aficionados, Palestine had a railway linking Haifa to Damascus and Cairo, and was frequented by acclaimed theatre troupes and poets.
Many renowned Palestinian authors and scholars, such as Khalil Al Sakakini and Nasser Eddin Nashashibi, spoke bitterly of the loss of their books, items of irreplaceable historical and religious significance.
Others, such as Mohammad Batrwai, tearfully recounted having been forced by the Haganah (the Jewish militia that transformed into the Israeli military after 1948) to loot other Palestinians’ homes and, in one case, his very own.
Nothing was spared: musical instruments, newspapers and even carpets. In some cases, books that were looted were sold back to Palestinians at auction.
The documentary also has an associated website with a special section that aims to identify the original owners of the looted books, thus restoring pieces of cultural heritage lost.
According to the director, Benny Brunner — who served in the Israeli army and fought in the 1973 war, before shedding his Zionist beliefs — this is part of a larger project to carry on the vibrant legacy of Palestinian academia and intellectualism.
Amit stated a similar theory. He believed the looting took place in part because of a colonialist mindset possessed by Israelis in which Palestinians were incapable of appreciating or safeguarding their own cultural heritage. “As Westerners who came from Europe, professors at Hebrew University felt they understood and appreciated these assets better than the Palestinians themselves,” he said.
Further, Amit added that some believed they were rescuing these assets from destruction. “No doubt there was an act of looting and confiscation, but on the other hand some did believe that they had to take care of these books, because otherwise they would be lost,” he said.
Uri Palit, a former librarian, echoed a similar sentiment in the documentary. “These books were not looted but collected. The owners were absent,” Palit said.
For years, many Palestinians such as Rasha searched far and wide for the beloved books of their relatives. Today, she only has a handful of books belonging to her grandfather, who later returned to live in Ramallah. A renowned lawyer and author, who at one point served as a minister in Jordan, Omar Saleh Al Barghouthi wrote personal memoirs every day until his death in 1965.
While his 1919-1948 diaries were pillaged, his memoirs recording political and cultural life between 1950 and 1965 remained. In them, “he wrote about the pain he felt over the loss of the land and his precious books”, Rasha said. “I’m so bitter that he lost so much, that we have lost so much.”
Follow Dalia Hatuqa on Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa
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Pentagon Prepares for Defense Cuts John Glaser / AntiWar.com
(January 29, 2013) — The Pentagon is preparing for cuts to the defense budget, mandatory automatic measures that will begin to kick in within the next few months. But the consequences of those cuts are being unreasonably portrayed as overwhelmingly negative.
Congress postponed the sequestration cuts for at least two months in the first week of January with their new tax bill.
The worst-case scenario for the Pentagon budget is about $500 billion in cuts over the course of ten years. Which isn’t really a cut at all — it’s a reduction in the rate of growth in defense spending, and would only set back defense spending back to 2007 levels.
Still, defense corporations accustomed to sucking from Congress’s tit, especially in the profligate post-9/11 years of massive increases in defense spending, are worried about the minor cuts, and their surrogates in Washington are voicing their concerns loudly.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations for the US, outlined measures he’ll take for the budget, including ship maintenance and a civilian hiring freeze. [See story below.]
The military is also looking to weaken their definition of “prompt global strike,” which refers to the ability to bomb any spot on the planet within one hour. Such absurd standards for proper defense are perfect examples of why the Pentagon needs cuts.
And it’s not so much about defense. Instead, people are fighting for their piece of the pie of the available tax dollars the federal government can dole out. “With dollars increasingly short, combat commanders and service chiefs lately are battling not as much over war-fighting plans as they are over getting a piece of the budget pie,” reports Global Security Newswire.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced it has begun laying off 46,000 contract and temporary civilian employees. But defense spending is not a jobs program. At least, it’s not supposed to be. As far as the health of the economy is concerned, defense budgets are a net drain. The jobs that these rent-seeking defense corporations maintain only show what big business can do with taxed and diverted wealth.
As the Cato Institute’s Chris Preble wrote recently, “It’s easy to focus exclusively on the companies and individuals hurt by the cuts and forget that the taxed wealth that funded them is being employed elsewhere.”
The minuscule defense cuts being contemplated could easily target areas of waste. The major source of growth in annual defense budgets since 2001 has been mostly (54%) due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the rest has been spent on wasteful superfluous weapons technology, bloated salaries and benefits plans, and expensive peacetime operating costs for the 900-plus military bases in 130-plus countries around the world.
Currently, the US spends more on its military than the next fourteen largest military spending countries combined. Warnings of doom to the economy, or to national security, are unfounded scare stories coming from the groups of people who benefit most from the government’s most lucrative and deadly welfare program.
(January 24, 2013) — The Navy’s top officer sent a memo to his admirals Thursday ordering them to curtail activities because of a $3.6 billion shortfall for operations and maintenance. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, noted that the federal government is running on a continuing resolution, which limits spending to last year’s funding levels.
Navy leaders “need to cut back on ops and maintenance to get our spending rate down where it needs to be,” Adm. Greenert said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. Among the cuts:
* Cancel ship maintenance at private yards for 30 of 187 surface ships.
* Cancel maintenance for 250 aircraft from April to September.
* Prepare to stop repairs to nearly all piers, runways and buildings.
* Begin a civilian hiring freeze.
“These steps come at a price,” Adm. Greenert said. “Much like putting off an oil change because you can’t afford the $20 service, we save in the short-term, but shorten the car’s life and add to the backlog of work for later.”
More drastic cuts are planned if Congress and President Obama fail to make a deal that would forestall automatic, across-the-board budget cuts set to begin March 1. Those cuts include stopping nearly all non-deployed operations for training and exercises, and reducing deployed operations in the Middle East and Pacific.
“Once we shut down our sustainment training, it will take our ships and squadrons about nine months to conduct the maintenance and training needed to be certified to deploy again,” Adm. Greenert said.
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PALAWAN (January 29, 2013) — Tubbataha Reef off the southern Philippines is home to some of the richest marine life on the planet. It’s much deserving of its world heritage site status. But it’s now under serious threat since a US Navy minesweeper ran aground on a coral wall on January 17th. Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan reports.
US Navy Will Hack Minesweeper to Pieces
To Remove it from Sensitive Reef near Philippines Michael Zennie / The London Daily Mail
(January 29, 2013) — The US Navy will hack apart a multimillion-dollar minesweeper ship caught on a coral reef in the Philippines, rather than risk further damage to the sensitive ecosystem.
The USS Guardian has become a political and logistical nightmare for the Navy since it ran aground on January 17 in the Sulu Sea.
Navy engineers decided their only option is to destroy the 225-foot ship by cutting it up and hauling it away on a barge, instead of trying to drag it off the reef. The ship is 23 years old and one of just 14 of her type in the Navy.
The Philippine government is furious over the damage to the Tubbataha Reef, which is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The government has demanded that the U.S. Navy do as much as possible to minimize damage to the coral.
‘Tubbataha Reef is a treasure to the Philippine people, we absolutely understand her environmental importance,’ Lieutenant Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, told MailOnline.
Additionally, engineers worry that the ship — which has a wood and fiberglass bottom — might no longer be seaworthy after its hull was punctured by the coral.
It’s unclear how, exactly, the ship will be dismantled — it’s something that the Navy has not done in recent memory — or perhaps ever, experts say.
The Navy has ordered two massive crane ships and a barge from the Dutch contractor Smit International to clean up and haul away the Navy vessel. The Navy is still investigating how the ship, which is designed to seek and destroy marine mines, ran aground.
The ship has complex sonar systems that can detect mines beneath the surface of the water. It is unknown how the systems failed to detect the reef. The Navy has said its maps placed the Tubbataha Reef eight nautical miles off from its actual location.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Rice was in charge of the of the ship when she hit the reef as she was sailing between Puerto Princesa and Indonesia on a routine patrol.
None of the 79 sailors about the ship were injured and all but ten of the crew was returned to the forward-deployment base in Sasebo, Japan.
Those ten sailors, including Lt Commander Rice, remained behind aboard the USS Mustin — a guided missile destroyer that is overseeing the cleanup operation.
Lt Falvo said the Navy would determine whether Lt Commander Rice will face disciplinary action after it concludes its investigation of the crash.
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The Bellicosity of a Democrat’s Second Term Anthony Gregory / The Huffington Post
(January 24, 2013) — Despite having escalated the war in Afghanistan, widened the drone killing in Pakistan, bombed Yemen and Somalia, waged various proxy wars, started a war in Libya, and dragged his feet in the Iraq withdrawal, Obama won the November election as the peace candidate.
In the foreign policy presidential debate, Obama boasted of his muscular achievements, yet also succeeded in casting Romney as even more belligerent. This was easy, since the Republicans have a well-deserved modern reputation for their bellicosity, having pushed through the last three biggest wars in American history. Mitt Romney, surrounded by Bush neocons, did not offer much hope for peaceniks, even when he said “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”
Both conservatives and progressives perceive Obama as more reluctant to project American power abroad than the Republicans, and there might be some truth to this. So far.
History does not necessarily repeat itself predictably, but there are patterns worth noting here that reemerge again and again. In election season, we hear countless theories about what electoral trends “always hold” in presidential politics. Well, I’ve identified a fairly unsettling pattern myself:
Democrats seem to become more bellicose in their second term.
In the last hundred years, starting when early 20th century progressivism began shaping the ideology of the modern Democratic Party, the trend seems clear.
Woodrow Wilson, riding on the Democrats’ reputation as the party of foreign restraint, in contrast to the Spanish-American War Republicans, ran for reelection in 1916 on an explicit peace slogan: “He Kept Us Out of War.”
The election coincided with his punitive expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico, but Wilson still seemed less intent on entering the European bloodbath across the ocean than the Republicans did. Yet in his second term, Wilson dragged the United States into World War I, in the name of “making the world safe for democracy” and “ending all wars.”
Over 116,000 Americans died. Wilson proceeded to erect a domestic police state with the most vicious crackdowns on free speech in US history, which saw the deportation of hundreds of political dissidents. In Europe, the balance of power was tipped, and communism and fascism rose from the ashes.
The very next Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appeared to reinvigorate the party’s commitment to peace and free trade — at least compared to the warmongering and protectionist Republicans.
In his second term, he signed off on a peacetime draft and began mobilizing for war, but still promised in the 1940 election to keep the United States out of war: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again; your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
In his third term, the United States entered the deadliest conflict in world history, and the most lethal foreign war for Americans — over 400,000 died. Japanese-Americans were interned, the whole economy was mobilized for battle, and the military-industrial complex was born.
FDR was succeeded by Harry Truman, and although Truman dropped the nuclear bombs on Japan in his first year, perhaps the most infamous US war actions in history, the war also technically ended on his watch in the first term. But in his second term, Truman launched the first major hot conflict of the Cold War, starting a “police action” in Korea without congressional authorization, supporting the South Korean dictatorship while dropping 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,000 tons of napalm all over the north, killing about a million civilians and 37,000 Americans in the conflict.
Republicans and conservatives initially spoke out in opposition to this new global crusade against communism, especially the conscription and violence in Korea.
Kennedy never got a second term, but Lyndon Johnson won reelection in 1964 with his notorious mushroom cloud attack ad against Goldwater. LBJ was the perceived peace candidate. He promised explicitly that year: “We are not going to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
After reelection, he vastly escalated American intervention in Vietnam, eventually leading 58,000 Americans, mostly conscripts, to their deaths, and ultimately killing millions of Vietnamese through carpet bombings and other brutal methods.
Jimmy Carter never won a second term. But Bill Clinton did in 1996, as many of his supporters pushed the relative peace Americans had enjoyed.He was an interventionist in his first term, but it was in his second that he unleashed his most conspicuous war actions — Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998, and his most violent war, against Serbia, in 1999.
That brings us to President Obama, the fifth among Democrats starting with Wilson who won reelection on the perception of being pro-peace.
Modern Republicans, in contrast, have tended to be less bellicose in their second terms. Teddy Roosevelt was always a warmonger, but in his first term he oversaw the brutal suppression of insurgents in the Philippine war that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Eisenhower’s first term saw the war wind down in Korea and the CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala; his second wasn’t quite so eventful.
We don’t know what George H.W. Bush’s second term would have been like, but I doubt he would have been as militaristic as in the first, when he invaded Panama and attacked Iraq. And George W. Bush’s first term occasioned the invasion and overthrow of two foreign regimes and a massive expansion of the warfare state; his second term was relatively quiet for those of us who feared he’d become much worse upon reelection.
Noam Chomsky has credibly compared Obama’s first term to Bush’s second. I fear that his second term will compare to Bush’s first. He has been arming unsavory characters throughout the Muslim world, playing with a full-blown war with Syria, and tightening the sanctions on Iran. He rang in the new year with a major escalation of drone bombings.
These patterns do not determine the future, and surely the sketch above is an over-generalization to which one could find many exceptions. Yet it seems a general and eerie trend does emerge: Republicans become less belligerent after reelection; Democrats become more bellicose.
But what could be the motive? Here is my fear: Obama, like most progressive Democrats before him, probably wants to go down in history as a truly great president. Meanwhile, he is spending lots of political capital on gun control measures he knows will face major resistance and can hurt his party. What better way to win back support from the center and neutralize the conservatives than to take a cue from the Democratic Party’s playbook and save the big explosions for Act II?
His progressive supporters might say they won’t stand for it, but historically, they either looked the other way or, more often, lined up enthusiastically, when their president decided it was time for war. Indeed, we have already seen the opposition to militarism, indefinite detention, and even torture decline on the mainstream left every year Obama’s been in power.
And to those who still insist you’ll hold your president’s feet to the fire, all I’ll say is: Please do. But you had your best chance in the first term to exert some pressure. Many of you put domestic policy ahead of foreign policy and forsook civil liberties for reelection. I fear it might be too late to turn back now.
Anthony Gregory is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. His articles have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, San Diego Union-Tribune, Portland Oregonian (AZ), Contra Costa Times, The Star (Chicago, IL), Washington Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, Albany (NY) Times Union, Raleigh News and Observer, Florida Today, and other newspapers.
(January 28, 2013) — John Kerry and Chuck Hagel — two of the best mainstream nominees that President Obama could have selected for Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively — will soon face Senate confirmation. With these nominees, hopefully Obama is signaling a veering away from interventionism to a long overdue, restrained foreign policy.
During the first term, to his credit, Obama ended the Iraq war with thankfully no American troops remaining in that country, set an end date to American combat in Afghanistan, and has apparently signaled an accelerated withdrawal of US forces from there.
Unfortunately, the downside to Obama’s first term foreign policy was his expanded, and therefore unconstitutional, “secret” drone war against Islamists in many countries, which included killing American citizens without any due legal process. Also, Obama was dragged by the newly aggressive France into a primarily air war in Libya to overthrow a Muammar Gaddafi, a dictator who had already agreed to play ball with the West.
Although during his second term, Obama again risks being sucked in by the French to another brushfire war in the developing world — this time in the African nation of Mali — Obama has been headed down the right path of lessening US involvement in unnecessary wars.
Obama must warn France that American help will be confined to intelligence and US aircraft to transport French soldiers and that the United States will not bail out France from any future quagmire on the ground (Vietnam all over again), which seems likely.
Hopefully, Obama’s negotiation with Hamid Karzai to keep some American troops in Afghanistan after the US “withdrawal” date in 2014 will fail. The main trunk of al Qaeda (the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks) in Afghanistan and Pakistan has largely been wiped out, and the current drone campaign is simply making new Islamist enemies for the United States.
Besides, if the United States needed an emergency military strike against such remnants of al Qaeda, it could be taken from outside those countries using long-range Air Force bombers or carrier-based naval aircraft.
Obama should also cease drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, thus halting the generation of new Islamist enemies in those countries. (Furthermore, the Senate should veto Obama’s nominee to direct the CIA, John Brennan, who is the architect of the drone program.)
Scaling back or eliminating the drone campaign in these countries would save a little money, but many more savings are needed to battle the nation’s monstrous debt of more than $16 trillion. First of all, the United States no longer needs to plan to fight and to size its ground forces for more than one war at a time.
Second, because no need exists for a “greater than one war” capability and because the All Volunteer Force has become too costly, expensive active Army and Marine divisions need to be reduced and National Guard and Reserve forces need to be trained to a higher standard.
Third, to reduce the costs of all military forces, cutting the soaring health care costs of active and retired forces is a must; thus, those currently serving and those who are retired must pay a greater share of their health care costs.
In addition, the luxurious retirement of US military personnel at a very early age (which is even much earlier than the infamous low retirement age in Greece), compared with that of the general American population, must be ended.
Finally, excessive benefits, such as subsidizing military housing and grocery bills, need to be curtailed. Contrary to conventional wisdom, compared to civilians working in the general economy, military personnel during peacetime receive lavish pay and benefits; these excessive perks need to be cut back.
Recently, Leon Panetta, the current Secretary of Defense argued that the US needed a military presence in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Yet no real threat exists to Europe, Africa is not strategic to the United States, and no other great power could challenge US dominance of Latin America, even if US forces operated from the continental United States.
In fact, in the current low threat environment worldwide, to save money, the United States could reduce the number of its military bases all over the world, decommission many of the military units stationed there, and rely more on forces projected from the United States.
Drastic cuts in the defense budgets will be needed, especially if President Obama adheres to his apparent irresponsible Second Inaugural pledge to hold fast on reforming rapidly growing entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.
At minimum, the president should endorse additional defense cuts of about $500 billion over nearly a decade, which will take effect if nothing is changed (what has been heretofore called the “fiscal cliff”). In reality, to put the nation on a better fiscal footing, and thus to ensure its long-term security, defense cuts should go even deeper than that.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore
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MOGADISHU, Somalia (January 28, 2013) — Ali Hassan spends his day sitting in a former mosque, now a ramshackle shelter for drug users, idly staring at his cell phone as he waits for it to ring. A gravedigger with more than 20 years of experience, Hassan is finding life in Mogadishu’s newfound stability hard.
He became a gravedigger at the height of the civil war, when he used to dig at least 30 graves a day. “I became a gravedigger in 1991, when burying dead bodies was the best business in Somalia.”
People who want to bury their deceased family members ring his cell phone to ask him to dig graves for them. He listens religiously to the cacophony coming from downtown Mogadishu for the sound of loud bangs or continuous rounds of fire. “When there is a loud bang, we know it is an explosion. When there is a sustained gunfire, we know something is wrong and people may die. Deaths mean there will be business for us.”
However, with gun battles falling in Mogadishu these days, the number of people brought to the cemetery for burial has almost fallen markedly. “Two years ago I used to bury 30 bodies a day, now I bury one if I’m lucky and often I bury none.” The father of four is struggling to put food on the table for his young family. His children have been forced to drop out of school because he can’t afford to pay their school fees. He is struggling to provide one meal a day.
After more than 20 years of continuous fighting, Somalis finally seem to be emerging from the dark days of their civil war. “Somalis are tired of fighting. They know now, first hand, that fighting each other brings only two things: death and destruction. Somalis are the biggest driving force behind the return of peace in Mogadishu,” says Abdullahi Mohamed Shirwa, chairman of the Mogadishu-based peace advocacy group Somali Peace Line.
More than 17,000 African Union soldiers are now in the Horn of Africa country to support the weak government in their fight against the hardline rebel group al-Shabab.
Under increased military pressure, al-Shabab has retreated from major cities in south-central Somalia. This has moved the frontlines of the war away from populous cities and town, reducing deaths. “Mogadishu is no longer a frontline, and Bakara Market [the biggest market in Somalia] is no longer been shelled and fought over by al-Shabab, Somali government soldiers and African Union (AU) troops, so the number [of] deaths has decline greatly,” said Shirwa.
At the height of the civil war, 14 gravediggers used to work seven days a week at Abdirashid Ali Sharmake cemetery, but currently only two remain, one of whom is Ali Hassan. Fifty-one-year-old Mohamed Jama, a father of seven, is the other remaining gravedigger.
Jama dug his first grave in 1994 for $30, and never looked back. He remembers the days, just over a year ago, when AU soldiers and al-Shabab were fighting in Bakara Market. “I sometimes use to make about $300 a day when they were fighting in the busy market. Many people were killed and were brought to this cemetery to be buried.” He recounts that business was even better before, when warlords constantly fought for turf, leaving countless people dead.
Even though Jama made the most amount of money during those years, he remembers that time as the worst in his career. “Their militias would many times bring live people to the cemetery, then order us to dig graves before executing the people in the graves we just dug right in front of our eyes, telling us to bury them.”
Those years continue to haunt Jama: “I don’t like to dig a grave for a person standing next to me begging for mercy.” Some of his colleagues were killed when they refused to dig graves for militias. “Five of my friends were killed when they refused to dig grave for militias when they brought a live person.”
Despite those challenges, his seven kids went to private schools and he had a maid helping his wife with housework. The family lived in a four-bedroom rented house, but have now moved from their rented house into a camp for internally displaced persons.
The Pinch of Peace
It’s not only the gravediggers feeling the pinch of peace in Mogadishu. The dead bodies brought to Jama for burial are usually wrapped in a white piece of cloth. According to Muslim customs, when someone dies they should be wrapped in a white piece of cloth called kaffan before being buried.
With the number of deaths in Mogadishu falling greatly, kaffan sellers in Hamar Weyne have also been left wondering how to make ends meet.
“Two years ago we use to sell at least 49 metres of kaffan a day. Now, we barely sell two metres,” says kaffan seller Mohamed Abdi Khadir.
He’s been forced to diversify his target market from selling kaffan for burials to selling it as a tablecloth to new top-end restaurants opening in Mogadishu.
“In Mogadishu, if you don’t adapt with the changing currents, you will die.”
Jama feels he is too old to change his career. He speaks clearly about what will put food on the table for his family: “For us, we are happy when there are bombs going off and fighting taking place. I have seven children and a wife to feed.
“If others don’t die, they will die.”
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