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Friday, September 26, 2008

The new world war - the silence is a lie by John Pilger


In an article for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the 'great silence' over the annual British party conferences as politicians and their club of commentators say nothing about a war provoked and waged across the world the responsibility for which lies close at hand.

Britain’s political conference season of 2008 will be remembered as The Great Silence. Politicians have come and gone and their mouths have moved in front of large images of themselves, and they often wave at someone. There has been lots of news about each other. Adam Boulton, the political editor of Sky News, and billed as “the husband of Blair aide Anji Hunter”, has published a book of gossip derived from his “unrivalled access to No 10”. His revelation is that Tony Blair’s mouthpiece told lies. The war criminal himself has been absent, but the former mouthpiece has been signing his own book of gossip, and waving. The club is celebrating itself, including all those, Labour and Tory, who gave the war criminal a standing ovation on his last day in parliament and who have yet to vote on, let alone condemn, Britain’s part in the wanton human, social and physical destruction of an entire nation.

Instead, there are happy debates such as, “Can hope win?” and, my favourite, “Can foreign policy be a Labour strength?” As Harold Pinter said of unmentionable crimes: “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, has written that the Prime Minister “resembles a tragic hero in a Hardy novel: an essentially good man brought down by one error of judgement”. What is this one error of judgement? The bank- rolling of two murderous colonial adventures? No. The unprecedented growth of the British arms industry and the sale of weapons to the poorest countries? No. The replacement of manufacturing and public service by an arcane cult serving the ultra-rich? No. The Prime Minister’s “folly” is “postponing the election last year”. This is the March Hare Factor.

Reality can be detected, however, by applying the Orwell Rule and inverting public pronouncements and headlines, such as “Aggressor Russia facing pariah status, US warns”, thereby identifying the correct pariah; or by crossing the invisible boundaries that fix the boundaries of political and media discussion. “When truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”Understanding this silence is critical in a society in which news has become noise. Silence covers the truth that Britain’s political parties have converged and now follow the single-ideology model of the United States. This is different from the political consensus of half a century ago that produced what was known as social democracy. Today’s political union has no principled social democratic premises. Debate has become just another weasel word and principle, like the language of Chaucer, is bygone.

That the poor and the state fund the rich is a given, along with the theft of public services, known as privatisation. This was spelt out by Margaret Thatcher but, more importantly, by new Labour’s engineers. In The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle declared Britain’s new “economic strengths” to be its transnational corporations, the “aerospace” industry (weapons) and “the pre-eminence of the City of London”. The rest was to be asset-stripped, including the peculiar British pursuit of selfless public service. Overlaying this was a new social authoritarianism guided by a hypocrisy based on “values”. Mandelson and Liddle demanded “a tough discipline” and a “hardworking majority” and the “proper bringing-up [sic] of children”. And in formally launching his Murdochracy, Blair used “moral” and “morality” 18 times in a speech he gave in Australia as a guest of Rupert Murdoch, who had recently found God.

A “think tank” called Demos exemplified this new order. A founder of Demos, Geoff Mulgan, himself rewarded with a job in one of Blair’s “policy units”, wrote a book called Connexity. “In much of the world today,” he offered, “the most pressing problems on the public agenda are not poverty or material shortage . . . but rather the disorders of freedom: the troubles that result from having too many freedoms that are abused rather than constructively used.”
As if celebrating life in another solar system, he wrote: “For the first time ever, most of the world’s most powerful nations do not want to conquer territory.”That reads, now as it ought to have read then, as dark parody in a world where more than 24,000 children die every day from the effects of poverty and at least a million people lie dead in just one territory conquered by the most powerful nations. However, it serves to remind us of the political “culture” that has so successfully fused traditional liberalism with the lunar branch of western political life and allowed our “too many freedoms” to be taken away as ruthlessly and anonymously as wedding parties in Afghanistan have been obliterated by our bombs.

The product of these organised delusions is rarely acknowledged. The current economic crisis, with its threat to jobs and savings and public services, is the direct consequence of a rampant militarism comparable, in large part, with that of the first half of the last century, when Europe’s most advanced and cultured nation committed genocide. Since the 1990s, America’s military budget has doubled. Like the national debt, it is currently the largest ever. The true figure is not known, because up to 40 per cent is classified “black” – it is hidden. Britain, with a weapons industry second only to the US, has also been militarised. The Iraq invasion has cost $5trn, at least. The 4,500 British troops in Basra almost never leave their base. They are there because the Americans demand it. On 19 September, Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, was in London demanding $20bn from allies like Britain so that the US invasion force in Afghanistan could be increased to 44,000. He said the British force would be increased. It was an order.

In the meantime, an American invasion of Pakistan is under way, secretly authorised by President Bush. The “change” candidate for president, Barack Obama, had already called for an invasion and more aircraft and bombs. The ironies are searing. A Pakistani religious school attacked by American drone missiles, killing 23 people, was set up in the 1980s with CIA backing. It was part of Operation Cyclone, in which the US armed and funded mujahedin groups that became al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The aim was to bring down the Soviet Union. This was achieved; it also brought down the Twin Towers.On 20 September the inevitable response to the latest invasion came with the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. For me, it is reminiscent of President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970, which was planned as a diversion from the coming defeat in Vietnam.

The result was the rise to power of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Today, with Taliban guerrillas closing on Kabul and Nato refusing to conduct serious negotiations, defeat in Afghanistan is also coming.It is a war of the world. In Latin America, the Bush administration is fomenting incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Paraguay, democracies whose governments have opposed Washington’s historic rapacious intervention in its “backyard”. Washington’s “Plan Colombia” is the model for a mostly unreported assault on Mexico. This is the Merida Initiative, which will allow the United States to fund “the war on drugs and organised crime” in Mexico – a cover, as in Colombia, for militarising its closest neighbour and ensuring its “business stability”. Britain is tied to all these adventures – a British “School of the Americas” is to be built in Wales, where British soldiers will train killers from all corners of the American empire in the name of “global security”.

None of this is as potentially dangerous, or more distorted in permitted public discussion, than the war on Russia. Two years ago, Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian Studies at New York University, wrote a landmark essay in the Nation which has now been reprinted in Britain.* He warns of “the gravest threats [posed] by the undeclared Cold War Washington has waged, under both parties, against post-communist Russia during the past 15 years”. He describes a catastrophic “relentless winner-take-all of Russia’s post-1991 weakness”, with two-thirds of the population forced into poverty and life expectancy barely at 59. With most of us in the West unaware, Russia is being encircled by US and Nato bases and missiles in violation of a pledge by the United States not to expand Nato “one inch to the east”.

The result, writes Cohen, “is a US-built reverse iron curtain [and] a US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. [There is even] a presumption that Russia does not have fully sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow’s internal affairs since 1992 . . . the United States is attempting to acquire the nuclear responsibility it could not achieve during the Soviet era.”This danger has grown rapidly as the American media again presents US-Russian relations as “a duel to the death – perhaps literally”.

The liberal Washington Post, says Cohen, “reads like a bygone Pravda on the Potomac”. The same is true in Britain, with the regurgitation of propaganda that Russia was wholly responsible for the war in the Caucasus and must therefore be a “pariah”. Sarah Palin, who may end up US president, says she is ready to attack Russia. The steady beat of this drum has seen Moscow return to its old nuclear alerts. Remember the 1980s, writes Cohen, “when the world faced exceedingly grave Cold War perils, and Mikhail Gorbachev unexpectedly emerged to offer a heretical way out. Is there an American leader today ready to retrieve that missed opportunity?” It is an urgent question that must be asked all over the world by those of us still unafraid to break the lethal silence.

New Statesmen and Society 24 Sept 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Deadly Blast in Islamabad, Why was the Marriott Targeted? By TARIQ ALI

Tariq Ali

The deadly blast in Islamabad was a revenge attack for what has been going on over the past few weeks in the badlands of the North-West Frontier. It highlighted the crisis confronting the new government in the wake of intensified US strikes in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.
Hellfire missiles, drones, special operation raids inside Pakistan and the resulting deaths of innocents have fuelled Pashtun nationalism. It is this spillage from the war in Afghanistan that is now destabilizing Pakistan.


The de facto prime minister of the country, an unelected crony of President Zardari and now his chief adviser, Rehman Malik, said, "our enemies don't want to see democracy flourishing in the country". This was rich coming from him, but in reality it has little to do with all that. It is the consequence of a supposedly "good war" in Afghanistan that has now gone badly wrong. The director of US National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, admits as much, saying the Afghan leadership must deal with the "endemic corruption and pervasive poppy cultivation and drug trafficking" that is to blame for the rise of the neo-Taliban.


The majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the US presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace. Why, then, has the US decided to destabilize a crucial ally? Within Pakistan, some analysts argue this is a carefully coordinated move to weaken the Pakistani state by creating a crisis that extends way beyond the frontier with Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim, would be the extraction of the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs. If this were the case, it would imply Washington was determined to break up Pakistan, since the country would not survive a disaster on that scale.


In my view, however, the expansion of the war relates far more to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that President Karzai's regime is becoming more isolated each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.When in doubt, escalate the war, is an old imperial motto. The strikes against Pakistan represent - like the decisions of President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, to bomb and then invade Cambodia - a desperate bid to salvage a war that was never good, but has now gone badly wrong.


It is true that those resisting the Nato occupation cross the Pakistan-Afghan border with ease. However, the US has often engaged in quiet negotiations with them. Several feelers have been put out to the Taliban in Pakistan, while US intelligence experts regularly check into the Serena hotel in Swat to meet Maulana Fazlullah, a local pro-Taliban leader.


Pashtuns in Peshawar, hitherto regarded as secular liberals, told the BBC only last week that they had lost all faith in the west. The decision to violate the country's sovereignty at will had sent them in the direction of the insurgents.


While there is much grieving for the Marriott hotel casualties, some ask why the lives of those killed by Predator drones or missile attacks are considered to be of less value. In recent weeks almost 100 innocent people have died in this fashion. No outrage and global media coverage for them.


Why was the Marriot targeted? Two explanations have surfaced in the media. The first is that there was a planned dinner for the president and his cabinet there that night, which was cancelled at the last moment.


The second, reported in the respected Pakistani English-language newspaper, Dawn, is that "a top secret operation of the US Marines [was] going on inside the Marriott when it was attacked". According to the paper: "Well-equipped security officers from the US embassy were seen on the spot soon after the explosions. However, they left the scene shortly afterwards."


The country's largest newspaper, the News, also reported on Sunday that witnesses had seen US embassy steel boxes being carried into the Marriott at night on September 17. According to the paper, the steel boxes were permitted to circumvent security scanners stationed at the hotel entrance.


Mumtaz Alam, a member of parliament, witnessed this. He wanted to leave the hotel but, owing to the heavy security, he was not permitted to leave at the time and is threatening to raise the issue in parliament.


These may be the motivations for this particular attack, but behind it all is the shadow of an expanding war.



September 23, 2008 CounterPunch

Now is the Time to Resist Wall Street's Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein


I wrote The Shock Doctrine in the hopes that it would make us all better prepared for the next big shock. Well, that shock has certainly arrived, along with gloves-off attempts to use it to push through radical pro-corporate policies (which of course will further enrich the very players who created the market crisis in the first place...).

The best summary of how the right plans to use the economic crisis to push through their policy wish list comes from Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. On Sunday, Gingrich laid out 18 policy prescriptions for Congress to take in order to "return to a Reagan-Thatcher policy of economic growth through fundamental reforms." In the midst of this economic crisis, he is actually demanding the repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which would lead to further deregulation of the financial industry. Gingrich is also calling for reforming the education system to allow "competition" (a.k.a. vouchers), strengthening border enforcement, cutting corporate taxes and his signature move: allowing offshore drilling.

It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the right's ability to use this crisis -- created by deregulation and privatization -- to demand more of the same. Don't forget that Newt Gingrich's 527 organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, is still riding the wave of success from its offshore drilling campaign, "Drill Here, Drill Now!" Just four months ago, offshore drilling was not even on the political radar and now the U.S. House of Representatives has passed supportive legislation. Gingrich is holding an event this Saturday, September 27 that will be broadcast on satellite television to shore up public support for these controversial policies.
What Gingrich's wish list tells us is that the dumping of private debt into the public coffers is only stage one of the current shock. The second comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and "free-market stimulus."

We have seen this many times before, in this country and around the world. But here's the thing: these opportunistic tactics can only work if we let them. They work when we respond to crisis by regressing, wanting to believe in "strong leaders" - even if they are the same strong leaders who used the September 11 attacks to push through the Patriot Act and launch the illegal war in Iraq.
So let's be absolutely clear: there are no saviors who are going to look out for us in this crisis.

Certainly not Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the companies that will benefit most from his proposed bailout (which is actually a stick up). The only hope of preventing another dose of shock politics is loud, organized grassroots pressure on all political parties: they have to know right now that after seven years of Bush, Americans are becoming shock resistant.


September 22, 2008 The Huffington Post

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Open Letter to Christian Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is Now Rome By STAN GOFF

On February 1, 1996, I retired from the United States Army. I had served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam as an infantryman, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 4th Infantry Division, 2nd Ranger Battalion, the Jungle Operations Training Center, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta, the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1st Ranger Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, 75th Ranger Regiment, and finally 3rd Special Forces Group. I worked all over "hot spots" in Latin America during the 80s and early 90s. I participated in Grenada and Somalia; and I was the team sergeant for a Special Forces A-Detachment during the 1994 invasion of Haiti. In all that time, I was one of those atheists in the foxholes they say don't exist.

I could never have known that I'd find the faith to follow Christ and be baptized on Easter of my 56th year. But I did, even when I'd never grasped for spiritual reassurance as I slogged through the Central Highlands of Vietnam, leapt from airplanes into the night, or had helicopters shot out from under me. I've been taking up residence close to death for a long time. My faith isn't about jumping over death. It's about reconciling with God, who Jesus Christ showed us is Love.

When I was baptized I continued to carry my history; but one identity was sloughed off in the water and a new one born out of it. I write this open letter to troops, brothers and sisters -- of all branches -- who profess the faith of Christ. I write you to ask that you remember your baptism, because at that baptism you declared your renunciation of evil. * The big preposition Note the preposition. I didn't say faith in Christ, I said faith of Christ. Christian is a diminutive term; it means "little Christ." To be a Christian is not to merely have faith in Christ. That's too easy, and Jesus of Nazareth was not about easy. To be Christian is to aspire to have the faith of Christ. Christ's call is not to go along with the program, say the magic words, then be rescued from death. Christ did not merely command belief. Christ commands you to follow him. That command does not wait until death for it to become effective in your life. "Love your enemy."

This is not an etching at some altar that you visit; it is your path laid before you by the footsteps of Christ in this world. This is an action religion, not an abracadrabra religion. Christ tells us to take up the cross. That means be willing to risk all, to suffer all when suffering can heal the brokenness in the world. The brokenness of 1st Century Palestine was not altogether different from the brokenness of the world now. Jesus' ministry was conducted in the teeth of a Roman military occupation. Like Nuri al Malaki's "government," the Palestinian Jewish upper-class then lived in an uncomfortable collaboration with that occupation. There were also Jewish insurgents who fought the Roman occupation, who fought among themselves, and who attacked collaborating Jewish sects as well. One particular nationalist party that emerged prior to the revolt with Rome was known as the Zealots. You may recall that Jesus had such folk among his small band of disciples.

"And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot..." (Luke 6:13-15)
We can't beat around the bush about this comparison. It's clear.
We Romans

America is now Rome. You are Rome's army of occupation. To the Roman soldier, when Jesus passed down the dusty byways of his occupied land, he appeared no more or less than a random Iraqi or Afghan appears to you. What do you look like to them? Jesus himself looked at the Jewish resistance to Roman occupation, then looked at the corpses rotting on crosses along the roads as Roman examples to the Palestinian Jew,; and he chose a new way. His way was neither passivity, nor counter-violence, but non-violent resistance, just like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr.

Martin Luther King, who both cited Jesus' ministry in their own prophetic missions. Jesus looked at the violence-counterviolence cycle, and determined that each person in that system was redeemable as an individual - each a child of God, each beloved of God. Jewish, Roman, Samaritan, male, female... no matter. He also looked at how the system itself -- operating with a self-reinforcing dynamic that transcends the individual -- led people into the cycles of accusation and violence; and he proposed to undermine that system with this radical doctrine of spiritual equality, a redemption open to all through grace, and a redemption never imposed at the point of a sword... or under threat of a bomb. In the original story, written in Greek, Jesus says, "I am not of this world."

At least that's how many interpretations go. But the original Greek word kosmos means world, flesh, or system, depending on context. "I am not of this system." Not simply the system of Roman occupation, but the system of violence-counterviolence... all systems of domination, because domination breeds the cycle of violence-counterviolence.
Pretensions of the devil
Scripture has been interpreted to suit plenty that is the very evil you renounced at your baptism. The subjugation of women. Slavery. War. Even the white supremacist sects have quoted Scripture. But in order to do so, literalism and decontextualizaton have been used to distort the essence and spirit of the Scriptures for the most impure of motives. In America, we hear much about a few references to sex in the Bible, but little about the many references to poverty, and less about Jesus' provocations on peace. When Jesus says his way will break the dominance of one generation over another within the family, between slave and master, between male and female, he does not confine this vision to heaven - where the upside-down "kingdom" without oppression lives in the dimension of Spirit. He says "on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus was an earthy guy. He bathed in rivers, shat on the ground, and broke bread with fishmongers, tax-collectors, outcasts, prostitutes, Zealots... and he showed mercy to the child of a Roman soldier.

Even on the cross, in his final breaths as the Romans' victim, he cries out to God on behalf of those who kill him: "When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.'" (Luke 23:33-34) What do you think that means? Certainly the Roman soldiers (soldiers like you) knew they were participating in a crucifixion. The Roman troops had done this many times.
What they did not understand was how their system led them to do this. In Matthew 27:54, it was a Centurion who heard these words -- "forgive them" -- and experienced an earthquake, saying, "Truly, this is the Son of God." (Do you see how the symbolic truth here is more powerful than the literal seismology?) Forgiveness unmasks Satan, who is not the boogyman of popular culture, but the spirit in the culture -- some would call it a zeitgeist -- that acts as God's jealous pretender, that promotes Self as God, that plays the accuser to stir up the mob (weapons of mass destruction?), that sets up idols... so that we will "know not what we do," so we will not know who and whose we are. You can hear the voice of Satan in every instance of boasting, humiliation of another, profaning of what we know to be sacred (like God's Creation), every thought and word of aggression or revenge, every put-down of other people (all beloved of God). Where you are, you can see how the state of war and occupation -- putting you at odds with an occupied population that does not want to be occupied -- amplifies and focuses the malevolent spirit. Now ask yourself why? Why do troops run down civilians with vehicles to avoid slowing xdown? Why do troops throw bottles and cans at pedestrians to entertain themselves? Why did the massacres like Haditha occur? Why did the utter destruction of Fallujah happen? Why are wedding parties bombed by US aircraft? Why did a whole squad participate in the premeditated half-hour-long rape and murder of a screaming 14-year-old girl? Why is it that approaching an invader's roadblock can carry death sentence for a whole family? Why can children can be woken from their beds by soldiers kicking down the house doors? Why are thousands are held imprisoned without casue? Why are Iraqi and Afghan elders obliged to obey 20-year-old invaders who can't even speak their language? Why do your peers (perhaps even you) refer to all Iraqis or Afghans with epithets? Why do your peers laugh when they retell stories of their own cruelties and their humiliations of the people whose nations they have invaded? Why are you there? What is the spirit in our culture that spins out clever excuses for these evils? It is that same spirit that you renounced at your baptism, which I call on you to remember now. Remember your baptism, where you renounced Satan.
Making and unmaking enemies
Do you really understand -- any better than the Roman soldiers who "did their jobs" at Golgotha -- how this system has led you to where you are today? You are in the system; but that system is not God's. It is a system of human concupiscience, human malice, human domination, human hubris... a system that functions when you follow the crowd against the Holy Spirit. Satan loves a crowd. These are the weapons of the Satanic spirit that seizes the lynch mob, that calls us to domination and calls it self-defense -- even altruism. This is the spirit of our zeitgeist. Remember your baptism. You declared your renunciation of Satan, and you made that declaration to God.
Did you think it would be easy? The Roman soldiers had been convinced, and had convinced themselves, that they were right to do what they did. To make it alright in their own minds to do what they did, they had to withdraw recognition of the Jewish Palestinians' basic humanity. I don't know what they called the Palestinians, but I am sure there was some equivalent of the term "rag head" or "hajji." And in turn, no doubt, many angry Jews in Palestine had dehumanizing epithets for the Romans. That's the cycle. And as Gandhi said, "and eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Jesus said the same thing. He said that not only were you not to attack your enemies, you are commanded by God to love them. It was on the mountainside, there with His disciples sitting before the crowds, He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." (Matt 5:43-45) That's how Christ told us to break the cycle of enemy-making. Fight the system by loving the "enemy," but fight the system nonetheless. Provoke with your presence, but do not batter. This is how demonic power is unmasked, and how it was unmasked on the cross, where Christ baited a snare for Satan with his own frail body. Loving the enemy neutralizes the category of enemy.
Unfortunately, even with phalanxes of chaplains ready to distort and press the message of Christ into the business of war, this means that you are now part of an organization that has no reason to exist without an enemy. The ethic of the military is inscribed in the infantry phrase, "close with The Enemy and destroy him." The ethic of Christ is inscribed in neighbor-love -- love of anyone who is near, and enemy-love -- the unmaking of the category of "enemy." These two perspectives - military doctrine and the ethic of Christ -- cannot be reconciled. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (enemies who exploited the people for the economic benefit of Rome) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles (those who were not of the Jewish nation) do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:46-48) Christ told you to "love your enemies." Break the cycle of enemy-making.
Yet the armed forces are based, at their very core, on the existence of an enemy to destroy. The very doctrine that governs your organization, your technology, and your methods, cannot exist without The Enemy. To accomplish that, the armed forces must do two things: they must devalue the lives of all who are not members of the nation, and they must set up an idol to supplant God.
The idolatry of nation
In your military chapels hang American flags. But God's Creation does not stop at the border of the United States; and God's love is not extended exclusively to Americans; just as God's love was not extended exclusively to the Jews, but also embraced Samaritans and Gentiles and tax-collectors, and even the Roman soldiery who conducted the crucifixion of Jesus. And when we say we are blessed, we need to understand that blessing is not a reward of material goods or social power. To bless means to make whole... to heal brokenness. The root word in "salvation" is not save, but salve... a healing balm. If God is to bless America, then first and foremost, that means "heal" America -- reconcile America to God. Not put the symbol of political authority in the chapel where it can pose as something holy. America cannot be blessed by God without that same blessing -- that same making whole -- extending to the entire human family, because under God, the human family is indivisible. As theologian Shane Claiborne notes:
No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays. It is difficult to know where Christianity ends and America begins. Our money says, 'In God we Trust.' God's name is on American money, and America's flag is on God's altars.
The Hebraic tradition of Jesus forbids idolatry. Making the flag of a nation, one that has entered history only recently and will as surely leave it some day, an object of worship is idolatry. For God clearly says, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I am a jealous God ..." (Exodus 20:3-6) And at the heart of belief is not whether we have the proper mental acquiesce to a particular religious decree but whether or not we will follow this God who loves so passionately that even the enemy becomes the object of love. Such love is always contrary to the systems of empire and domination. Jesus clearly refuses the claim of Caesar over his life, economically and as a point of worship. Remember, he asks the followers of the Pharisees and Herod to hold up a coin with a graven image, an image of Caesar - the 'divine one,' an image explicitly forbidden by Judaic law, and then says, "give to this image, this false God, what it is due." "...Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's'" (Mark 12:17) Jesus was facing an attempt to entrap him in a debate about not paying taxes to The Enemy (Rome). His reply: Caesar's money? That's part of Caesar's system, not mine, and not God's. The use of this story today to claim one realm for religion and another for obedience to the state, the idea that there were two separate spheres in the state and religion then at all, is a grotesque retrojection of later interpretations into 1st Century Palestine. It is an absurdity that exploits our historical ignorance about that time and place.
This obedience-to-the-state interpretation of the story of the coin with Casear's graven image was proffered when the church was merged with the state... and it is blasphemy, a demonic co-optation of Scripture by principalities and powers to trick subject populations into support for the schemes of power. Christ didn't obey the state; he subverted it. Then the state bowed to the lynch mob and nailed this gentle rabbi to a cross for a slow and painful execution. There are a couple of things that we can never seem to separate from the state, however: money and war. * The pigeon-sellers of war The one time Jesus became physically angry in Scripture was when he overturned the tables of the pigeon-sellers and money-changers who were encamped on the steps of the temple, driving them out when they exploit and abuse and rob the poor ones who only seek obedience to God, corrupting a practice that was meant to connect and honor and instead making it an exploitive practice done in the name of religion and under the sanction of Rome. (Mark 11:15-18) Remember your baptism; and know that God's currency is courage in love, not the currency of Caesar that dissolves communities with obsession and envy and war. Can you see the money-changers at work again? Look around you now at the orgy of war-profiteering, the get-rich(er)-quick schemes that attach to war like pilot fish on a shark. But the shark must have enemies to feed upon. Now, even when there is no credible military threat to the United States that a standing military can prevent, you are being bent to the will of a doctrine that must have The Enemy. If there is no enemy, then one must be created.
The Enemy is the raison d'etre of the armed forces. And so other nations - nations of people who have already suffered terribly - were selected to become The Enemy in order to justify the plundering of their resources and the subsidized economies of war - from no-bid contracts for hi-tech weapons to contractors who pay exorbitant salaries and charge outrageous prices to wash your clothes, feed you, and run facilities that insulate you from the harsh and incessant realities of the nations you now occupy. Do you really think that were it not for oil, you would even be in that region? Do you know how many campaign contributions are funneled to politicians of both parties by "defense" contractors? Enemies make money. Enemies are good business. The business of war is good these days. The structures of evil and the evil of structures are visible to anyone who consents to see. Consenting to see constitutes an entry through the passageway of Grace.

Entering the New Life

You -- as an individual human being -- are redeemable through grace. Faith -- radical trust -- is how we act into Grace. "Consider the lilies of the field..." All the excuses and twisted explanations that are made for these wars of occupation - and that is what they are, lies and excuses - are designed to clear away the psychological and spiritual obstacles to your carrying out this occupation of other peoples' lands. The politicians are creating the twisted logic. The contractors are supporting the twisted logic. The warlike culture in America is directed by the very spirit you renounced at your baptism. The malevolent spirit is not just the devil; it is a devil-maker... a demonizer, an enemy-maker. The devil -- the malevolent within our zeitgeist -- demonizes Arabs (our brothers and sisters before God), demonizes Muslims (our brothers and sisters before God) and expresses these explanations-for-war as pus is expressed from an infected wound.

Even some clergy are complicit - as it was in the time of Jesus, when the clergy itself called for his execution. (Mark 11:17) You -- soldier, sailor, airman, marine... and you, officer -- must pray for them; and you must not obey them. You know, many of you, that the ugliness of any description of war can never be equal to the stark and actual obscenity of war. That obscenity is the visible face of Satan that many of us are working very very hard not to see. It's the twisted imitator of God, the demonic spirit, the misleader... that crafts a War Jesus. That millions have been misled does not in any way change what it is. Jesus never gave his sanction to war. The most common quote from scripture used by warmongering government and clergy is Luke 12:49-53, where Jesus says He will sow discord in the family.

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

He does not say "not peace, but war." He's says "not peace, but division." And the faultline for that division is between generations. Age and gender in 1st Century Palestine defined familial authority. Familial authority was the basis of social stability (the "peace" of Power). Get your head around that.

These divisions are not between brothers and sisters who are the co-children of God, but between generations and the hereditary powers that inhered in the system of human authority. To name this passage a call to war, or its justification, simply because it says he comes not to bring "peace" to domination in the patriarchal household, is a rhetorical acrobatic, just as the return of Caesar's image is not by any stretch a call to obey the government.

This passage is a call to divide human authority in order to reunite authority under a loving God. And it is a clear call. The official doctrine of the armed forces is based on an Enemy. The doctrine of the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven" has no enemies.

Ever since Constantine subverted the church by making it a state religion, the powers and principalities have taken the name of Christ and abused it to make war. Christ invoked to support prejudice and oppression. Christ invoked to line pockets (ignoring that Jesus said you cannot serve God and money at the same time). (Matt 6:24) Look past these centuries of pretenders, because the Word that is the Christ remains unshakable, even when it is a minority view in a broken and warlike culture. You are called to disobey human authority each and every time that authority commands you to increase the brokenness of the world. Refuse to fight. Refuse to support the fighting. Lay down your weapons and refuse to fight, and you will be blessed. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matt 5:9). You will be healed and made whole; you will be reconciled to God because you will have begun your reconciliation with the billions of human beings who are -- under God -- one family. You will be reviled -- powerfully at first -- as Christ was on the way to Golgotha.

The malevolent spirit will writhe. You will be ridiculed as an extremist, less-than-a-real-man (or whichever other gendered attack), an apostate, just as Jesus was when even his closest friends refused to acknowledge their relation to him while the crowd howled for his blood. And you will enter into conflict with your own families. You will not be nailed to a cross; but you may be jailed, spat on, isolated, abused... but you will also be embraced, accepted, and loved. We already love you. This is what you need far more than the esteem of the demonic macho culture of war that glorifies the taking of human life - God has already forgiven your past and pointed to the path ahead. Do not any longer give the glory to Rome that belongs to God. * From Jerusalem to Baghdad Do not expect praise or stained-glass or elegiac music in the background when you refuse. This path blazed by Christ is gritty and hard. As George MacLeod once said,
I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the center of the [street market] as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town's garbage heap; at a cross road, so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek... At the kind of a place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died for. And that is what He died about. That is where [Christians] ought to be and what [Christians] ought to be about.
"About" in a place not unlike Mosul or Baghdad or Bagram or Khoust. The mission that made Jesus into the Christ, the anointed, was not cleaned and pressed, not shiny like a supermarket, not sanitary like a freshly scrubbed bathroom, not air-conditioned, not safe. You are at the kind of place where God breaks into the world to the exact degree that you let yourself become a "little Christ" -- the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Christ. Christ doesn't demand your mere belief. Christ demands participation in the work of God. Lay down your weapons, refuse your orders, accept the ridicule and abuse of the mob that "does not know what it is doing," and Christ will walk beside you. You'll be surprised at how many of us will walk beside you, too.
Who would lead a total revolution that would shake off internal oppression as well as the foreign yoke... Jesus' approach stood in unique opposition to the prevailing assumptions of his day. He articulated an altogether different way... He did not come in the sectarian guise of his time, offering redemption only to those belonging to a particular group, nor did he adopt a primarily adversarial stance. He came with a prophetic message concerned for the good of all and with an eagerness to bring God's kingdom within reach of everybody, even the enemy.
[from Jesus and the Non-Violent Revolution, by Andre Trocme] Remember your baptism.

Your allegiance is to the eternal God, not the flag of a transient empire. Who and whose are you? You will hear people say that this burnt out veteran has no authority to speak as a Christian on these matters. And I am burnt out; and I did come to Christianity late in life. But I am not making any of this up. Honest and fearless Christian theologians of the ecumenical, prophetic, and evangelical churches have spoken out against war, and in exactly the terms presented here. I bring nothing original to this plea for obedience to the God of the Nazarene. I write to you as one who has shared your experience, not that of the clergy or the Academy. I have known your position, trapped between the regrets and guilt of the past and the anxieties of the future, plodding against the current of Holy Spirit to clutch at the "esteem" of your militarized nation, "proving" yourselves again and again to your peers who define masculinity and human value by the ability to risk one's own safety to dominate or destroy others. That is who I was before I was baptized into who and whose I am, and that is why I can tell you that the risk you must take is the risk not to dominate. It is the risk of losing the esteem of those who "know not what they do." Seek your redemption and the redemption of the world, the flesh, the system... by taking up the cross, walking the painful path to Golgotha, and overcoming your alienation from the triune God, who Paul - himself a violent persecutor of Jesus' followers until his epiphany - called Love, Grace, and Fellowship with your human family. The fellowship you lose if and when you refuse to fight, if you refuse to give another hour of support to this obscene enterprise, will be replaced not seven-fold, but seven-hundredfold by the fellowship of Peace: Christians, non-Christians, veterans, and non-veterans, and from many nations. This Pentecost waits for you. Have faith, knowing that faith is not sorcery... not magic... not abracadabra. Faith is radical trust that God has your back.

And trust the evidence not of what those around you try to excuse and explain, but of what you see them actually do. Watch how your institution treats 'the least among us," because that is how the institution is treating Christ (Matt 25:40). You cannot point a gun at another human being, frighten a child, bully a man, demean a woman, violate the sanctity of a threshold, or kill, and not be doing this violence to Christ. There is nothing circumstantial about it. Christ was categorical about this. You must resist; and you must do so without violence and be prepared to love those who abuse you for your refusal. And trust, too, that all will be well, even though you might pass through a dark night first. Your obedience to peer pressure and your obedience to the government are both superceded absolutely by obedience to God. Elections will not stop this war, just shift its emphasis. Only you will stop it, starting with yourself. That is the way Jesus worked; and at your baptism you promised to follow the Christ. Refuse your work. Refuse your orders. Refuse to pick up the weapon and fight; and pray for the redemtion of those who will stand against you when you stand with God. When you do, and do so in the name of Christ, there are thousands more waiting that will follow. And there is One who will walk beside you every step of the way.
Stan Goff is the author of "Hideous Dream: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000), "Full Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003 He is a Methodist and an organic gardener. He has written about the military and militarism, and about masculinity-constructed-as-conquest. He can be reached at: stan@stangoff.com

LINKS for Christian troops ready to say no:








NOTE From Wikipedia on Contientious Objection:
A 1971 United States Supreme Court decision broadened U.S. rules beyond religious belief but denied the inclusion of objections to specific wars as grounds for conscientious objection.[22] Some desiring to include the objection to specific wars distinguish between wars of offensive aggression and defensive wars while others contend that religious, moral, or ethical opposition to war need not be absolute or consistent but may depend on circumstance or political conviction.


Currently, the U.S. Selective Service System states, "Beliefs which qualify a registrant for conscientious objector status may be religious in nature, but don't have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims."[23] In the US, this applies to primary claims, that is, those filed on initial SSS registration. On the other hand, those who apply after either having registered without filing, and/or having attempted or effected a deferral, are specifically required to demonstrate a discrete and documented change in belief, including a precipitant, that converted a non-CO to a CO. The male reference is due to the current "male only" basis for conscription in the United States. In the United States, there are two main criteria for classification as a conscientious objector. First, the objector must be opposed to war in any form, Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437. Second, the objection must be sincere, Witmer v. United States, 348 U.S. 375. That he must show that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief was no longer a criterion after cases broadened it to include non-religious moral belief, United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 and Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333. COs willing to perform non-combatant military functions are classed 1-A-O by the U.S.; those unwilling to serve at all are 1-O.


This open letter and other written material (like that found in the enclosed links) opposing war on moral and-or religious grounds "demonstrate a discrete and documented change in belief, including a precipitant, that converted a non-CO to a CO," if they are listed as the persuasive moral, religious, and philosophical arguments leading to your objector status.


September 16, 2008 CounterPunch

The American War Moves to Pakistan, Bush's War Widens Dangerously by Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.

Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the U.S. presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace.

Why, then, has the U.S. decided to destabilize a crucial ally? Within Pakistan, some analysts argue that this is a carefully coordinated move to weaken the Pakistani state yet further by creating a crisis that extends way beyond the badlands on the frontier with Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim, would be the extraction of the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs. If this were the case, it would imply that Washington was indeed determined to break up the Pakistani state, since the country would very simply not survive a disaster on that scale.

In my view, however, the expansion of the war relates far more to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated with each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.

When in doubt, escalate the war is an old imperial motto. The strikes against Pakistan represent -- like the decisions of President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to bomb and then invade Cambodia (acts that, in the end, empowered Pol Pot and his monsters) -- a desperate bid to salvage a war that was never good, but has now gone badly wrong.

It is true that those resisting the NATO occupation cross the Pakistan-Afghan border with ease. However, the U.S. has often engaged in quiet negotiations with them. Several feelers have been put out to the Taliban in Pakistan, while U.S. intelligence experts regularly check into the Serena Hotel in Swat to discuss possibilities with Mullah Fazlullah, a local pro-Taliban leader. The same is true inside Afghanistan.

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a whole layer of the Taliban's middle-level leadership crossed the border into Pakistan to regroup and plan for what lay ahead. By 2003, their guerrilla factions were starting to harass the occupying forces in Afghanistan and, during 2004, they began to be joined by a new generation of local recruits, by no means all jihadists, who were being radicalized by the occupation itself.

Though, in the world of the Western media, the Taliban has been entirely conflated with al-Qaeda, most of their supporters are, in fact, driven by quite local concerns. If NATO and the U.S. were to leave Afghanistan, their political evolution would most likely parallel that of Pakistan's domesticated Islamists.

The neo-Taliban now control at least twenty Afghan districts in Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces. It is hardly a secret that many officials in these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters. Though often characterized as a rural jacquerie they have won significant support in southern towns and they even led a Tet-style offensive in Kandahar in 2006. Elsewhere, mullahs who had initially supported President Karzai's allies are now railing against the foreigners and the government in Kabul. For the first time, calls for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

The neo-Taliban have said that they will not join any government until "the foreigners" have left their country, which raises the question of the strategic aims of the United States. Is it the case, as NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested to an audience at the Brookings Institution earlier this year, that the war in Afghanistan has little to do with spreading good governance in Afghanistan or even destroying the remnants of al-Qaeda? Is it part of a master plan, as outlined by a strategist in NATO Review in the Winter of 2005, to expand the focus of NATO from the Euro-Atlantic zone, because "in the 21st century NATO must become an alliance... designed to project systemic stability beyond its borders"?

As that strategist went on to write:

"The centre of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward. As it does, the nature of power itself is changing. The Asia-Pacific region brings much that is dynamic and positive to this world, but as yet the rapid change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way... [S]ecurity effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and capability."
Such a strategy implies a permanent military presence on the borders of both China and Iran. Given that this is unacceptable to most Pakistanis and Afghans, it will only create a state of permanent mayhem in the region, resulting in ever more violence and terror, as well as heightened support for jihadi extremism, which, in turn, will but further stretch an already over-extended empire.

Globalizers often speak as though U.S. hegemony and the spread of capitalism were the same thing. This was certainly the case during the Cold War, but the twin aims of yesteryear now stand in something closer to an inverse relationship. For, in certain ways, it is the very spread of capitalism that is gradually eroding U.S. hegemony in the world. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's triumph in Georgia was a dramatic signal of this fact. The American push into the Greater Middle East in recent years, designed to demonstrate Washington's primacy over the Eurasian powers, has descended into remarkable chaos, necessitating support from the very powers it was meant to put on notice.

Pakistan's new, indirectly elected President, Asif Zardari, the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto and a Pakistani "godfather" of the first order, indicated his support for U.S. strategy by inviting Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai to attend his inauguration, the only foreign leader to do so. Twinning himself with a discredited satrap in Kabul may have impressed some in Washington, but it only further decreased support for the widower Bhutto in his own country.

The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened U.S. raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted unity of the military High Command might come under real strain. At a meeting of corps commanders in Rawalpindi on September 12th, Pakistani Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani received unanimous support for his relatively mild public denunciation of the recent U.S. strikes inside Pakistan in which he said the country's borders and sovereignty would be defended "at all cost."

Saying, however, that the Army will safeguard the country's sovereignty is different from doing so in practice. This is the heart of the contradiction. Perhaps the attacks will cease on November 4th. Perhaps pigs (with or without lipstick) will fly. What is really required in the region is an American/NATO exit strategy from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India, and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and the Americans have failed abysmally.

Published on Wednesday, September 17, 2008 by TomDispatch.com

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ossetia-Georgia-Russia-U.S.A. Towards a Second Cold War? By NOAM CHOMSKY


Aghast at the atrocities committed by US forces invading the Philippines, and the rhetorical flights about liberation and noble intent that routinely accompany crimes of state, Mark Twain threw up his hands at his inability to wield his formidable weapon of satire. The immediate object of his frustration was the renowned General Funston. “No satire of Funston could reach perfection,” Twain lamented, “because Funston occupies that summit himself... [he is] satire incarnated.”

It is a thought that often comes to mind, again in August 2008 during the Georgia-Ossetia-Russia war. George Bush, Condoleezza Rica and other dignitaries solemnly invoked the sanctity of the United Nations, warning that Russia could be excluded from international institutions “by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with” their principles. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations must be rigorously honored, they intoned – “all nations,” that is, apart from those that the US chooses to attack: Iraq, Serbia, perhaps Iran, and a list of others too long and familiar to mention.

The junior partner joined in as well. British foreign secretary David Miliband accused Russia of engaging in “19th century forms of diplomacy” by invading a sovereign state, something Britain would never contemplate today. That “is simply not the way that international relations can be run in the 21st century,” he added, echoing the decider-in-chief, who said that invasion of “a sovereign neighboring state…is unacceptable in the 21st century.” Mexico and Canada therefore need not fear further invasions and annexation of much of their territory, because the US now only invades states that are not on its borders, though no such constraint holds for its clients, as Lebanon learned once again in 2006.

“The moral of this story is even more enlightening,” Serge Halimi writes in Le Monde Diplomatique and CounterPunch newsletter, “when, to defend his country's borders, the charming pro-American Saakashvili repatriates some of the 2,000 soldiers he had sent to invade Iraq,” one of the largest contingents apart from the two warrior states.

Prominent analysts joined the chorus. Fareed Zakaria applauded Bush’s observation that Russia’s behavior is unacceptable today, unlike the 19th century, “when the Russian intervention would have been standard operating procedure for a great power.” We therefore must devise a strategy for bringing Russia “in line with the civilized world,” where intervention is unthinkable.

There were, to be sure, some who shared Mark Twain’s despair. One distinguished example is Chris Patten, former EU commissioner for external relations, chairman of the British Conservative Party, chancellor of Oxford University and a member of the House of Lords. He wrote that the Western reaction “is enough to make even the cynical shake their heads in disbelief” – referring to Europe’s failure to respond vigorously to the effrontery of Russian leaders, who, “like 19th-century tsars, want a sphere of influence around their borders.”

Patten rightly distinguishes Russia from the global superpower, which long ago passed the point where it demanded a sphere of influence around its borders, and demands a sphere of influence over the entire world. It also acts vigorously to enforce that demand, in accord with the Clinton doctrine that Washington has the right to use military force to defend vital interests such as “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources” – and in the real world, far more.

Clinton was breaking no new ground, of course. His doctrine derives from standard principles formulated by high-level planners during World War II, which offered the prospect of global dominance. In the postwar world, they determined, the US should aim “to hold unquestioned power” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. To secure these ends, “the foremost requirement [is] the rapid fulfillment of a program of complete rearmament,” a core element of “an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the United States.” The plans laid during the war were implemented in various ways in the years that followed.

The goals are deeply rooted in stable institutional structures. Hence they persist through changes in occupancy of the White House, and are untroubled by the opportunity for “peace dividends,” the disappearance of the major rival from the world scene, or other marginal irrelevancies. Devising new challenges is never beyond the reach of doctrinal managers, as when Ronald Reagan pulled on his cowboy boots and declared a national emergency because the Nicaraguan army was only two days from Harlingen Texas, and might lead the hordes who are about to “sweep over the United States and take what we have,” as Lyndon Johnson lamented when he called for holding the line in Vietnam. Most ominously, those holding the reins may actually believe their own words.

Returning to the efforts to elevate Russia to the civilized world, the seven charter members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries issued a statement “condemning the action of our fellow G8 member,” Russia, which has yet to comprehend the Anglo-American commitment to non-intervention. The European Union held a rare emergency meeting to condemn Russia’s crime, its first meeting since the invasion of Iraq, which elicited no condemnation.

Russia called for an emergency session of the Security Council, but no consensus was reached because, according to Council diplomats, the US, Britain, and some others rejected a phrase that called on both sides “to renounce the use of force.”

The typical reactions recall Orwell’s observations on the “indifference to reality” of the “nationalist,” who “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but ... has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

The basic facts are not seriously in dispute. South Ossetia, along with the much more significant region of Abkhazia, were assigned by Stalin to his native Georgia. Western leaders sternly admonish that Stalin’s directives must be respected, despite the strong opposition of Ossetians and Abkhazians. The provinces enjoyed relative autonomy until the collapse of the USSR. In 1990, Georgia’s ultranationalist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished autonomous regions and invaded South Ossetia. The bitter war that followed left 1000 dead and tens of thousands of refugees, with the capital city of Tskhinvali “battered and depopulated” (New York Times).
A small Russian force then supervised an uneasy truce, broken decisively on August 7, 2008, when Georgian president Saakashvili’s ordered his forces to invade. According to “an extensive set of witnesses,” the Times reports, Georgia’s military at once “began pounding civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali, as well as a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire.” The predictable Russian response drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, and Russia went on to conquer parts of Georgia, then partially withdrawing to the vicinity of South Ossetia. There were many casualties and atrocities. As is normal, the innocent suffered severely.

Russia reported at first that ten Russian peacekeepers were killed by Georgian shelling. The West took little notice. That too is normal. There was, for example, no reaction when Aviation Week reported that 200 Russians were killed in an Israeli air raid in Lebanon in 1982 during a US-backed invasion that left some 15-20,000 dead, with no credible pretext beyond strengthening Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.

Among Ossetians who fled north, the “prevailing view,” according to the London Financial Times, “is that Georgia’s pro-western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, tried to wipe out their breakaway enclave.” Ossetian militias, under Russian eyes, then brutally drove out Georgians, in areas beyond Ossetia as well. “Georgia said its attack had been necessary to stop a Russian attack that already had been under way,” the New York Times reports, but weeks later “there has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages.”

In Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports, “legislators, officials and local analysts have embraced the theory that the Bush administration encouraged Georgia, its ally, to start the war in order to precipitate an international crisis that would play up the national-security experience of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.” In contrast, French author Bernard-Henri Levy, writing in the New Republic, proclaims that “no one can ignore the fact that President Saakashvili only decided to act when he no longer had a choice, and war had already come. In spite of this accumulation of facts that should have been blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers, many in the media rushed as one man toward the thesis of the Georgians as instigators, as irresponsible provocateurs of the war.”

The Russian propaganda system made the mistake of presenting evidence, which was easily refuted. Its Western counterparts, more wisely, keep to authoritative pronouncements, like Levy’s denunciation of the major Western media for ignoring what is “blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers” for whom loyalty to the state suffices to establish The Truth – which, perhaps, is even true, serious analysts might conclude.

The Russians are losing the “propaganda war,” BBC reported, as Washington and its allies have succeeded in “presenting the Russian actions as aggression and playing down the Georgian attack into South Ossetia on August 7, which triggered the Russian operation,” though “the evidence from South Ossetia about that attack indicates that it was extensive and damaging.” Russia has “not yet learned how to play the media game,” the BBC observes. That is natural. Propaganda has typically become more sophisticated as countries become more free and the state loses the ability to control the population by force.

The Russian failure to provide credible evidence was partially overcome by the Financial Times, which discovered that the Pentagon had provided combat training to Georgian special forces commandos shortly before the Georgian attack on August 7, revelations that “could add fuel to accusations by Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister, last month that the US had `orchestrated’ the war in the Georgian enclave.” The training was in part carried out by former US special forces recruited by private military contractors, including MPRI, which, as the journal notes, “was hired by the Pentagon in 1995 to train the Croatian military prior to their invasion of the ethnically-Serbian Krajina region, which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars.” The US-backed Krajina expulsion (generally estimated at 250,000, with many killed) was possibly the worst case of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II. Its fate in approved history is rather like that of photographs of Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, for simple and sufficient reasons: it does not accord with the required image of US nobility confronting Serbian evil.

The toll of the August 2008 Caucasus war is subject to varying estimates. A month afterwards, the Financial Times cited Russian reports that “at least 133 civilians died in the attack, as well as 59 of its own peacekeepers,” while in the ensuing Russian mass invasion and aerial bombardment of Georgia, according to the FT, 215 Georgians died, including 146 soldiers and 69 civilians. Further revelations are likely to follow.

In the background lie two crucial issues. One is control over pipelines to Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Georgia was chosen as a corridor by Clinton to bypass Russia and Iran, and was also heavily militarized for the purpose. Hence Georgia is “a very major and strategic asset to us,” Zbigniew Brzezinski observes.

It is noteworthy that analysts are becoming less reticent in explaining real US motives in the region as pretexts of dire threats and liberation fade and it becomes more difficult to deflect Iraqi demands for withdrawal of the occupying army. Thus the editors of the Washington Post admonished Barack Obama for regarding Afghanistan as “the central front” for the United States, reminding him that Iraq “lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves,” and Afghanistan’s “strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq.” A welcome, if belated, recognition of reality about the US invasion.

The second issue is expansion of NATO to the East, described by George Kennan in 1997 as “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era, [which] may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations.”

As the USSR collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev made a concession that was astonishing in the light of recent history and strategic realities: he agreed to allow a united Germany to join a hostile military alliance. This “stunning concession” was hailed by Western media, NATO, and President Bush I, who called it a demonstration of “statesmanship ... in the best interests of all countries of Europe, including the Soviet Union.”

Gorbachev agreed to the stunning concession on the basis of “assurances that NATO would not extend its jurisdiction to the east, `not one inch’ in [Secretary of State] Jim Baker's exact words.” This reminder by Jack Matlock, the leading Soviet expert of the Foreign Service and US ambassador to Russia in the crucial years 1987 to 1991, is confirmed by Strobe Talbott, the highest official in charge of Eastern Europe in the Clinton administration. On the basis of a full review of the diplomatic record, Talbott reports that “Secretary of State Baker did say to then Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in the context of the Soviet Union's reluctant willingness to let a unified Germany remain part of NATO, that NATO would not move to the east.”

Clinton quickly reneged on that commitment, also dismissing Gorbachev’s effort to end the Cold War with cooperation among partners. NATO also rejected a Russian proposal for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone from the Arctic to the Black Sea, which would have “interfered with plans to extend NATO,” strategic analyst and former NATO planner Michael MccGwire observes.
Rejecting these possibilities, the US took a triumphalist stand that threatened Russian security and also played a major role in driving Russia to severe economic and social collapse, with millions of deaths. The process was sharply escalated by Bush’s further expansion of NATO, dismantling of crucial disarmament agreements, and aggressive militarism. Matlock writes that Russia might have tolerated incorporation of former Russian satellites into NATO if it “had not bombed Serbia and continued expanding. But, in the final analysis, ABM missiles in Poland, and the drive for Georgia and Ukraine in NATO crossed absolute red lines. The insistence on recognizing Kosovo independence was sort of the very last straw. Putin had learned that concessions to the U.S. were not reciprocated, but used to promote U.S. dominance in the world.Once he had the strength to resist, he did so,” in Georgia.

Clinton officials argue that expansion of NATO posed no military threat, and was no more than a benign move to allow former Russian satellites to join the EU (Talbott). That is hardly persuasive. Austria, Sweden and Finland are in the EU but not NATO. If the Warsaw Pact had survived and was incorporating Latin American countries – let alone Canada and Mexico – the US would not easily be persuaded that the Pact is just a Quaker meeting. There should be no need to review the record of US violence to block mostly fanciful ties to Moscow in “our little region over here,” the Western hemisphere, to quote Secretary of War Henry Stimson when he explained that all regional systems must be dismantled after World II, apart from our own, which are to be extended.
To underscore the conclusion, in the midst of the current crisis in the Caucasus, Washington professes concern that Russia might resume military and intelligence cooperation with Cuba at a level not remotely approaching US-Georgia relations, and not a further step towards a significant security threat.
Missile defense too is presented here as benign, though leading US strategic analysts have explained why Russian planners must regard the systems and their chosen location as the basis for a potential threat to the Russian deterrent, hence in effect a first-strike weapon. The Russian invasion of Georgia was used as a pretext to conclude the agreement to place these systems in Poland, thus “bolstering an argument made repeatedly by Moscow and rejected by Washington: that the true target of the system is Russia,” AP commentator Desmond Butler observed.
Matlock is not alone in regarding Kosovo as an important factor. “Recognition of South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence was justified on the principle of a mistreated minority's right to secession - the principle Bush had established for Kosovo,” the Boston Globe editors comment.
But there are crucial differences. Strobe Talbott recognizes that “there's a degree of payback for what the U.S. and NATO did in Kosovo nine years ago,” but insists that the “analogy is utterly and profoundly false.” No one is a better position to know why it is profoundly false, and he has lucidly explained the reasons, in his preface to a book on NATO’s bombing of Serbia by his associate John Norris. Talbott writes that those who want to know “how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved” in the war should turn to Norris’s well-informed account. Norris concludes that “it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war.”
That the motive for the NATO bombing could not have been “the plight of Kosovar Albanians” was already clear from the rich Western documentary record revealing that the atrocities were, overwhelmingly, the anticipated consequence of the bombing, not its cause. But even before the record was released, it should have been evident to all but the most fervent loyalists that humanitarian concern could hardly have motivated the US and Britain, which at the same time were lending decisive support to atrocities well beyond what was reported from Kosovo, with a background far more horrendous than anything that had happened in the Balkans. But these are mere facts, hence of no moment to Orwell’s “nationalists” – in this case, most of the Western intellectual community, who had made an enormous investment in self-aggrandizement and prevarication about the “noble phase” of US foreign policy and its “saintly glow” as the millennium approached its end, with the bombing of Serbia as the jewel in the crown.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear from the highest level that the real reason for the bombing was that Serbia was a lone holdout in Europe to the political and economic programs of the Clinton administration and its allies, though it will be a long time before such annoyances are allowed to enter the canon.
There are of course other differences between Kosovo and the regions of Georgia that call for independence or union with Russia. Thus Russia is not known to have a huge military base there named after a hero of the invasion of Afghanistan, comparable to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, named after a Vietnam war hero and presumably part of the vast US basing system aimed at the Middle East energy-producing regions. And there are many other differences.
There is much talk about a “new cold war” instigated by brutal Russian behavior in Georgia. One cannot fail to be alarmed by signs of confrontation, among them new US naval contingents in the Black Sea – the counterpart would hardly be tolerated in the Caribbean. Efforts to expand NATO to Ukraine, now contemplated, could become extremely hazardous.
Nonetheless, a new cold war seems unlikely. To evaluate the prospect, we should begin with clarity about the old cold war. Fevered rhetoric aside, in practice the cold war was a tacit compact in which each of the contestants was largely free to resort to violence and subversion to control its own domains: for Russia, its Eastern neighbors; for the global superpower, most of the world. Human society need not endure – and might not survive – a resurrection of anything like that.
A sensible alternative is the Gorbachev vision rejected by Clinton and undermined by Bush. Sane advice along these lines has recently been given by former Israeli Foreign Minister and historian Shlomo ben-Ami, writing in the Beirut Daily Star: “Russia must seek genuine strategic partnership with the US, and the latter must understand that, when excluded and despised, Russia can be a major global spoiler. Ignored and humiliated by the US since the Cold War ended, Russia needs integration into a new global order that respects its interests as a resurgent power, not an anti-Western strategy of confrontation.”


September 11, 2008 CounterPunch

Petraeus to McCain and Obama, Take Another Look at the Surge By PATRICK COCKBURN


As he leaves Iraq this week the outgoing US commander General David Petraeus is sounding far less optimistic than the Republican presidential candidate John McCain about the American situation in Iraq. Gen Petraeus says that it remains “fragile”, recent security gains are “not irreversible” and “this is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade…it’s not a war with a simple slogan.”

Compare this with Sarah Palin’s belief that “victory in Iraq is wholly in sight” and her criticism of Barack Obama for not using the word ‘victory.’ (though Obama did inexplicably concede in an interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly) that “the surge has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” The Republican contenders have made their claims of success for the surge -- the American reinforcements sent last year -- although they are demonstrably contradicted by the fact that the US has to keep more troops, some 138,000, in Iraq today than before the surge.

Another barometer of the true state of security in Iraq is the failure of the 4.7 million refugees, one in six of the population, who fled for their lives inside and outside Iraq, to return to their homes.
Ongoing violence is down but Iraq is still the most dangerous country in the world. On Friday a car bomb exploded in the Shia market town of Dujail north of Baghdad killing 32 people and wounding 43 others. “The smoke filled my house and the shrapnel broke some of the house’s windows,” said Hussein al-Dujaili. “I went outside the house and saw two dead bodies at the gate after they had been thrown there by the explosion. Some people were in panic and others were crying.”

Playing down such killings, the Iraqi government and the US have launched a largely successful propaganda campaign to convince the rest of the world that “things are better” in Iraq and life is returning to normal. One Iraqi journalist recorded his fury at watching newspapers around the world pick up a story that the world’s largest Ferris wheel was to be built in Baghdad, a city where there is usually only two hours of electricity a day.

Life in Baghdad certainly is better than it was 18 months ago when some 60 to 100 bodies were being found beside the road every morning, the victims of Sunni-Shia sectarian slaughter. The main reason this ended was that the battle for Baghdad in 2006-7 was won by the Shia who now control three quarters of the capital. These demographic changes appear permanent and Sunni who try to get their houses back face assassination.

In Mosul, Iraq’s northern capital and third largest city with a population of 1.8 million people, the government was trumpeting its success only a few months ago. It said it had succeeded in driving al-Qa’ida from the city and killing those that remained. The US said the number of attacks had fallen from 130 to 30 a week in July. But today they are back up to 60-70 a week and two weeks ago insurgents came close to killing Major-General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, with a roadside bomb. The perception in the US that the tide has turned in Iraq is in part because of a change in the attitude of the foreign and largely American media. The war in Iraq has now been going on for five years, longer than the First World War. The world is bored with it. US network television maintains expensive bureaus in Baghdad but little of what they produce gets on the air. When it does viewers turn off. US newspaper bureaus are being cut in size. The result of all this is that the American voter hears less of violence in Iraq and might suppose that America’s military adventure there is finally coming good.

An important reason for this optimism is the fall in the number of American soldiers killed. The 30,000 US soldiers wounded in Iraq are seldom mentioned. This has happened because the war which was being waged against the American occupation by the Sunni community, the 20 per cent of Iraqis who were in control under Saddam Hussein, has largely ended. It did so because the Sunni were being defeated not so much by the American army as by the Shia government and the Shia militias.

Shia insurgent leaders who were nationalists or Baathists realised that they had too many enemies. Al Qa’ida was trying to take over from traditional tribal leaders. It was also killing Sunni who took minor jobs with the government. The Awakening or al-Sahwa movement of Sunni fighters was first formed in Anbar province at the end of 2006. But it was allied to the US not the Iraqi government. This is why, despite pressure from Gen Petraeus, the government is so determined not to give the 99,000 al-Sahwa members significant jobs in the police or security forces when it takes control of – and supposedly begins to pay -- these Sunni militiamen from October 1. The Shia government may be prepared to accommodate the Sunni but not to dilute the Shia dominance in the post-Saddam Iraqi state.

If John McCain wins the presidential election in November then his lack of understanding of what is happening in Iraq could ignite a fresh conflict. In so far as the surge has achieved military success it is because it implicitly recognizes America’s political defeat in Iraq. Whatever the reason that President Bush decided to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 it was not to place the Shia Islamic parties in power and increase the influence of Iran in Iraq. Yet that is exactly what has happened.

The surge only achieved the degree of success it did because Iran decided to back fully the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. It had played a central role in getting him appointed in 2006. It negotiated a ceasefire between the Iraqi government and the powerful movement of Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra at the end of March. It got him to call his militiamen off the streets there and again two months later in the Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City. It is very noticeable that in recent weeks the US has largely ceased its criticism of Iran. This is partly because of American preoccupation with Russia since the fighting began in Georgia in August. But it is also an implicit recognition that US security in Iraq is highly dependent on Iranian actions.

Gen Petraeus has had a measure of success in Iraq less because of his military skills than because he was one of the few American leaders to have some understanding of Iraqi politics. In January 2004 when Gen Petraeus was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul I asked him what was the most important piece of advice he could give to his successor. He replied that it was ‘not to align too closely with one ethnic group, political party, tribe, religious group or social element.’ But today the US has no alternative but to support Mr Maliki and his Shia government and to wink at the role of Iran in Iraq. If Senator McCain supposes the US has won a military victory, and as president acts as if this was true, then he is laying the groundwork for a new war.



September 15, 2008 CounterPunch

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Party Police by Amy Goodman




The Democratic and Republican national conventions have passed, but controversy surrounds how they were funded and how they were run. Mass arrests of peaceful protesters, excessive police violence, wholesale disregard for the Bill of Rights and the targeting and arrest of journalists marred what should have been celebrations of democracy. The "host committees," the legal entities that organize and pay for the conventions, act as large party slush funds, outside of campaign-finance restrictions. Scores of major corporations (and a couple of unions), barred from giving unlimited funds to political parties, could give whatever they wanted to the host committees of Denver and St. Paul, Minn.

According to a recent article in National Underwriter magazine, "Both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee refused to comment on their insurance purchasing decisions, or even reveal who was providing coverage for their respective conventions." Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who organized scores of legal observers around the Twin Cities to protect citizens' legal rights, told me: "St. Paul actually negotiated a special insurance provision with the Republican host committee so that the first $10 million in liability for lawsuits arising from the convention will be covered by the host committee. The city is very proud of this negotiation. It's the first time it's been negotiated between a city and the host committee. But it basically means we [the city] can commit wrongdoing, and we won't have to pay for it." According to the Minnesota Independent, more than 40 journalists were arrested or detained during the Republican National Convention.

Like what happened to "Democracy Now!" producer Nicole Salazar, videotaping protests in downtown St. Paul. She was violently forced to the ground, her nose bloodied, was held down with a man's knee or boot on her back, with another person pulling on her leg. Fellow producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous was thrown against a wall and kicked in the chest and back. The police might normally intervene and arrest the perpetrators. Except here, it was the police who were the assailants. And they arrested their victims. Arriving on the scene, I tried to have my colleagues freed, as we were all accredited journalists, and the police arrested me. And we were not the only ones.

As the mayors and police of St. Paul and Minneapolis patted each other on the back for a job well done, the nonprofit group FreePress, the head of the local chapter of the Newspaper Guild and other media advocates and reporters delivered more than 50,000 signatures to the mayor's office demanding that the charges against the journalists be dropped. We were met by St. Paul Deputy Mayor Ann Mulholland. Free Speech TV CEO Denis Moynihan asked about the Republican host committee indemnification of the city, "Isn't that just giving a $10 million ticket to the police to violate civil rights?" Mulholland countered, "We are very proud of that ... the $10 million was critical for our city. We would not have been able to host the convention otherwise."

The two major-party conventions have become protracted, expensive advertising spectacles for the presidential candidates. It makes sense that Democrats and Republicans would want to control the message. But democracy is not an advertisement, nor is it under the sole dominion of the two parties. People were engaged in Denver and St. Paul in a vast array of civic dialogue, public gatherings, marches, protests, concerts, art openings-in fact, there was more democracy happening outside the convention halls than inside them. The convention center names tell the story: It was the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Xcel, which pushes nuclear power, gave $1 million to each convention. Both top candidates support nuclear power as a viable option.

In Denver, but particularly in St. Paul, dissent was crushed with a massive array of paramilitarized police, operating under the U.S. Secret Service, granted jurisdiction over the "National Special Security Events" that the conventions have been dubbed. Corporations pay millions to the host committees, earning exclusive access to lawmakers and candidates. The host committees, in turn, unleash police on the public, all but guaranteeing injuries, unlawful arrests and expensive civil litigation for years to come. More than just a campaign-finance loophole that must be closed, this is a national disgrace.

Throughout the convention week, one of the 25 remaining typeset copies of the Declaration of Independence was on display at St. Paul City Hall-not far from where crowds were pepper-sprayed, clubbed, tear-gassed and attacked by police with concussion grenades. As the clouds clear, it is instructive to remember the words of one of the Declaration's signers, Benjamin Franklin:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."