Tuesday, April 26, 2011

War Number Three

Today I have to swallow my pride and mail a $1.00 check to my Uncle George.

Last month, when Clinton and Obama announced the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, I applauded the decision.  Muammar Qaddafi was the first of the Middle Eastern despots to respond to the current waves of citizen protest by bombing peaceful protesters from the air.  That went on for weeks and international condemnation did nothing to stop him.  I publicly posted on Facebook my desire for grounding those planes.

I'm not a war supporter.  In fact, I can't think of another military action in my lifetime that I supported.  I certainly did not support the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.  In 2003, I even wrote letters to the English-language newspapers in the Security Council nations.  I urged them not to support President Bush's appeal to invade Iraq (based on trumped up WMD allegations).  That was when it looked like he cared whether or not the UN approved.

But I like the concept of Just War.  The tenets of Just War would justify stopping Hitler's horrors in the late 1930s and limited action to prevent air slaughter by Qaddafi.  Here are the key tenets:

Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. 
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. 
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. 

Self-serving means, the usual measure of whether or not the US should get involved, do not impress me.  Whether military action is to our advantage is of less interest to me than human rights.  Some might argue this makes the US the world's policeman.  I disagree.  "When in doubt, stay out" would be a good rule.  Nor do I argue that the US is a preferred player over an international force.  In the case of Libya, the Arab League would have been the preferred players.  Unfortunately, too many of them saw themselves as the next Mubarak, the next Qaddafi, and stayed on the sidelines.

So I applauded Clinton, Obama and NATO when they finally acted on 18 March.   I also respected Secretary Gates' opposition to the action.  Caution from a Secretary of Defense is a welcome sign.  The President overstepped though in making statements supporting the rebels and opposing Qaddafi.  He overstepped by staying involved when NATO decided to bomb Qaddafi's headquarters and to fight on the side of the rebels.  He has now done still worse, authorizing drone assassins to operate in Libya.  These are the hated tools of a great power, always used against a weaker one.  We have the capacity to send anonymous drone aircraft to bomb targets without pilots on board.  We wreak great damage, often killing civilians, and encourage anger and resentment.  Hearts and minds cannot be won this way.

So the day after the US jumped in to impose the no-fly zone, my Uncle George insisted that we would now be embroiled in a third Middle East war, that we would not be "in and out" as I maintained.  I was sure this president was smarter than the last.  After all, he had been very reluctant to take the limited action in the first place, apparently angering Hillary Clinton who argued for it long before he agreed.  He knew we needed to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq, messes he inherited.  Why would he now add Libya in any long-term way?  I bet George one dollar that within one month, the US would have no presence in Iraq except the possibility of participation in a UN Peacekeeping Force.  George was sure I was wrong.  And a bit naive.

So today I mail a dollar to Uncle George.  I really wanted his dollar instead.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The F Word

It's not polite to use the F word.  I personally would rather win an argument without resorting to insults and name-calling.  But some of what I see happening does tempt me.

In Michigan, the Governor is pushing for authority to declare martial law and remove local elected officials.  He would then appoint corporate interests to run city services in their place.  Taxpayer dollars will flow to these private corporations.  Surely this is F word in spades! 

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the duly constituted military forces of the US, under the authority of the elected Commander in Chief, have been largely replaced by for-profit corporations like Haliburton and Xe (formerly Blackwater).   Over a TRILLION in taxpayer dollars have already been spent.  Couldn't I use the F word here?

Since the launch of the "global war on terror," the administration has systematically funneled billions of dollars in public money to corporations like Blackwater USA , DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Erinys and ArmorGroup. They have in turn used their lucrative government pay-outs to build up the infrastructure and reach of private armies so powerful that they rival or outgun some nation's militaries.
"I think it's extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its foreign policy or national security objectives," says veteran U.S. Diplomat Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War.
The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies, Wilson argues, "makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body politic and an interest group that is in fact armed. And the question will arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?"
Precise data on the extent of U.S. spending on mercenary services is nearly impossible to obtain -- by both journalists and elected officials--but some in Congress estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war goes to corporate war contractors. At present, the United States spends about $2 billion a week on its Iraq operations. Source

Under No Child Left Behind, more and more public schools are becoming "failing" schools.  By 2014, the law would in fact define all public schools that way.  On that date, 100% of students (including ESL and special education students) must be able to pass rigorous state tests or the school will be designated failing.  And what happens to failing public schools?  Their public dollars flow to such profitable ventures as Sylvan tutoring and for-profit charter schools.  In some cases, whole districts are contracted out to corporate interests.  Does bring the F word to mind, I'm afraid.

In 2008, the banking industry spent $48 million to lobby my elected officials in Washington.  They donated an additional $38 million to those officials' campaign war chests.  They received $750 BILLION of your taxes and mine in return, not to mention tax breaks, weakened oversight and regulation and federal judges who would rule in their favor.  That's a 1000 times return on investment.  I'm choking down that F word.

On April 15th, I sent my required citizen contribution to Washington.  I don't mind contributing to public services or to the costs of running an imperfect but democratic system.  But I don't like to think that someone I don't get to vote in or out in a three piece suit is waiting in the IRS lobby to cash my check.   I don't like him running my government -- not locally, not nationally.

The F word can be summoned to mean many things -- domineering authoritarian government, militarism, intolerance or ultra-nationalism.   When government and powerful corporate interests are working lock-step together though, would it still be impolite to use the F word? 

In general, apart from the nationalizations of some industries, (F word) economies were based on private property and private initiative, but these were contingent upon service to the state.  (The F word) operated from a Social Darwinist view of human relations. Their aim was to promote superior individuals and weed out the weak. In terms of economic practice, this meant promoting the interests of successful businessmen while destroying trade unions and other organizations of the working class.  Historian Gaetano Salvemini argued in 1936 that (the F word) makes taxpayers responsible to private enterprise, because "the State pays for the blunders of private enterprise...Profit is private and individual.  Loss is public and social."  (F word) governments encouraged the pursuit of private profit and offered many benefits to large businesses, but they demanded in return that all economic activity should serve the national interest. Source
You are familiar with this F word, right?  I know only rude and crude people are allowed to use those words.  You know, the ones who draw Hitler mustaches on our President and insist he's some sort of alien.  The ones who shouted down Congressmen last summer.  You remember those guys?  I hate to stoop to those levels but sometimes I just can't stop the associations.  

If the word passes my lips, I'll just claim to have Tourettes.