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Olympic Capitalism: Bread and Circuses Without the Bread May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Economic Crisis, Latin America, Sports, War.
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Roger’s note: When I was a member of Toronto’s Metropolitan City Council, I was an avid opponent of the city’s (failed) bid for the 1996 Olympics and a supporter of the citizen lead Bread Not Circuses Coalition.  I can verify from my experience and research at the time, that everything you read below is true.

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/1/2014 at 14:54:47

By (about the author)  

he author of Brazil’s Dance With the Devil, Dave Zirin, must love sports, as I do, as billions of us do, or he wouldn’t keep writing about where sports have gone wrong.  But, wow, have they gone wrong!

Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016.  In preparation Brazil is evicting 200,000 people from their homes, eliminating poor neighborhoods, defunding public services, investing in a militarized police and surveillance state, using slave and prison labor to build outrageous stadiums unlikely to be filled more than once, and “improving” a famous old stadium (the world’s largest for 50 years) by removing over half the capacity in favor of luxury seats.  Meanwhile, popular protests and graffiti carry the message: “We want ‘FIFA standard’ hospitals and schools!” not to mention this one:

 


FIFA Train
(image by http://warisacrime.org)

 

(FIFA = Fédération Internationale de Football Association, aka Soccer Profiteers International)

Brazil is just the latest in a string of nations that have chosen the glory of hosting mega sports events like the Olympics and World Cup despite the drawbacks.  And Zirin makes a case that nations’ governments don’t see the drawbacks as drawbacks at all, that in fact they are the actual motivation.  “Countries don’t want these mega-events in spite of the threats to public welfare, addled construction projects, and repression they bring, but because of them.”  Just as a storm or a war can be used as an excuse to strip away rights and concentrate wealth, so can the storm of sporting events that, coincidentally or not, have their origins in the preparation of nations for warmaking.

Zirin notes that the modern Olympics were launched by a group of European aristocrats and generals who favored nationalism and war — led by Pierre de Coubertin who believed sport was “an indirect preparation for war.” “In sports,” he said, “all the same qualities flourish which serve for warfare: indifference toward one’s well being, courage, readiness for the unforeseen.”  The trappings of the Olympic celebration as we know it, however — the opening ceremonies, marching athletes, Olympic torch run, etc., — were created by the Nazis’ propaganda office for the 1936 games.  The World Cup, on the other hand, began in 1934 in Mussolini’s Italy with a tournament rigged to guarantee an Italian win.

More worrisome than what sports prepare athletes for is what they may prepare fans for.  There are great similarities between rooting for a sports team, especially a national sports team, and rooting for a national military.  “As soon as the question of prestige arises,” wrote George Orwell, whom Zirin quotes, “as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.”  And there is prestige not just in “your” team winning, but in “your” nation hosting the grand event.  Zirin spoke with people in Brazil who were of mixed minds, opposing the injustices the Olympics bring but still glad the Olympics was coming to Brazil.  Zirin also quotes Brazilian politicians who seem to share the goal of national prestige.

At some point the prestige and the profits and the corruption and the commercialism seem to take over the athletics.  “[T]he Olympics aren’t about  sport any more than the Iraq war was about democracy,” Zirin writes. “The Olympics are not about athletes.  And they’re definitely not about bringing together the ‘community of nations.’ They are a neoliberal Trojan horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.”

And yet … And yet … the damn thing still is about sports, no matter what else it’s about, no matter what alternative venues for sports are possible or imaginable.  The fact remains that there are great athletes engaged in great sporting activities in the Olympics and the World Cup.  The attraction of the circus is still real, even when we know it’s at the expense of bread, rather than accompanying bread.  And dangerous as the circus may be for the patriotic and militarist minded — just as a sip of beer might be dangerous to an alcoholic — one has the darndest time trying to find anything wrong with one’s own appreciation for sports; at least I do.

The Olympics are also decidedly less militaristic — or at least overtly militaristic — than U.S. sports like football, baseball, and basketball, with their endless glorification of the U.S. military.  “Thank you to our service men and women watching in 175 countries and keeping us safe.” The Olympics is also one of the few times that people in the U.S. see people from other countries on their televisions without wars being involved.

Zirin’s portrait of Brazil leaves me with similarly mixed sentiments. His research is impressive. He describes a rich and complex history.  Despite all the corruption and cruelty, I can’t help being attracted to a nation that won its independence without a war, abolished slavery without a war, reduces poverty by giving poor people money, denounces U.S. drone murders at the U.N., joins with Turkey to propose an agreement between the United States and Iran, joins with Russia, India, and China to resist U.S. imperialism; and on the same day this year that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed ending the open internet, Brazil created the world’s first internet bill of rights. For a deeply flawed place, there’s a lot to like.

It’s also hard to resist a group of people that pushes back against the outrages being imposed on it.  When a bunch of houses in a poor Brazilian neighborhood were slated for demolition, an artist took photos of the residents, blew them up, and pasted them on the walls of the houses, finally shaming the government into letting the houses stand.  That approach to injustice, much like the Pakistani artists’ recent placement of an enormous photo of a drone victim in a field for U.S. drone pilots to see, has huge potential.

Now, the question is how to display the Olympics’ victims to enough Olympics fans around the world so that no new nation will be able to accept this monster on the terms it has been imposing.

David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more…)

The National Security State Wins (Again) May 15, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Why the Real Victor in Campaign 2012 Won’t Be Obama or Romney

By William J. Astore, www.tomdispatch.com, May 15, 2012

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.

The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.

Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him — so goes American political thinking — candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops.

Indeed, with respect to the national security complex, candidate Romney already comes across like Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco in the classic film Key Largo: he knows he wants one thing, and that thing is more. More ships for the Navy. More planes for the Air Force. More troops in general — perhaps 100,000 more. And much more spending on national defense.

Clearly, come November, whoever wins or loses, the national security state will be the true victor in the presidential sweepstakes.

Of course, the election cycle alone is hardly responsible for our national love of weaponry and war. Even in today’s straitened fiscal climate, with all the talk of government austerity, Congress feels obliged to trump an already generous president by adding yet more money for military appropriations. Ever since the attacks of 9/11, surging defense budgets, forever war, and fear-mongering have become omnipresent features of our national landscape, together with pro-military celebrations that elevate our warriors and warfighters to hero status. In fact, the uneasier Americans grow when it comes to the economy and signs of national decline, the more breathlessly we praise our military and its image of overwhelming power. Neither Obama nor Romney show any sign of challenging this celebratory global “lock and load” mentality.

To explain why, one must consider not only the pro-military positions of each candidate, but their vulnerabilities — real or perceived — on military issues. Mitt Romney is the easier to handicap. As a Mormon missionary in France and later as the beneficiary of a high draft lottery number, Romney avoided military service during the Vietnam War. Perhaps because he lacks military experience, he has already gone on record (during the Republican presidential debates) as deferring to military commanders on decisions such as whether we should bomb Iran. A President Romney, it seems, would be more implementer-in-chief than civilian commander-in-chief.

Romney’s métier at Bain Capital was competence in the limited sense of buying low and selling high, along with a certain calculated ruthlessness in dividing companies and discarding people to manufacture profit. These skills, such as they are, earn him little respect in military circles. Compare him to Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt, both take-charge leaders with solid military credentials. Rather than a Trumanesque “the buck stops here,” Romney is more about “make a buck here.” Rather than Teddy Roosevelt’s bloodied but unbowed “man in the arena,” Romney is more bloodless equity capitalist circling high above the fray in a fancy suit.

Consider as well Romney’s five telegenic sons. It’s hard to square Mitt’s professions of love for our military with his sons’ lack of interest in military service. Indeed, when asked about their lack of enthusiasm for joining the armed forces during the surge in Iraq in 2007, Mitt off-handedly replied that his sons were already performing an invaluable national service by helping him get elected.

An old American upper class sense of noblesse oblige, of sons of privilege like George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy volunteering for national service in wartime, has been dead for decades in our otherwise military-happy country. When it comes to sending American sons (and increasingly daughters) into harm’s way, for President Romney it’ll be another case of chickenhawk guts and working-class blood.

For election 2012, however, the main point is that the Romney family’s collective lack of service makes him vulnerable on national defense, a weakness that has already led Mitt and his campaign to overcompensate with ever more pro-military policy pronouncements supplemented with the usual bellicose rhetoric of all Republicans (Ron Paul excepted). As a result, President-elect Romney will ultimately find himself confined, cowed, and controlled by the national security complex — and he’ll have only himself (and Barack Obama) to blame.

Obama, by way of contrast, has already shown a passion for military force that in saner times would make him invulnerable to charges of being “weak” on defense. Fond of dressing up in military flight jackets and praising the troops to the rafters, Obama has substance to go with his style. He’s made some tough calls like sending SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; using NATO airpower to take down Qaddafi in Libya; expanding special ops and drone warfare in Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, including the assassination of U.S. citizens without judicial process. America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2009 has become a devotee of special forces, kill teams, and high-tech drones that challenge the very reality of national sovereignty. Surely such a man can’t be accused of being weak on defense.

The political reality, of course, is different. Despite his record, the Republican Party is forever at pains to portray Obama as suspect (that middle name Hussein!), divided in his loyalties (that Kenyan connection!), and not slavish enough in his devotion to “underdog” Israel. (Could he be a crypto-Muslim?)

The president and his campaign staff are no fools. Since any sign of “weakness” vis-à-vis Iran and similar enemies du jour or any expression of less than boundless admiration for our military will be exploited ruthlessly by Romney et al., Obama will continue to tack rightwards on military issues and national defense. As a result, once elected he, too, will be a prisoner of the Complex. In this process, the only surefire winner and all-time champ: once again, the national security state.

So what can we expect on the campaign trail this summer and fall? Certainly not prospective civilian commanders-in-chief confident in the vitally important role of restraining or even reversing the worst excesses of an imperial state. Rather, we’ll witness two men vying to be cheerleader-in-chief for continued U.S. imperial dominance achieved at nearly any price.

Election 2012 will be all about preserving the imperial status quo, only more so. Come January 2013, regardless of which man takes the oath of office, we’ll remain a country with a manic enthusiasm for the military. Rather than a president who urges us to abhor endless war, we’ll be led by a man intent on keeping us oblivious to the way we’re squandering our nation’s future in fruitless conflicts that ultimately compromise our core constitutional principles.

For all the suspense the media will gin up in the coming months, the ballots are already in and the real winner of election 2012 will be the national security state. Unless you’re a denizen of that special interest state, we know the loser, too. It’s you.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He welcomes reader comments at wjastore@gmail.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses how the two presidential candidates are sure to out-militarize each other in the coming election campaign, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 William J. Astore

Only Ron Paul Warns Of Emerging Fascist State February 27, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing, War.
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Roger’s note: Please don’t get me wrong, I am no fan or supporter of Ron Paul with his Social Darwinian Ayn Rand Libertarian philosophy that makes a fetish of the sacred concept of individual liberty (as if it were possible to separate the individual from the community).  Nevertheless, Paul’s positions on war and empire coincide with that of the left in general and the Occupy Movement in specific.  It is also easy to see why his persona, which reeks of sincerity and honest indignation, appeals to youthful idealism.  His association with the extreme right and some alleged policy statements that sound like white supremacism, are disturbing.  But his position of militarism and fascism, as outlined in the article below, begs the question of why he is a part of the Republican Party in the first place; and why, if he sees the connection between authoritarian government and mega corporations, his domestic policy coincides with the interests of those same corporations.

(about the author), Feb. 26, 2012, www.opednews.com

Republican Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate of either party to tell the truth that America is “slipping into a fascist system.”

That is unquestionably the critical issue of the hour for the United States of America and one that Paul’s Republican fellow candidates and their Democratic opponent President Obama choose to ignore.

Hand in hand with this existential crisis is that a nation that goes fascist at home invariably becomes a tyrant abroad. Thus, the Congressman from Galveston is right on the mark when he calls for the predatory U.S. to pull its troops out of the Middle East and Africa and close down its foreign bases. The U.S., indisputably, with its 1,000 military bases at home and a thousand more abroad, is now   the   most awesome military power ever.

“We’ve slipped away from a true Republic,” Paul told a cheering crowd of followers at a Feb. 18th rally in Kansas City, Mo.   “Now we’re slipping into a fascist system where it’s a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen.”

According to the   Associated Press   reporter who covered his speech, “Paul repeatedly denounced President Barack Obama’s recent enactment of a law requiring military custody of anyone suspected to be associated with al-Qaida and involved in planning an attack on the U.S.” (Note: Paul is a consistent defender of individual rights. He also opposed that previous horrific piece of totalitarian legislation mislabeled as the Patriot Act.)

Ralph Munyan, a Republican committeeman who attended the Paul rally, told   AP   he agreed with Paul’s warnings of a “fascist system” and Paul’s pledges to end the War on Drugs as well as U.S. involvement in wars overseas. By contrast, candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are all hawks spoiling for a fight with Iran and who leave peace-minded Republican voters no one to turn to save Paul.

An article on Paul published in the Feb. 27th issue of   “The New Yorker”   quotes him as saying, “We thought Obama might help us and get us out of some of these messes. But now we’re in more countries than ever—we can’t even keep track of how many places our troops are!”

In the evaluation of   “New Yorker”   reporter Kelefa Sanneh, “So far, the Paul campaign is neither a groundswell nor a failure. He is slowly collecting delegates…” which could impact the final selection of the nominee even if they do not have the strength to nominate Paul.

Overall, Paul’s message appears to be “doing better, state by state, than he did in 2008,” Sanneh writes, but “he has conspicuously failed to establish himself as this year’s Tea Party candidate.”

“People don’t think of Paul as a top-tier Republican candidate partly because they think of him as a libertarian: anti-tax and anti-bailout, but also antiwar, anti-empire, and, sometimes, anti-Republican,” Sanneh continues.

To date, Paul’s shining contribution to the 2012 campaign is educational—even if the major networks and cable powerhouse Fox News downplay his candidacy in their primary night election coverage. Some of what he says gets through to the public, particularly youthful voters. On the grave issues of totalitarianism at home and tyranny abroad, Paul is the last truth-teller. As such, Paul is a dove fighting for survival among a flock of hawks, and his chances are not bright.

(Sherwood Ross heads a public relations firm for political candidates who favor peace and prosperity.)

Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular “Workplace” column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more…)

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Forget Rudolph: Get your photo taken with Santa — and a grenade launcher November 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale gun club, says the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns.Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale gun club, says the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns.

Gordon Murray/AP

Jacques BilleaudThe Associated Press

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PHOENIX—An Arizona gun club is offering a chance for children and their families to pose for photos with Santa while holding pistols and military-style rifles.

One image shows Santa in a wingback chair with a snowflake background, a Christmas tree behind him and flanked by an $80,000 machine-gun and a tripod-mounted rifle.

Next to Santa is a man standing behind a boy, who is holding an unloaded AR-15 with an attached grenade launcher.

Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale Gun Club, says the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns.

He says people have used the photos for Christmas cards and Facebook posts.

Why I Can’t Celebrate the End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell October 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in LGBT, Peace, War.
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Published on Saturday, October 8, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Gary Lehring

Many are applauding the repeal of DADT as an advance for gay and lesbian civil rights. And while any advance in civil rights is difficult to oppose, I am troubled by the celebration and fanfare that has accompanied the repeal of this policy. After eighteen years of such a costly and repugnant policy, why do I not rejoice at this step forward in legal protections for LGB individuals? Why can’t I celebrate the end of DADT as an advance in civil rights?

Part of my reticence to celebrate comes from the current news coverage that suggests that the repeal of DADT is the final victory of a monolithic LGBT community that has been fighting for inclusion in the military for decades. But the gay community has never been uniform in its support for military inclusion. Eighteen years ago Clinton’s decision to lift a ban on homosexuality in the military was met with reservation from many quarters of the LGBT communities who opposed the creeping militarization o f our lives and communities . This reticence and resistance from within our communities is missing from this celebration of civil rights. While “inside the beltway” activists honor and defend as a civil right every individual’s decision to serve their country through military service, are LGBT communities obligated to support such a corrupt, misogynistic, and homophobic institution? Have we forgotten the Pentagon’s plan in 1994 to develop a “gay bomb” that would release female pheromones on the battlefield, thereby triggering uncontrollable lust among enemy combatants on the battlefield, rendering this newly created gay enemy unable to fight? Such adolescent misunderstandings of masculinity, sexuality, and human nature should be enough to make LGBT communities question if the military is really an institution worth joining.

What might a progressive and/or a radical LGBT community response to the repeal of DADT look like today? We might begin by acknowledging that while ending this ban will make it easier for LGB people in the military to stay there, and easier for others to join, there are larger political implications to this inclusion. This civil rights victory entitles LGB persons to serve as “the mercenaries of a military industrial complex” as Barbara Smith said. These “mercenaries” have succeeded in killing more than 110,000 civilian non combatants in Iraq, and more than 10,000 civilian noncombatants in Afghanistan. Is this truly progress, and if so for whom? Our military leaders claim that the creation of a stable democratic society is the goal in these countries. Nonetheless the Pentagon was slow to condemn anti-gay honor killings in Iraq and seems not to think that rampant violence directed at sexual minorities is incompatible with a democratic society. Should progressive LGBT communities not also be globally engaged ones? Should civil rights victories here manipulate us into abandoning our moral courage and outrage at homophobia and sexual violence abroad ? When Abu Ghraib revealed homosexual rape to be part of the military’s humiliation of prisoners, I wondered if that could have happened if an LGBT service member had been present. Yet, today, I fear that misplaced patriotism, jingoism, demonization of the enemy– all well worn practices of the United States Military–will create camaraderie among queer and straight soldiers long before it would help gay servicemen and women see their own connection to sexually subjugated enemy combatants.

A truly radical LGBT response would go further still. We might be working to dismantle the military industrial complex and shift those billions of dollars to help the very economically distressed communities and individuals that military recruiters target to make their monthly enlistment quotas– sites which will now include LGBT community centers. Deploying promises of a steady income, high tech training, college grants, and upward social mobility, the US Military targets the highest risk populations in our society for recruitment. Suspect under normal conditions, during a prolonged recession this strategy is simply dishonest and exploitive. It seems even more exploitative when one realizes that all of these promised benefits have become comparatively less generous and less effective in recent decades.

A radical LGBT community movement might also demand that the savings from the repeal of DADT be directed toward those LGBT community centers that are now targeted for recruitment: a kind of queer combination of a Peace dividend and reparations to a community for historically egregious official discrimination. With more than 13,000 GLBT service members fired under DADT and an average investment in their training priced at $52000 per service member, a queer dividend of $383 million invested at the community level over the next 18 years could help address the many forms that LGBT discrimination takes today.

But of course no such dividend will be forthcoming. In the current budget debate as the military insists that any cuts to its budget will cripple its readiness, we should remember that this $383 million was money the military squandered upholding a discriminatory policy. Surely, this is a painless budget cut that all taxpayers can applaud. Unfortunately, like the Cold War “Peace dividend,” the end of this war on LGBT people by the US military will bring no advantage to these communities nor to American taxpayers. The military will simply find another unneeded weapons system in which to invest, another politically connected Halliburton to which to funnel taxpayer dollars.

Although it is tempting to see any advance of civil rights as a good thing, I cannot celebrate the repeal of DADT. If the goal is the advance of LGBT civil rights, many areas exist where national leadership and congressional action would make a more significant impact on the lives of beltway activists, progressive GLBTs and Radical queers all. National laws making it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in housing, in adoption, in civil unions, in immigration or in the workplace would have far reaching consequences for many. A law that ends discrimination in the workplace could bring truly progressive change to greater numbers of people in the United States and might also have been applied to the military as one of the country’s largest employers. When finally the Employment Non Discrimination Act, or some future incarnation of it, passes and becomes the law of the United States, I will celebrate. Until then, consider me “Section 8,” but the military is no place for queers.

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Gary Lehring

Gary Lehring, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Government and Gender Studies at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is the author of Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the US Military.

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The Military Assault on Global Climate September 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, War.
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Thursday 8 September 2011
by: H. Patricia Hynes, Truthout         | News Analysis

War and the Tragedy of the Commons, Part 7

By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders.

It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report ” A Climate of War.”

In 1940, the US military consumed one percent of the country’s total energy usage; by the end of World War II, the military’s share rose to 29 percent.(1) Oil is indispensable for war.

Correspondingly, militarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel-guzzling planes, tanks and naval vessels employed in more intensive air and ground wars. At the outset of the Iraq war in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War 1. Among the Army’s armamentarium were 2,000 staunch M-1 Abrams tanks fired up for the war and burning 250 gallons of fuel per hour.(2)

The US Air Force (USAF) is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. Fathom, if you can, the astronomical fuel usage of USAF fighter planes: the F-4 Phantom Fighter burns more than 1,600 gallons of jet fuel per hour and peaks at 14,400 gallons per hour at supersonic speeds. The B-52 Stratocruiser, with eight jet engines, guzzles 500 gallons per minute; ten minutes of flight uses as much fuel as the average driver does in one year of driving! A quarter of the world’s jet fuel feeds the USAF fleet of flying killing machines; in 2006, they consumed as much fuel as US planes did during the Second World War (1941-1945) – an astounding 2.6 billion gallons.(3)

Barry Sanders observes with a load of tragic irony that, while many of us assiduously reduce our carbon footprint through simpler living, eating locally, recycling and reusing, energy conservation, taking public transportation, installing solar panels, and so on, the single largest institutional polluter and contributor to global warming – the US military – is immune to climate change concerns. The military reports no climate change emissions to any national or international body, thanks to US arm-twisting during the 1997 negotiations of the first international accord to limit global warming emissions, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. To protect the military from any curbs on their activities, the United States demanded and won exemption from emission limits on “bunker” fuels (dense, heavy fuel oil for naval vessels) and all greenhouse gas emissions from military operations worldwide, including wars. Adding insult to injury, George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the first acts of his presidency, alleging it would straitjacket the US economy with too costly greenhouse emissions controls. Next, the White House began a neo-Luddite campaign against the science of climate change. In researching “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Sanders found that getting war casualty statistics out of the Department of Defense (DoD) is easier than getting fuel usage data.

Only recently has the momentous issue of military fuel use and its massive, yet concealed role in global climate change come to the foreground, thanks to a handful of perspicacious researchers. Liska and Perrin contend that, in addition to tailpipe emissions, immense “hidden” greenhouse gas pollution stems from our use of gasoline. This impact on climate change should be calculated into the full lifecycle analysis of gasoline. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compares gasoline and biofuels for their respective atmospheric pollution, the greenhouse gas emissions calculated for gasoline should include the military activities related to securing foreign crude oil, from which gasoline is derived. (But they do not, thanks to the Kyoto Accords military exemption.) Oil security comprises both military protection against sabotage to pipelines and tankers and also US-led wars in oil-rich regions to assure long-term access. Nearly 1,000 US military bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources – all related, in part, to projecting force for the sake of energy security. Further, the “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases from the manufacture of military equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and munitions used in oil supply protection and oil-driven wars should also be included in the overall environmental impact of using gasoline. Adding these factors into their calculations, the authors conclude that about “20 percent of the conventional DoD budget … is attributable to the objective of oil security.”

A corresponding analysis by researchers at Oil Change International quantifies the greenhouse gas emissions of the Iraq war and the opportunity costs involved in fighting the war, rather than investing in clean technology, during the years 2003-2007. Their key findings are unambiguous about the vast climate pollution of war and the lockstep bipartisan policy of forfeiting future global health for present day militarism.

  1. The projected full costs of the Iraq war (estimated $3 trillion) would cover “all of the global investments in renewable power generation” needed between now and 2030 to reverse global warming trends.
  2. Between 2003-2007, the war generated at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)(4), more each year of the war than 139 of the world’s countries release annually.(5) Rebuilding Iraqi schools, homes, businesses, bridges, roads and hospitals pulverized by the war, and new security walls and barriers will require millions of tons of cement, one of the largest industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the entire world spent on renewable energy investment.
  4. By 2008, the Bush administration had spent 97 times more on military than on climate change. As a presidential candidate, President Obama pledged to spend $150 billion over ten years on green energy technology and infrastructure – less than the United States was spending in one year of the Iraq war.

Just how much petroleum the Pentagon consumes is one of the best-kept secrets in government. More likely, observes Barry Sanders, no one in DoD knows precisely. His unremitting effort to ferret out the numbers is one of the most thorough to date. Sanders begins with figures given by the Defense Energy Support Center for annual oil procurement for all branches of the military. He then combines three other non-reported military oil consumption factors: an estimate of “free oil” supplied overseas (of which Kuwait was the largest supplier for the 2003 Iraq war), an estimate of oil used by private military contractors and military-leased vehicles and an estimate of the amount of bunker fuel used by naval vessels. By his calculation, the US military consumes as much as one million barrels of oil per day and contributes 5 percent of current global warming emissions. Keep in mind that the military has 1.4 million active duty people, or .0002 percent of the world’s population, generating 5 percent of climate pollution.

Yet, even this comparison understates the extreme military impact on climate change. Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. CO2 emissions from jet fuel are larger – possibly triple – per gallon than those from diesel and oil. Further, aircraft exhaust has unique polluting effects that result in greater warming effect by per unit of fuel used. Radiative effects from jet exhaust, including nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot and water vapor exacerbate the warming effect of the CO2 exhaust emissions.(6) Perversely, then, the US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil – a lunacy instigated by a series of executive decisions.

Short History of Militarizing Energy

Ten of 11 US recessions since World War 11 have been preceded by oil price spikes … Maintaining low and stable oil prices is a political imperative associated with modern petroleum-based economies.

In 1945 the US military built an air base at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the start of securing permanent American access to newly discovered Middle East oil. President Roosevelt had negotiated a quid pro quo with the Saudi family: military protection in exchange for cheap oil for US markets and military. Eisenhower possessed great prescience about the post-World War II rise of a permanent war-based industry dictating national policy and the need for citizen vigilance and engagement to curb the “military-industrial” complex. Yet, he made a fateful decision on energy policy, which set our country and the world on a course from which we must find our way back.

The 1952 blue-ribbon Paley Commission Report proposed that the US build the economy on solar energy sources. The report also offered a strong negative assessment of nuclear energy and called for “aggressive research in the whole field of solar energy” as well as research and development on wind and biomass. In 1953, the new President Eisenhower ignored the report recommendation and inaugurated “Atoms for Peace,” touting nuclear power as the world’s new energy miracle that would be “too cheap to meter.” This decision not only embarked the country (and world) on a fateful course of nuclear power, but it also affixed the centrality of oil, gas and coal within the US economy.

By the late 1970s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution threatened US access to oil in the Middle East, leading to President Carter’s 1980 State of the Union warmongering doctrine. The Carter Doctrine holds that any threat to US access to Middle East oil would be resisted “by any means necessary, including military force.” Carter put teeth into his doctrine by creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, whose purpose was combat operations in the Persian Gulf area when necessary. Ronald Reagan ramped up the militarization of oil with the formation of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), whose raison d’etre was to ensure access to oil, diminish Soviet Union influence in the region and control political regimes in the region for our national security interests. With growing reliance on oil from Africa and the Caspian Sea region, the US has since augmented its military capabilities in those regions.

In 2003, Carter’s doctrine of force when necessary was carried out with “shock and awe,” in what was the most intensive and profligate use of fossil fuel the world has ever witnessed. Recall, too, that as Baghdad fell, invading US troops ignored the looting of schools, hospitals and a nuclear power facility as well as the ransacking of national museums and burning of the National Library and Archives holding peerless, irreplaceable documentation of the “cradle of civilization.” The US military did, however, immediately seize and guard the Iraqi Oil Ministry Headquarters and positioned 2,000 soldier to safeguard oilfields.(7) First things first.

Many factors have converged and clarified over time to support the proposition that, at its core, the Iraq war was a war over oil. Eliminating weapons of mass destruction, deposing a tyrannical dictator, rooting out terrorism linked to 9/11, employing gunboat diplomacy to instill democracy and human rights – all were largely foils for oil. Alan Greenspan put it squarely: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everybody knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”(8)

As we near peak oil production, that is, the point of diminishing returns for oil exploration and production and higher oil prices, OPEC countries’ share of global production “will rise from 46 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2030.” Iraq has the third-largest reserves of oil; Iraq and Kazakhstan are “two of the top four countries with the largest [petroleum] production increases forecast from 2000 to 2030. The Middle East and Central Asia are, predictably, epicenters of US military operations and wars. A 2006 report on national security and US oil dependency released by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that the US should maintain “a strong military posture that permits suitably rapid deployment to the [Persian Gulf] region” for at least 20 years. US military professionals concur and are preparing for the prospect of “large-scale armed struggle” over access to energy resources.

Where We Stand

Our national security has been reduced in large part to energy security, which has led us to militarizing our access to oil through establishing a military presence across the oil-bearing regions of the world and instigating armed conflict in Iraq, sustaining it in Afghanistan and provoking it in Libya. The air war in Libya has given the new US Africa Command (AFRICOM) – itself another extension of the Carter Doctrine – some spotlight and muscle. A few commentators have concluded that the NATO war in Libya is a justifiable humanitarian military intervention. The more trenchant judgment, in my view, is that the air war violated the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the US Constitution and the War Powers Act; and that it sets a precedent and “model for how the United States wields force in other countries where its interests are threatened,” to quote administration officials. The air war in Libya is another setback to non-militarized diplomacy; it marginalized the African Union and it sets a course for more military intervention in Africa when US interests are at stake. Air war a model for future wars? If so, a death knell for the planet. This insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.

Postscript

In August 2010, as I was conceiving this series “War and the True Tragedy of the Commons,” wildfires caused by drought and heat wave were consuming huge swaths of Russia and choking Moscow with air pollution. A member of the Russian Academy of Sciences warned that fire-induced winds could carry radioactive particles hundreds of miles from the burning forest around Chernobyl, reaching cities in Russia and even in Eastern Europe. The same risk exists for regions elsewhere contaminated with radioactive waste and jeopardized by uncontrollable wildfires. At the same time as the Russian fires, more than one in ten Pakistanis were uprooted, rendered food dependent and endangered by disease from the worst floods in recorded history, floods which engulfed one-fifth of the country from the northwest region to the south. Pakistan – a highly militarized nuclear power with tense relations with its nuclear neighbor India, whose border area with Afghanistan is a war zone, and within whose boundaries the CIA is conducting a drone war – prioritizes militarism over development. It ranks 15 in global military strength and 141 out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index.

In summer 2011, as I was completing this series, forest fires burned almost 50,000 acres in and around the nuclear weapons production and waste storage facilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Among the endangered radioactive materials and waste were as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste stored in fabric tents above ground, awaiting transport to a low-level radiation dumpsite in southern New Mexico. Two months later, Vermont suffered its worst ever floods and flood damage, with no part of the state untouched, from Tropical Storm Irene – considered to be one of the ten costliest disasters in US history.

Coincident with these environmental tragedies intensified by global warming, is the ongoing tradeoff in the US federal budget between militarized defense and genuine human and environmental security. The United States contributes more than 30 percent of global warming gases to the atmosphere, generated by five percent of the world’s population and US militarism. The pieces of the US federal budget pie that fund education, energy, environment, social services, housing and new job creation, taken together, receive less funding than the military/defense budget. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has called the military budget a taxpayer-supported jobs program and argues for reprioritizing federal spending on jobs in green energy, education and infrastructure – the real national security.

The United States has the wealth (currently larding the defense budget) and the technical capacity to revolutionize our energy economy and turn it within a few decades into an economy based on efficiency and renewable energy sources, thus removing a critical demand factor of our Goliath military. How costly would it be to eliminate underlying causes of war and injustice, such as poverty and gender inequality, and to restore the natural environment? In his most recent book “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” Lester Brown estimates that eradicating poverty, educating women, providing reproductive resources and restoring forests worldwide would cost one-third of the US 2008 defense budget. The issue is not public monies.

Another ferocious demand factor is the octopus of defense industry companies that have spread their tentacles to nearly all of the states and control the majority of Congressionals. Thus, another vital scarce resource – some mineral in a contested seabed, for example – could replace petroleum and become the next flashpoint for more military build-up and response, unless that military-industrial complex is neutered.

Perhaps the most elusive driving factor of war is the values that underpin the tradition and habit of militarized solutions. War mirrors the culture of a country. US militarism – from its training, tactics and logistics to its reasons for going to war and its weapons of war – is distinctly shaped by core elements of American identity. These determining cultural forces are, according to military historian Victor Davis Hanson: manifest destiny; frontier mentality; rugged individualism and what he calls a “muscular independence”; unfettered market capitalism; the ideal of meritocracy (no matter what one’s class, one can rise to the top in the US military); and a fascination with machines, modernity and mobility. All converge to generate bigger, better and more destructive war technology. He adds that the integration of military into society is smoothed through the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

This cultural competence for high-tech war, with its origins in our past annihilation of Native Americans, may be our society’s nemesis unless we do critical soul searching about our cultural and personal values and actively engage in transforming them. There are a plentitude of cross currents in our society that have profoundly challenged the dominant cultural profile limned by militarist Hanson: the women’s and civil rights movements, the anti-war and peace movements, public intellectuals and progressive media, peace and justice studies, progressive labor and health workers, the coop and Transition Town movements and the handful of progressive politicians, among others. The challenge is how to build voice, social cohesion and public influence for our shared values of a sense of community, connection to nature, concern for the exploited and thirst for equity and justice against the dominant market messages of wealth, social prestige, image, power through dominance and meeting conflict with force.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” -Martin Luther King

Resources for Education and Action

Bring the War Dollars Home, a growing movement at the state and city/town level, uses the National Priorities Project data to make the case for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and redirecting defense spending to genuine domestic security. See here and here.

National Priorities Project is a think tank and advocacy group that provides research designed to influence US federal spending priorities. Includes data on costs of wars, local taxes for war and tradeoffs.

Progressive Caucus Budget for 2012, also known as The People’s Budget, is an alternative budget offered by the 81-member Congressional Progressive Caucus that takes steps toward a saner role for government while reducing the deficit more and faster than either Ryan’s “Plan for Prosperity” or Obama’s plan.

Peace and Conflict Studies Programs: Two hundred and fifteen accredited peace and conflict studies graduate programs and grad schools on the leading graduate school web site.

Peace and Justice Studies Association

War Tax Resistance: See the web site of War Tax Resistance/War Resisters League

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 during World War I. WILPF works to achieve, through peaceful means, world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence.

Footnotes:

1. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, p.39.

2. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, p.51.

3. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, pps.50,61 for data in this section.

4. Units of carbon dioxide equivalent to combined greenhouse gas emissions.

5. This figure is conservative because there were no reliable numbers on the military consumption of naval bunker fuels for the transport of fuel and troops. Nor was there data on the use or release of intensive greenhouse gas chemicals in war, including halon, an ozone-depleting fire extinguishing chemical banned in the US since 1992 for civilian production and use, but allowed for DoD “critical mission” use.

6. George Monbiot (2006), “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning,” cited in Sanders, p.72.

7. Chalmers Johnson (2010), “Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope,” New York: Metropolitan Books. pp.40-51.

8. Quoted in Liska and Perrin, p.9.

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H. Patricia HynesH. Patricia Hynes is a retired professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health and chair of the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts.

 

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                  Showing 3 comments

  • Jan                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            How much petrol is consumed by the jets during their aerosol spraying of chemicals into our once-blue skies day after day?

  • slashpot                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            The FOUR years of WWII???
    The allied forces you mention were at war from September 1939 until July 1945. Does this oh so very typical American view suggest that the tens of thousands from several nations who were violently killed, particularly during the blitz in England, are to be found alive somewhere having done a Rip van Winkle for 70 years?
    Of course the ugly fact is, if America had done what allies are supposed to do in 1939 a huge number of people might never have died at all. So why did America ignore the constant pleas from it’s most fervent allies, including England, France & Australia? For the most part, it was because those with the most influence were too busy making vast profits from the Nazi build up or too firmly in support of Hitlers anti-Semitism and the ideology of fascism. American firmness could have prevented both Japan and Germany from launching the most horrific wars the world has ever seen, but then waiting for everyone else to beat themselves senseless and stepping in at the right moment made the USA the superpower it is today.
    Gee, that worked out well!

  • R                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            One has to wonder what the endgame result is to be–who wins in a sick world??

The Militarized Surrealism of Barack Obama June 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: Of which mid-twentieth century aggressive imperial European power are we reminded by Obama’s triumphal rhetoric?

Published on Thursday, June 30, 2011 by TomDispatch.com

Signs of the Great American Unraveling

  by  Tom Engelhardt

It’s already gone, having barely outlasted its moment — just long enough for the media to suggest that no one thought it added up to much.

Okay, it was a little more than the military wanted, something less than Joe Biden would have liked, not enough for the growing crew of anti-war congressional types, but way too much for John McCain, Lindsey Graham, & Co.

I’m talking about the 13 minutes of “remarks” on “the way forward in Afghanistan” that President Obama delivered in the East Room of the White House two Wednesday nights ago.

Tell me you weren’t holding your breath wondering whether the 33,000 surge troops he ordered into Afghanistan as 2009 ended would be removed in a 12-month, 14-month, or 18-month span.  Tell me you weren’t gripped with anxiety about whether 3,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 American soldiers would come out this year (leaving either 95,000, 93,000, 88,000, or 83,000 behind)?

You weren’t?  Well, if so, you were in good company.

Billed as the beginning of the end of the Afghan War, it should have been big and it couldn’t have been smaller.  The patented Obama words were meant to soar, starting with a George W. Bush-style invocation of 9/11 and ending with the usual copious blessings upon this country and our military.  But on the evidence, they couldn’t have fallen flatter.  I doubt I was alone in thinking that it was like seeing Ronald Reagan on an unimaginably bad day in an ad captioned “It’s never going to be morning again in America.”

Idolator President

If you clicked Obama off that night or let the event slide instantly into your mental trash can, I don’t blame you.  Still, the president’s Afghan remarks shouldn’t be sent down the memory hole quite so quickly.

For one thing, while the mainstream media’s pundits and talking heads are always raring to discuss his policy remarks, the words that frame them are generally ignored — and yet the discomfort of the moment can’t be separated from them.  So start with this: whether by inclination, political calculation, or some mix of the two, our president has become a rhetorical idolator.

These days he can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible.  In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations.  Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.

Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God.  And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush’s footsteps.

I wouldn’t claim that Americans had never had such thoughts before, only that presidents didn’t feel required to say them in a mantra-like way just about every time they appeared in public.  Sometimes, of course, when you feel a compulsion to say the same things ad nauseam, you display weakness, not strength; you reveal the most fantastic of fantasy worlds, not a deeper reality.

The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course.  As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.”  He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:

“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination… and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach… we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”

I know, I know.  You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over.  But hang in there, because that’s just a start.  For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective.  They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.”  They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.”  (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?)  And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from.”

In a country that now “supports the troops” with bumper-sticker fervor but pays next to no attention to the wars they fight, perhaps Obama is simply striving to be the premier twenty-first-century American.  Still, you have to wonder what such presidential fawning, omnipresent enough to be boilerplate, really represents.  The strange thing is we hear this sort of thing all the time.  And yet no one ever comments on it.

Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.”

The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan.  Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.

Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.”  Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief.  To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back… God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”

As ever, all of this was overlooked.  Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens.  In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre.  These days, no one even blinks. 

And yet who living in this riven, confused, semi-paralyzed country of ours truly believes that, in 2011, Americans can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish?  Who thinks that, not having won a war in memory, the U.S. military is incontestably the finest fighting force now or ever (and on a “climb to glory” at that), or that this country is at present specially blessed by God, or that ours is a mission of selfless kindheartedness on planet Earth?

Obama’s remarks have no wings these days because they are ever more divorced from reality.  Perhaps because this president in fawning mode is such an uncomfortable sight, and because Americans generally feel so ill-at-ease about their relationship to our wars, however, such remarks are neither attacked nor defended, discussed nor debated, but as if by some unspoken agreement simply ignored.

Here, in any case, is what they aren’t: effective rallying cries for a nation in need of unity.  Here’s what they may be: strange, defensive artifacts of an imperial power in visible decline, part of what might be imagined as the Great American Unraveling.  But hold that thought a moment.  After all, the topic of the president’s remarks was Afghanistan.

The Unreal War

If Obama framed his Afghan remarks in a rhetoric of militarized super-national surrealism, then what he had to say about the future of the war itself was deceptive in the extreme — not lies perhaps, but full falsehoods half told.  Consider just the two most important of them: that his “surge” consisted only of 33,000 American troops and that “by next summer,” Americans are going to be so on the road to leaving Afghanistan that it isn’t funny.

Unfortunately, it just ain’t so.  First of all, the real Obama surge was minimally almost 55,000 and possibly 66,000 troops, depending on how you count them.  When he came into office in January 2009, there were about 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan.  Another 11,000 had been designated to go in the last days of the Bush administration, but only departed in the first Obama months.  In March 2009, the president announced his own “new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” and dispatched 21,700 more troops.  Then, in December 2009 in a televised speech to the nation from West Point, he announced that another 30,000 would be going.  (With “support troops,” it turned out to be 33,000.)

December 31, 2014, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels.

In other words, in September 2012, 14 months from now, only about half the actual troop surge of the Obama years will have been withdrawn.  In addition, though seldom discussed, the Obama “surge” was hardly restricted to troops.  There was a much ballyhooed “civilian surge” of State Department and aid types that more than tripled the “civilian” effort in Afghanistan.  Their drawdown was recently addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but only in the vaguest of terms.

Then there was a major surge of CIA personnel (along with U.S. special operations forces), and there’s no indication whatsoever that anyone in Washington intends reductions there, or in the drone surge that went with it.  As a troop drawdown begins, CIA agents, those special ops forces, and the drones are clearly slated to remain at or beyond a surge peak.

Finally, there was a surge in private contractors — hired foreign guns and hired Afghans — tens of thousands of them.  It goes unmentioned, as does the surge in base building, which has yet to end, and the surge in massive citadel-style embassy building in the region, which is assumedly ongoing.

All of this makes mincemeat of the idea that we are in the process of ending the Afghan war. I know the president said, “Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”  And that was a foggy enough formulation that you might be forgiven for imagining more or less everything will be over “by 2014” — which, by the way, means not January 1st, but December 31st of that year.

If what we know of U.S. plans in Afghanistan plays out, however, December 31, 2014, will be the date for the departure of the last of the full Obama surge of 64,000 troops.  In other words, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan, some of them “combat troops” officially relabeled (as in Iraq) for less warlike activity.  All would be part of an American “support” mission that would include huge numbers of “trainers” for the Afghan security forces and also U.S. special forces operatives and CIA types engaged in “counterterror” activities in the country and region.

The U.S. general in charge of training the Afghan military recently suggested that his mission wouldn’t be done until 2017 (and no one who knows anything about the country believes that an effective Afghan Army will be in place then either).  In addition, although the president didn’t directly mention this in his speech, the Obama administration has been involved in quiet talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to nail down a “strategic partnership” agreement that would allow American troops, spies, and air power to hunker down as “tenants” on some of the giant bases we’ve built.  There they would evidently remain for years, if not decades (as some reports have it).

In other words, on December 31, 2014, if all goes as planned, the U.S. will be girding for years more of wildly expensive war, even if in a slimmed down form.  This is the reality, as American planners imagine it, behind the president’s speech.

Overstretched Empire

Of course, it’s not for nothing that we regularly speak of the best laid plans going awry, something that applies doubly, as in Afghanistan, to the worst laid plans.  It’s increasingly apparent that our disastrous wars are, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry recently admitted, “unsustainable.”  After all, just the cost of providing air conditioning to U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan — $20 billion a year — is more than NASA’s total budget.

Yes, despite Washington’s long lost dreams of a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East, some of its wars there are still being planned as if for a near-eternity, while others are being intensified.  Those wars are still fueled by overblown fears of terrorism; encouraged by a National Security Complex funded to the tune of more than $1.2 trillion annually by an atmosphere of permanent armed crisis; and run by a military that, after a decade of not-so-creative destruction, can’t stop doing what it knows how to do best (which isn’t winning a war).

Though Obama claims that the United States is no empire, all of this gives modern meaning to the term “overstretched empire.”  And it’s not really much of a mystery what happens to overextemded imperial powers that find themselves fighting “little” wars they can’t win, while their treasuries head south.

The growing unease in Washington about America’s wars reflects a dawning sense of genuine crisis, a sneaking suspicion even among hawkish Republicans that they preside ineffectually over a great power in precipitous decline.

Think, then, of the president’s foreign-policy-cum-war speeches as ever more unconvincing attempts to cover the suppurating wound that is Washington’s global war policy.  If you want to take the temperature of the present crisis, you can do it through Obama’s words.  The less they ring true, the more discordant they seem in the face of reality, the more he fawns and repeats his various mantras, the more uncomfortable he makes you feel, the more you have the urge to look away, the deeper the crisis.

What will he say when the Great American Unraveling truly begins?

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His most recent book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books)

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Early Childhood Military Education? June 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Published on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 by Rethinking Schools

  by  Ann Pelo

Does our national security rely on top-quality early childhood education?

Yes, say the military leaders of Mission: Readiness, an organization led by retired military commanders that promotes investment in education, child health, and parenting support. In March, Mission: Readiness released national and state-by-state education briefs, declaring that “high-quality early education is not only important for the children it benefits but also critical to ensuring our military’s long-term readiness. . . . Investing in high-quality early education is a matter of national security.”

Actually, the generals are right, but for all the wrong reasons.

They see early childhood education as military readiness training. Mission: Readiness argues that investment in early childhood education for at-risk and low-income children will pay off in higher graduation rates and lower incarceration rates—expanding the pool of potential military recruits. “Recruitment and retention challenges could return if America does not do a better job now of producing more young men and women qualified for service,” says the mission statement on the organization’s website. “We must ensure America’s national security by supporting interventions that will prepare young people for a life of military service and productive citizenship.”

 

Illustration: Katherine Streeter

Who are the young people for whom these military leaders are supposedly advocating? Low-income, at-risk children—the pool of children from which the military has traditionally recruited. What sort of education do the generals want for these children? Skill-and-drill, standards-driven, assessment-burdened curriculum that prepares children for skill-and-drill basic training, for standards-driven military discipline, for test-based military promotion. The generals’ aim is to prepare low-income children to be soldiers, trained from their youngest years to follow directions and to comply with the strictures issued by the ranking authority. That’s not high-quality education; that’s utilitarian education designed to serve military and economic needs.

This approach to education may prepare young people for a life of military service, but it certainly does not prepare them for citizenship. The Mission: Readiness statement of purpose unwittingly exposes a central conundrum in the organization’s thinking: “The earliest months and years of life are a crucial time when we build the foundation of children’s character, how they relate to others and how they learn.”

Exactly. High-quality early childhood education teaches for citizenship, not for test taking and reductionist assessment. The goal is not compliance but creativity, critical thinking, and compassion. Children are invited to engage meaningful questions in collaboration with others, to embrace complexity, to strive for the well-being of others with generosity, to pay attention to issues of fairness, and to act with courage, conviction, and imagination. Top-flight early education fosters in children dispositions toward empathy, ecological consciousness, engaged inquiry, and collaboration. These are the dispositions of citizens.

Citizens care for their country and its security. They inhabit the commons and they act on behalf of the common good. They are emboldened by personal sovereignty and know themselves to be protagonists in the unfolding history of their country—not passive observers, not dull-minded consumers, not obedient followers of military or government direction, but patriots acting for the good of the commonwealth. Active citizens, thinking critically and compassionately, resist military action as the quick and easy answer to complex challenges. They point out the horrifying absurdity of the idea of “collateral damage.” They fight against imperialism and work for justice nationally and internationally.

This is the citizenship that our nation needs at this juncture in our evolution. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a gulf slicked with oil, pristine lands on the chopping block for drilling and mining, health care out of reach for nearly a third of our people, unions under siege by state governments and by corporations—our nation needs citizens concerned with national security, with the well-being of our nation. There is much work to be done, and it will take citizens, not soldiers, to do it.

So, yes, because high-quality early childhood education prepares children to be citizens, it is essential to national security. The investment should and must be a national priority.

© 2011 Rethinking Schools

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Ann Pelo (annpelo@msn.com) edited Rethinking Early Childhood Education. She taught at Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle for 16 years, until 2008.

Canada’s Project Hero Highlights the Unsung April 8, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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(Roger’s note: we live in a world of cowards and bullies.  We send heavily armed troops with modern equipment to terrorize third world civilians.  From the safety of helicopters and jet airplanes and with the anonimity of unmanned missiles, we send down fierydeath on innocent peoples.  And how do we generate support for such holocaustal violence?  We do so by the cowardly method of rallying behind the “troops,” the men and women we send to do the dirty work.  I apologize for the use of the plural pronoun; it is nothing more than a rhetorical device.  It is not WE the people who are responsible, but the politicians, the cowardly corporate media, the war mongers and war profiteers.  If there were justice they would all be on trial for war crimes.)
 
Published on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Jasmin Ramsey

There has been a recent stir of controversy in Canadian media over a public letter signed by 15 Professors from the University of Regina opposing their university’s participation in a scholarship program reserved exclusively for the offspring of soldiers that died in war.  46 other colleges and universities from all over Canada are currently participating in the program.  The professors’ stance make U of R the only university so far to express public criticism of the program, and the professors have accordingly come under hot fire from government representatives, Canadian veterans, and other individuals for opposing their university’s support of the program.  They have yet to back down.

The signatories believe that:

… support for “Project Hero” represents a dangerous cultural turn.  It associates “heroism” with the act of military intervention.  It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices.  In signing on to “Project Hero”, the university is implicated in the disturbing construction of the war in Afghanistan by Western military- and state-elites as the “good war” of our epoch.  We insist that our university not be connected with the increasing militarization of Canadian society and politics.

The professors also encourage public debate on their position and call for:

A public forum on the war in Afghanistan and Canadian imperialism more generally to be held this semester before exams begin.

Professor Garson Hunter, a former soldier, argues that the scholarship program (cofounded by former Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier who encouraged increased military funding upon leaving his position in 2005) uses the memory of fallen soldiers to “aggrandize military endeavours in Afghanistan” and “If they really want to help then they should provide help for soldiers affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In an impassioned letter defending his position after being barraged with hostile emails (some including violent threats) Professor John F. Conway writes:

Project Hero is part of the ongoing propaganda offensive from the militaristic, pro-war cabal led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the former chief of defence, retired general Rick Hillier. From the beginning, this propaganda offensive sought to silence criticism of the war by equating it with a failure to support our troops. Efforts to turn this into a heroic battle will fail. Many Canadians are ashamed of Canada’s role in this dirty, savage war which pits the random techno-barbarism of advanced warfare against a poorly armed insurgency. For this the blame lies with the government and our spineless Parliament, not our troops carrying out their orders.

Conway adds:

We did not win our democracy, thanks to the military. The military was among the dominant forces from which Canadians had to wrest democracy. All too often the price exacted was paid in Canadian blood on Canadian soil.

Democracy is in danger when war is glorified, when the military has a big say in determining government policy, when dissent is met by threats and attacks, when history is rewritten, the role of the military in civil society is elevated, and we are called upon to worship thankfully at its feet.

Even though Canada has a small military and is not nearly as immersed in the culture of war worship as the US, the current Conservative government has implemented significant funding increases to the Canadian Forces with direct attempts to promote it to the population through the education system and the media.  During the Bush Administration Harper made obvious moves to enhance relations with the US, increased military support for the US’s war on Afghanistan being one of them.  While it was the Liberal Party of Canada that took the Canadian Forces into Afghanistan in 2001 (they also made the important decision not to participate in the war on Iraq), Canada’s military role (as opposed to its involvement in what is often characterized as humanitarian work) was most strengthened with initiatives brought forth by the Conservatives when Harper became Prime Minister in 2006.  Since 2001 polls have indicated that a majority of Canadians have supported Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan (there have been some fluctuations) while favouring “nation-building” over military operations.  Canadians have also remained committed to withdrawing sooner rather than later.  No doubt aware of Canadians’ professed desire to leave Afghanistan, the Conservatives recently reiterated that they will end military operations in Afghanistan in 2011, even despite calls made by the US for Canada to stay.

Canadians have shown decreased involvement in the political process (the 2008 elections resulted in the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history) but as shown by the professors at U of R, dissent is alive and kicking in Canada.  Even from a Prairie province where the Conservatives have historically enjoyed widespread support, people are speaking out against the increasing militarization of Canadian society, something which many view as harmful to Canadian culture as a whole.  For members of the Canadian academic community to take such a stance in a province dominated by pro-militarism and amidst a political atmosphere of general support for Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan is no small matter.  Indeed, these professors have proven that their concern for the youth they are employed to educate goes beyond their desire to advance their career goals or a need to remain silent to avoid criticism.  They have been criticized for dishonoring their country with the position they have taken, but many Canadians would agree that they are in fact attempting to preserve the most honorable merits of Canadian culture.  In the words of the social critic and feminist activist Barbara Ehrenreich:

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

To express solidarity please send letters of support for the Regina 15, and against Project Hero and Canadian imperialism, to University of Regina President Vianne Timmons, Vianne.Timmons@uregina.ca and Vice-President Academic, Gary Boire, Gary.Boire@uregina.ca.  Please copy jeffery.webber@uregina.ca.

Jasmin Ramsey is a writer, journalist and coeditor of www.pulsemedia.org.

How Many Democrats Will Stand Up to Obama’s Bloated Military Budget and $75 Billion More in War Spending? April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Obama wants billions more for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on top of a US military budget that already surpasses Bush-era spending by $21 billion. Where is the resistance?

by Jeremy Scahill

Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.

The reality is that all of this is false.

Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).

Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense “represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010,” bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, ” Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target.”

Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. “To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit,” Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. “If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs.” Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a “supplemental” spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask of the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds. The WSJ characterized the situation as one of “raising tensions” between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:

“I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should be going there,” she said.

Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. “I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end,” he said.

Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as “embarrassingly naive,” and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Rep. Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.”

Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The anti-war caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass “since many Republicans will support them.”

An interesting point nestled half-way through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election-he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:

The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. “We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them,” said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.

This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.

 

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

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