Tags: roger hollander, human rights, war, war profiteering, armaments, olivia ward, arms dealers, arms manufacturers, arms treaty, barak obama, arms trade, conventional arms, nra, arms trafficking
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Roger’s note: “The power of the U.S. gun lobby was evident in President Barack Obama’s sudden reversal of his earlier co-operation, which had helped to close arms transfer loopholes that would have been impossible to plug without the agreement of the world’s largest arms exporter.”
“War is Peace!” says Nobel Peace Laureate Barak “Orwell” Obama.
Alex Brandon/AP Global trade in conventional weapons is estimated at $60 billion a year. The huge profits for arms manufacturers are cited as a major hurdle in negotiating an Arms Treaty Pact, which was stalled on Friday after the U.S. asked for a postponement.
“(We are) determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible, one that will bring about a safer world for the sake of all humanity,” said Mexico, speaking for a group of 90 countries.
The treaty, aimed at regulating the $60-billion trade in conventional arms, which are estimated to kill more than 700,000 people a year, had appeared to be headed for a successful finish by the Friday deadline after more than three weeks of debating in New York by national arms control teams.
But at the last moment the U.S. told delegates to the 193-country UN conference that it needed more time to consult on the pact. Treaty skeptics Russia and China also asked for a postponement.
Control Arms, a coalition of several dozen international advocacy groups, among them Amnesty International and Oxfam, said the treaty should go speedily to the UN General Assembly “to improve the text and establish a process for its agreement.”
However, there is little hope it could be adopted before next year, after this fall’s U.S. election. There are also fears that it could unravel if some countries demand that negotiations start over again.
The power of the U.S. gun lobby was evident in President Barack Obama’s sudden reversal of his earlier co-operation, which had helped to close arms transfer loopholes that would have been impossible to plug without the agreement of the world’s largest arms exporter.
The National Rifle Association has been campaigning to convince American lawmakers that the treaty would be a disguised “gun grab” that would deny lawful U.S. owners their constitutional right to bear arms. The group is credited with unseating U.S. politicians who take a positive stand on gun control.
As the treaty neared completion Thursday, a bipartisan group of 51 senators wrote to Obama threatening to oppose it if it fell short of what they consider a constitutional guarantee of U.S. gun ownership rights. Each country’s lawmakers must ratify the treaty after it is signed.
Obama’s about-face drew outrage from those who have been striving for such a treaty for nearly 10 years. In 2006, the UN General Assembly voted to begin work on it but lacked the support of the U.S. In 2009 Obama ended America’s opposition and agreed to join the negotiations.
The pact, which covers a wide range of weapons including tanks, armoured vehicles, combat aircraft and helicopters, rockets, warships, and portable weapons, is one of the most contentious the UN has negotiated because it would affect huge profits for highly competitive exporters worldwide.
Under the treaty, exporting countries would be forced to halt transfers of weapons if they judged that these weapons would be used to violate international human rights. Countries would also have to prevent weapons from going to terrorists or organized crime rings, such as Mexico’s drug cartels.
Senior ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Sweden, which backed the treaty, said that “coupled with a growth in the illicit trafficking of arms, we are facing a growing threat to humanity.
“Every year millions of people suffer from direct and indirect effects of the poorly regulated arms trade and illicit trafficking of arms. Hundreds of thousands are killed or injured. Many are raped or forced to abandon their homes. Others live under a constant threat of violence,” they wrote in the Guardian earlier this month.
But Kim Holmes of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank which opposes the treaty, called it “contradictory and unenforceable,” saying it “would bind law-abiding nations while letting tyrants off the hook.”
The treaty’s definition of human rights and acceptable arms transfers “could be used to protect their arms exporters from U.S. competition,” Holmes wrote in the Washington Times.
Massive US Bunker Buster Bomb ‘Ready to Go’ July 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in War.
Tags: boeing, bunker buster, conventional bomb, michael donley, roger hollander, u.s. military, war, war profiteering
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‘The world’s largest conventional bomb’
The U.S. mammoth bunker-buster bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) is ready to go today, the Air Force says.
“If it needed to go today, we would be ready to do that,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said Wednesday, according to the Air Force Times. “We continue to do testing on the bomb to refine its capabilities, and that is ongoing. We also have the capability to go with existing configuration today.”
A B-52 releases a test version of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) during a test of the weapon over White Sands Missile Range, N.M. in 2009. (DoD photo)
The Pentagon has spent over $300 million on the 30,000-pound “bunker-buster” that can hold 5000 pounds of explosives.
The Boeing-made bomb, described by the Telegraph as “the world’s largest conventional bomb” and Spencer Ackerman as a “mega-weapon for blowing up hidden factories of death,” is “a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries’ weapons of mass destruction located in well protected facilities,” according to the government’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
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Boeing’s mega-bunker-buster bomb during its first explosive test at White Sands Missile Range, 2007. (Photo/Wikimedia)
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The Predators: Where is Your Democracy? May 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, collateral damage, democracy, extrajudicial executions, extrajudicial killings, high value targets, kathy kelly, pakistan, predator, predator drones, roger hollander, war, war profiteering
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On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.
World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by U.S. military forces have become the new norm.
Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed fifteen people in Pakistan and wounded four. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. This most recent suspected strike was the 21st this year. There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.
I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May, 2010 ,when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan and described, in gory and graphic detail, the scenes of drone attacks which they had personally witnessed: the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries, upon walls and stone.
“Do Americans know about the drones?” the journalist asked me. I said I thought that awareness was growing on University campuses and among peace groups. “This isn’t what I’m asking,” he politely insisted. “What I want to know is if average Americans know that their country is attacking Pakistan with drones that carry bombs. Do they know this?”
“Truthfully,” I said, “I don’t think so.”
“Where is your democracy?” he asked me. “Where is your democracy?”
Ideally, in a democracy, people are educated about important matters, and they can influence decisions about these issues by voting for people who represent their point of view.
Only a handful of U.S. officials have broached the issue of whether or not it is right for the U.S. to use unmanned aerial vehicles to function as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in the decision to assassinate anyone designated as a “high value target” in faraway Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Would we want unmanned aerial vehicles piloted by another country to fly over the U.S., targeting individuals deemed to be a threat to the safety of their people, firing Hellfire missiles or dropping 500 pound bombs over suspected “high valuetargets” on the hunch of a soldier or general without evidence and without any consideration of which innocent civilians willalso be killed?
Fully informed citizens might be invited to consider the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but they would certainly be involved in the debate over how we will be treated in future years and decades when these weapons have proliferated. In 1945, only one country possessed the atomic bomb, but within decades, the “nuclear club” had expanded to five declared and four non-declared nuclear-armed states in a much less certain world. Besides the risk of nuclear war, this weapon proliferation has consumed resources that could have been directed toward feeding a hungry world or eradicating disease or easing the effects of impoverishment.
As of now, worldwide, 49 companies make 450 different drone aircraft. Drone merchants expect that drone sales will earn $20.2 billion over the next 10 years for aerospace war manufacturers. Who knows? One day drone missiles may be aimed at us.
Also worth noting is the observation that drones will make it politically convenient for any country to order military actions without risking their soldiers’ lives, thereby making it easier, and more tempting, to start wars which may eventually escalate to result in massive loss of life, both military and civilian.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence believes that standing alongside people who bear the brunt of our wars helps us gain needed insights. Where you stand determines what you see.
In October and again in December of 2010, while in Afghanistan, I met with a large family living in a wretched refugee camp. They had fled their homes in the San Gin district of the Helmand Province after a drone attack killed a mother there and her five children. The woman’s husband showed us photos of his children’s bloodied corpses. His niece, Juma Gul, age 9, had survived the attack. She and I huddled next to each other inside a hut made of mud on a chilly December morning. Juma Gul’s father stooped in front of us and gently unzipped her jacket, showing me that his daughter’s arm had been amputated by shrapnel when the U.S. missile hit their home in San Gin.
Next to Juma Gul was her brother, whose leg had been mangled in the attack. He apparently has no access to adequate medical care and experiences constant pain.
It’s impossible to conjecture what would have happened had Osama bin Laden been apprehended and brought to appear before a court of law, charged with crimes against humanity because of his alleged role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks. But, I feel certain beyond doubt that Juma Gul posed no threat whatsoever to the U.S., and if she were brought before a court of law and witnesses were helped to understand that she was attacked by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle for no reason other than that she happened to live in proximity to a potential high value target, she would be vindicated of any suspicion that she committed a crime. The same might not be true for those who attacked her.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, democratic party, harry reid, Iraq, iraq bases, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, Iraq war, iraqi government, obama withdrawal speech, pakistan, peace, peace movement, pelosi, Pentagon, phillis bennis, president obama, roger hollander, SOFA, status of forces, stiglitz, war on terror, war profiteering
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(Roger’s note: I beleive this article says in a much more polite and restrained manner essentially what I posted on the Blog on March 1 — http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/barack-obama-iraq-and-the-big-lie/?. The author is too cultured, where I am just plain angry and cynical, to call Barack Obama a liar. Yes, I agree it is for the peace movement to put the pressure on; but I do not exonerate Obama for his failure to stand up to the military-industrial complex once and for all and to speak the Plain Truth to the country. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. I would love to believe that President Obama is using a pragmatic gradualist approach that in the long run will result in the complete withdrawal from Iraq. But, as I pointed out in my article, the U.S. has an enormous investment in Iraq; and it is hard to believe that anything less than standing up to the military and corporate interests will change what appears to be a predetermined course that will keep U.S. military presence in Iraq for generations. From what I have seen and heard of Obama, it is hard to believe that he is up to it).
Talking Points Published March 6, 2009
Institute for Policy Studies, www.ips-dc.org
President Obama’s speech to Congress was a good first step, but we still have a lot of work to do to end the war in Iraq.
The meaning of President Obama’s Iraq withdrawal speech, and its influence on real U.S. policy in Iraq, will not be determined solely by his actual words. The import of the speech — and whether its promises become real — will be determined by a fluid combination of what Obama says, his own definitions of what he says, AND the disparate ways his speech is heard, perceived, described and contested by others — the mainstream media, Congress, the military, other centers of elite power, and crucially, the peace movement.
The words of the speech were quite amazing: “And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home.”
After eight years of reckless slaughter proudly justified in the name of a “global war on terror,” it was stunning to hear the president of the United States announce what he called “a new strategy to end the war in Iraq.” That moment was something we should celebrate. It was ours. The statement was a recognition of the powerful antiwar consensus in this country, a consensus that helped define the powerful constituency so key to Obama’s election. Obama may not acknowledge, even to himself, that it was the organized antiwar movement that helped create and build and strengthen that consensus — but still his speech reflected the new political reality that requires him to speak to the demands of that antiwar community.
Ending the War: A Definition
From the vantage point of the peace movement, the speech was and remains insufficient, and shot through with wiggle room and loopholes. We know that President Obama’s definition of “ending the war” is not ours. Our definition has not changed:
- Withdraw all the troops and bring them home (don’t redeploy them to another illegal and unwinnable war in Afghanistan).
- Pull out all the U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors and cancel the remaining contracts.
- Close all U.S. military bases and turn them over to Iraq.
- Give up all efforts to control Iraq’s oil.
While he laid out partial versions of some of these issues (withdrawal and oil), others (mercenaries and bases) were left out entirely. And at the end of the day, President Obama did not make a single real commitment to meeting our definition of ending the war. As The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert described Obama’s plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, “we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them.”
Understanding all the problems, limitations, and dangers of President Obama’s speech is crucial. (For a fuller analysis of the dangers in Obama’s speech, see my February 26th talking points — http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/1117.)
But understanding those limitations does not tell us how to respond to this new moment, a moment when the president of the United States is telling Americans that he is ending the war, that he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, telling Iraqis that the U.S. “pursues no claim on your territory or your resources,” and telling the world that the U.S. plans to engage with everybody in the region including Iran and Syria.
We may — we must — understand all the reasons that those words don’t constitute a firm commitment. But the reality is that the vast majority of people hearing those words, who already believe in what those words should mean, will assume President Obama means the same thing they do. That perception provides a huge opportunity for the peace movement. And it is for that reason that the assertions in his speech remain contested terrain.
Who Opposes, Who Supports?
Leading Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid, criticized Obama’s plan for leaving 50,000 or more U.S. troops in Iraq after the withdrawal of “combat brigades.” Their critique was powerful, public, and their first substantive break with the president — breaking to his left. Although they will likely back down, indeed they have already gone silent on this issue, their initial response opens the possibility for their greater engagement with more progressive members of Congress whom they had consistently dissed throughout the Bush years, and perhaps ultimately with the peace movement directly. The “speak with one voice” posture of the Democratic Party may be eroding with a Democrat in the White House.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was key Republicans — including Senator John McCain — who voiced immediate support for Obama’s withdrawal plan. Clearly they understand the huge loopholes inherent in the “withdrawal” strategy. They recognize the limited character of Obama’s pledges. But what they have officially endorsed, on the record, is a strategy that includes the language of “remove all U.S. troops from Iraq,” “our combat mission will end,” etc. They will never be our allies — but they are stuck with those words. Certainly they can — and surely will — reverse themselves if partial withdrawal moves threaten to turn into a real end of U.S. occupation. But they will pay a high political price when they do — and risk being dubbed flip-floppers on the Iraq War.
Military leaders, including top U.S. generals in Iraq and the region, heads of the joint chiefs of staff, and the Republican secretary of defense, have also expressed support. Of course they are the most familiar with all the wiggle room in the plan. They know the likelihood of renegotiating with a compliant Iraqi government virtually any or all of the terms in the U.S.-Iraq agreement — on which Obama based his intention to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. But whatever their understanding, the fact that the military brass is standing publicly behind what is being touted as a complete withdrawal plan strips an important weapon away from those who oppose any withdrawal at all.
On its February 28th front page, The New York Times referred to the speech as “the beginning of the end of one of the longest and most divisive wars in American history.” The Times went on to describe how Obama “announced that he would withdraw combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining troops by December 2011.” Not that he “intended,” but that he “would” withdraw all troops. The San Francisco Chronicle headline was “Obama Makes it Plain: Troops Out by End of 2011.” The Washington Post headlined “Obama Sets Timetable for Iraq.”
We have to recognize that even reports accurately depicting the too limited withdrawals, the too long timelines, the continuing occupation by U.S. troops, etc., will still be widely understood as consistent with what President Obama called “a new strategy to end the war.” And while it’s vital that as a movement we harbor no illusions, and recognize all the loopholes and wiggle room and pitfalls, our most important job is not to convince the people of this country that there is no way President Obama will end the occupation of Iraq. Our job will be to convince people that the only way President Obama will be able to overcome the powerful pro-war opposition inside and outside his administration and among his congressional allies, the only way he will be willing to even try to accomplish what he has promised, is if we all mobilize to demand it, to hold him accountable to his pledges, his promises, his speeches, and even his intentions.
Our Job: Make Him Do It
It’s the story of FDR who, at the height of popular mobilization by trade unionists, communists, community activists and a host of others, finally told his demanding supporters, “okay, I get it. I know what we have to do. Now get out there in the streets and make me do it!” Our job is to constantly hold President Obama and his administration accountable to what appear to be promises: withdraw all the troops, respect Iraqi sovereignty, give up Iraqi oil…even as we ratchet up our push for a faster, fuller troop withdrawal, closure of bases, and more.
At the same time our movement must take on other challenges as well.
We need to oppose Obama’s call for expanding the military. If he were really worried about the stress on military, the best solution is to bring them home — not ship them from Iraq to another illegal and unwinnable war two borders away. And at this moment of economic devastation across the U.S. and around the world, the issue of the financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan must be addressed directly; those hundreds of billions represent perhaps the largest single pot of money to pay for the health care/environment/energy priorities of the new administration. If things continue as they are, Stiglitz’s Three Trillion Dollar War in Iraq will turn into a $4 trillion dollar set of wars, as Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to swallow more troops, more bombs, more lives. We need to demand replacement of the war budget with a people’s budget that cuts the military budget by eliminating the Pentagon’s network of foreign bases that cost billions and destroy lives and environments around the world, getting rid of all our nuclear weapons, and eliminating all the giant weapons systems that have been obsolete for years.
Afghanistan: Not a “Good” War
And, perhaps most urgently, we must mobilize powerfully to oppose and reverse Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. That war was never a “good war,” and it turns out that most Americans no longer think it is. Military leaders from NATO to the Pentagon have already acknowledged that there is no military solution; escalating the war with 17,000 new U.S. troops, with plans for a strategy discussion after their deployment, is completely backwards. We must reclaim Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s lonely, brave, and prophetic opposition to authorizing force in response to the terror attacks of 9/11. The problem in Afghanistan, then and now, was never insufficient troops. It was the creation of the so-called “global war on terror,” that shaped a militarized framework for responding to every problem in the world (as well as here at home — remember the “war on poverty,” the “war on drugs,” the “war on crime,” etc?).
Obama gave us hope that a new foreign policy, based on negotiations and diplomacy, not military force, was possible. He said he would talk to everyone. Our job now is to mobilize stronger than ever — no post-inauguration vacations! — to demand that this new administration make good on the promises people heard. If the perception of tens of millions of people in this country is that President Obama promised to withdraw all troops, it doesn’t matter that we know his “intention” is not a commitment. That perception is a starting point. If everyone assumes complete U.S. troop withdrawal is already official U.S. policy, it will make renegotiating terms of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement much harder for the Pentagon — because people will believe they’re trying to reverse a promise. It makes our job easier.
After the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, our movement began immediately to mobilize against the war we knew was coming. Organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights moved quickly to challenge the “global war on terror” framework as illegal, and to demand that the attacks be dealt with as international crimes, rather than war. The first national demonstration was held October 7, led by the people who would soon form 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, those who had lost loved ones three weeks before, and by those who would soon create United for Peace and Justice. The war began the same day, with the bombing of Kabul launched just as the antiwar rally began in the streets of New York. We have been working ever since. But most of our movement left Afghanistan more or less in the background as we tried to stop the U.S. invasion and then mobilized to end the war and occupation in Iraq.
It’s time to come back. We hear accusations that the war in Iraq was a “distraction” from the “real war,” the “just war,” the “good war” in Afghanistan. Not everyone believes it was a “good war” anymore. But we have a lot of work to do to stop them both.
Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm March 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Amnesty International, Barack Obama, bush administration, gaza, hamas, hezbollah, human rights, Human Rights Watch, illegal settlements, international humanitarian law, International law, israel, israel nuclear weapons, israel occupied territories, jordan, lebanon, lebolt, Middle East, plo, roger hollander, stephen zunes, United Nations, us arms manufacturers, us arms merchants, us military aid, us military aid israel, us weapons israel, War Crimes, war profiteering, white phosphorus
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Stephen Zunes | March 4, 2009
Foreign Policy in Focus, http://www.fpif.org
In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government. Unfortunately, it appears that President Barack Obama won’t be heeding Amnesty’s call.
During the fighting in January, Amnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The leader of Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and southern Israel noted how “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Amnesty also reported finding fragments of U.S.-made munitions “littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”
Malcolm Smart, who serves as Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East, observed in a press release that “to a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.” The release also noted how before the conflict, which raged for three weeks from late December into January, the United States had “been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of [its] weapons.”
Amnesty has similarly condemned Hamas rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of southern Israel as war crimes. And while acknowledging that aid to Hamas was substantially smaller, far less sophisticated, and far less lethal — and appeared to have been procured through clandestine sources — Amnesty called on Iran and other countries to take concrete steps to insure that weapons and weapon components not get into the hands of Palestinian militias.
During the fighting in early January, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of U.S. military aid until there was no longer a substantial risk of additional human rights violations. The Bush administration summarily rejected this proposal. Amnesty subsequently appealed to the Obama administration. “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”
Obama’s refusal to accept Amnesty’s call for the suspension of military assistance was a blow to human rights activists. The most Obama might do to express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would be to reject a planned increase in military aid for the next fiscal year and slightly reduce economic aid and/or loan guarantees. However, in a notable departure from previous administrations, Obama made no mention of any military aid to Israel in his outline of the FY 2010 budget, announced last week. This notable absence may indicate that pressure from human rights activists and others concerned about massive U.S. military aid to Israel is now strong enough that the White House feels a need to downplay the assistance rather than emphasize it.
Obama Tilts Right
Currently, Obama is on record supporting sending up to $30 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. Such a total would represent a 25% increase in the already large-scale arms shipments to Israeli forces under the Bush administration.
Obama has thus far failed to realize that the problem in the Middle East is that there are too many deadly weapons in the region, not too few. Instead of simply wanting Israel to have an adequate deterrent against potential military threats, Obama insists the United States should guarantee that Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage. Thanks to this overwhelming advantage over its neighbors, Israeli forces were able to launch devastating wars against Israel’s Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors in recent years.
If Israel were in a strategically vulnerable situation, Obama’s hard-line position might be understandable. But Israel already has vastly superior conventional military capabilities relative to any combination of armed forces in the region, not to mention a nuclear deterrent.
However, Obama has failed to even acknowledge Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 200-300 weapons, which has been documented for decades. When Hearst reporter Helen Thomas asked at his first press conference if he could name any Middle Eastern countries that possess nuclear weapons, he didn’t even try to answer the question. Presumably, Obama knows Israel has these weapons and is located in the Middle East. However, acknowledging Israel’s arsenal could complicate his planned arms transfers since it would place Israel in violation of the 1976 Symington Amendment, which restricts U.S. military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.
Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Representatives John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link U.S. military aid to adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. But so have such Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are outspoken supporters of unconditional military aid to Israel. Even progressive Democratic Representative Barney Frank (MA), at a press conference on February 24 pushing his proposal to reduce military spending by 25%, dismissed a question regarding conditioning Israel’s military aid package to human rights concerns.
Indeed, in an apparent effort to support their militaristic agenda and to discredit reputable human rights groups that documented systematic Israeli attacks against non-military targets, these congressional leaders and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of their colleagues have gone on record praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and…efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Although Obama remained silent while Israel was engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza, Pelosi and other congressional leaders rushed to Israel’s defense in the face of international condemnation.
Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians
Following the 2006 conflict between Israeli armed forces and the Hezbollah militia, in which both sides committed war crimes by engaging in attacks against populated civilian areas, then-Senator Obama defended Israel’s actions and criticized Hezbollah, even though Israel was actually responsible for far more civilian deaths. In an apparent attempt to justify Israeli bombing of civilian population centers, Obama claimed Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields.”
This charge directly challenged a series of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These reports found that while Hezbollah did have some military equipment close to some civilian areas, the Lebanese Islamist militia had not forced civilians to remain in or around military targets in order to deter Israel from attacking those targets. I sent Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt a copy of an exhaustive 249-page Human Rights Watch report that didn’t find a single case — out of 600 civilian deaths investigated — of Hezbollah using human shields. I asked him if Obama had any empirical evidence that countered these findings.
In response, LaBolt provided me with a copy of a short report from a right-wing Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government headed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence service. The report appeared to use exclusively Israeli government sources, in contrast to the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, which were based upon forensic evidence as well as multiple verified eyewitness accounts by both Lebanese living in the areas under attack as well as experienced monitors (unaffiliated with any government or political organization) on the ground. Despite several follow-up emails asking for more credible sources, LaBolt never got back to me.
Not Good for Israel
The militaristic stance by Congress and the Obama administration is hardly doing Israel a favor. Indeed, U.S. military assistance to Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Rather than commencing during the country’s first 20 years of existence, when Israel was most vulnerable strategically, major U.S. military and economic aid didn’t even begin until after the 1967 War, when Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.
If all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately halted, Israel wouldn’t be under a significantly greater military threat than it is today for many years. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces.
Under Obama, U.S. military aid to Israel will likely continue be higher than it was back in the 1970s, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, Syria’s military rapidly expanded with advanced Soviet weaponry, armed factions of the PLO launched terrorist attacks into Israel, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its border and demarcation line with Israel, and Iraq embarked on a vast program of militarization. Why does the Obama administration believe that Israel needs more military aid today than it did back then? Since that time, Israel has maintained a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone. Syria’s armed forces were weakened by the collapse of their former Soviet patron and its government has been calling for a resumption of peace talks. The PLO is cooperating closely with Israeli security. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel with full normalized relations. And two major wars and a decade of strict international sanctions have devastated Iraq’s armed forces, which is in any case now under close U.S. supervision.
Obama has pledged continued military aid to Israel a full decade into the future not in terms of how that country’s strategic situation may evolve, but in terms of a fixed-dollar amount. If his real interest were to provide adequate support for Israeli defense, he wouldn’t promise $30 billion in additional military aid. He would simply pledge to maintain adequate military assistance to maintain Israel’s security needs, which would presumably decline if the peace process moves forward. However, Israel’s actual defense needs don’t appear to be the issue.
According to late Israeli major general and Knesset member Matti Peled, — who once served as the IDF’s chief procurement officer, such fixed amounts are arrived at “out of thin air.” In addition, every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states — most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars — for additional U.S. weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the U.S. government, eager to defend the profits of U.S. arms merchants, effectively blocked it. Prior to the breakdown in the peace process in 2001, 78 senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send additional military aid to Israel on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80% of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. Were they really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers to the Gulf monarchies and other Arab dictatorships.
The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. arms manufacturers. The right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committees certainly wield substantial clout with their contributions to congressional candidates supportive of large-scale military and economic aid to Israel. But the Aerospace Industry Association and other influential military interests that promote massive arms transfers to the Middle East and elsewhere are even more influential, contributing several times what the “pro-Israel” PACs contribute.
The huge amount of U.S. aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. U.S. military aid to Israel is, in fact, simply a credit line to American arms manufacturers, and actually ends up costing Israel two to three times that amount in operator training, staffing, maintenance, and other related costs. The overall impact is to increase Israeli military dependency on the United States — and amass record profits for U.S. arms merchants.
The U.S. Arms Export Control Act requires a cutoff of military aid to recipient countries if they’re found to be using American weapons for purposes other than internal security or legitimate self-defense and/or their use could “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” This might explain Obama’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s disproportionate use of force and high number of civilian casualties.
Betraying His Constituency
The $30 billion in taxpayer funds to support Israeli militarism isn’t a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq War, bailouts for big banks, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, and public transportation.
It’s therefore profoundly disappointing that there has been so little public opposition to Obama’s dismissal of Amnesty International’s calls to suspend aid to Israel. Some activists I contacted appear to have fallen into a fatalistic view that the “Zionist lobby” is too powerful to challenge and that Obama is nothing but a helpless pawn of powerful Jewish interests. Not only does this simplistic perspective border on anti-Semitism, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any right-wing militaristic lobby will appear all-powerful if there isn’t a concerted effort from the left to challenge it.
Obama’s supporters must demand that he live up to his promise to change the mindset in Washington that has contributed to such death and destruction in the Middle East. The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don’t adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law.
Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst, is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, answer coalition, iraq aggression, iraq independence, Iraq invasion, Iraq occupation, iraq protest, Iraq sovereignty, Iraq war, iraqi deaths, John McCain, March 21, Middle East, middle east oil, odierno, pakistan assaults, pakistan bombing, palestine occupation, Pentagon, pentagon budget, pentagon march, Petraeus, president obama, Robert Gates, roger hollander, war profiteering, war spending
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With his speech today, President Obama has essentially agreed to continue the criminal occupation of Iraq indefinitely. He announced that there will be an occupation force of 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for at least three more years. President Obama used carefully chosen words to avoid a firm commitment to remove the 50,000 occupation troops, even after 2011.
The war in Iraq was illegal. It was aggression. It was based on lies and false rationales. President Obama’s speech today made Bush’s invasion sound like a liberating act and congratulated the troops for “getting the job done.” More than a million Iraqis died and a cruel civil war was set into motion because of the foreign invasion. President Obama did not once criticize the invasion itself.
He has also requested an increase in war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, and plans to double the number of U.S. troops sent to fight in Afghanistan.
President Obama has asked Congress to provide more than $200 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the next two years, in addition to increasing the Pentagon budget by four percent.
Based on President Obama’s new budget, the Pentagon would rank as the world’s 17th largest economy—if it were a country. This new budget increases war spending. Total spending in 2010 would roughly equate to an average of $21,000 a second.
This is not the end of the occupation of Iraq, but rather the continuation of the occupation.
There is only one reason that tens of thousands of troops will remain in Iraq: It is because this is a colonial-type occupation of a strategically important and oil-rich country located in the Middle East where two-thirds of the world’s oil reserve can be found.
Obama’s speech was a major disappointment for anyone who was hoping that Obama would renounce the illegal occupation of Iraq. Today, the U.S. government spends $480 million per day to fund the occupation of Iraq. Even if 100,000 troops are drawn out by August 2010, that means the indefinite occupation of Iraq will cost more than $100 million each day. The continued occupation of Iraq for two years or three years or more makes a complete mockery out of the idea that the Iraqi people control their own destiny. It is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and independence.
It is no wonder that John McCain came out to support President Obama’s announced plan on Iraq. McCain was an supporter of former President Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s war and occupation in Iraq.
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld—the architects of regime change in Iraq—never had the goal of indefinitely keeping 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. They wanted to subdue the Iraqi people and exercise control with a smaller force. The Iraqi armed resistance prolonged the stationing of 150,000 U.S. troops.
Bush’s goal was domination over Iraq and its oil supplies, and domination over the region. This continues to be the goal of the U.S. political and economic establishment, including that of the new administration.
President Obama decided not to challenge the fundamental strategic orientation. That explains why he kept the Bush team—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Generals Petraeus and Odierno—on the job to oversee and manage the Iraq occupation. They will also manage the widening U.S. war in Afghanistan and the aerial assaults on Pakistan. There have been over 30 U.S. bombing attacks in Pakistan in the last two months.
We are marching on Saturday, March 21 because the people of this country are fed up with the status quo. They want decent-paying jobs, and affordable health care and housing for all. Students want to study rather than be driven out by soaring tuition rates. The majority of people want a complete—not partial—withdrawal of ALL troops from Iraq. They want the war in Afghanistan to end rather than escalate. They are increasingly opposed to sending $2.6 billion each year to Israel and want an end to the colonial occupation of Palestine.
Don’t miss the important announcement about the
Dramatic Action Planned for the March 21st Pentagon
Go to http://www.pentagonmarch.org for more information.
The Military’s Expanding Waistline February 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in War.
Tags: Afghanistan, all-volunteer army, brown & root, bush administration, catfish air, cheney, crystal park, green zone, halliburton, Iraq, john wickham, kbr, kuwait, military, Obama, Pentagon, pervasive combat paunches, pratap chaterjee, privatizing army, rock island, roger hollander, rumsfeld, tim horton, war profiteering
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By Pratap Chatterjee, www.tomdispatch.com, February 19, 2009
What Will Obama Do With KBR?
President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.
If Barack Obama takes the Rhino Runner armor-plated bus from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, or travels by Catfish Air’s Blackhawk helicopters (the way mere mortals like diplomats and journalists do), instead of by presidential chopper, he will be assigned a seat by U.S. civilian workers easily identified by the red KBR lanyards they wear around their necks.
Even if Obama gets the ultra-red carpet treatment, he will still tread on walkways and enter buildings that have been constructed over the last six years by an army of some 50,000 workers in the employ of KBR. And should Obama chose to order the troops in Iraq home tomorrow, he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts that will largely be carried out by a company once overseen by Dick Cheney.
Questions for the Pentagon
If Obama wants to find out why KBR civilian workers can be found in every nook and cranny of U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, he might be better off visiting the Rock Island Arsenal in western Illinois. It’s located on the biggest island in the Mississippi River, the place where Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk nation was once born. The arsenal’s modern stone buildings house the offices of the U.S. Army Materiel Command from which KBR’s multibillion dollar Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program contract (LOGCAP) have been managed for the last seven years. This is the mega-contract that has, since September 11, 2001, generated more than $25 billion for KBR to set up and manage military bases overseas (and resulted, of course, in thousands of pages of controversial news stories about the company’s war profiteering).
Even more conveniently, Obama could pop over to KBR’s Crystal City government operations headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just a mile south of the Pentagon and five miles from the White House. On Crystal City Drive just before Ronald Reagan National airport, it’s hard to miss the KBR corporate logo, those gigantic red letters on the 11-story building at the far corner of Crystal Park.
Many people who know something about KBR’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan might want Obama to question the military commanders at Rock Island and the corporate executives in Arlington about the shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts, among a slew of other complaints that have received wide publicity over the last five years.
But those would be the wrong questions.
Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR?
And the answer will certainly be a resounding no.
Keeping a Volunteer Army Happy
Tim Horton is the head of public relations for Logistical Supply Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, the biggest U.S. base in that country. He was a transportation officer for 20 years and has a simple explanation for why the army relies so heavily on contractors to operate facilities today.
“What we have today is an all-volunteer army, unlike in a conscription army when they had to be here. In the old army, the standard of living was low, the pay scale was dismal; it wasn’t fun; it wasn’t intended to be fun. But today we have to appeal, we have to recruit, just like any corporation, we have to recruit off the street. And after we get them to come in, it behooves us to give them a reason to stay in.”
Even in 2003, the U.S. military was incredibly overstretched. For the Bush administration to go to war then, it needed an army of cheap labor to feed and clean up after the combat troops it sent into battle. Those troops, of course, were young U.S. citizens raised in a world of creature comforts. Unlike American soldiers from their parents’ or grandparents’ generations who were drafted into the military in the Korean or Vietnam eras and ordered to peel potatoes or clean latrines, the modern teenager can choose not to sign up at all.
As Horton points out, the average soldier gets an average of $100,000 worth of military training in four years; if he or she then doesn’t reenlist, the military has to spend another $100,000 to train a replacement. “What if we spend an extra $6,000 to get them to stay and save the loss of talent and experience?” Horton asks. “What does it take to keep the people? There are some creature comforts in this Wal-Mart and McDonald’s society that we live in that soldiers have come to expect. They expect to play an Xbox, to keep in touch by e-mail. They expect to eat a variety of foods.”
A quarter-century ago, when Horton joined the Army, all they got was a fourteen-day rotational menu. “We had chili-mac every two weeks, for crying out loud. What is that? Unstrained, low-grade hamburger mixed with macaroni. Lot of calories, lots of fat, lots of starch, that’s what a soldier needs to do his job. When you were done, you had a heart attack.”
Today, says Horton, expectations are different. “Our soldiers need to feel and believe that we care about them, or they will leave. The Army cannot afford to allow the soldier to be disenfranchised.”
When I visited with him in April 2008, Horton took me to meet Michael St. John of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the chief warrant officer at one of Anaconda’s dining facilities. St. John led me on a tour of the facility, pointing out little details of which he was justly proud — like the fresh romaine lettuce brought up from Kuwait by Public Warehousing Corporation (PWC) truck drivers who make the dangerous 12-hour journey across the desert, so that KBR cooks have fresh and familiar food for the troops. Stopping at the dessert bar St. John explained, “We added blenders to make milkshakes, microwaves to heat up apple pie, and waffle bars with ice cream.” The “healthy bar” was the next stop. “Here,” he pointed out, “we offer baked fish or chicken breast, crab legs, or lobster claws or tails.”
“Contractors here do all the work,” St. John added. He explained that he had about 25 soldiers and six to eight KBR supervisors to oversee 175 workers from a Saudi company named Tamimi, feeding 10,000 people a day and providing take-away food for another thousand.
“They do everything from unloading the food deliveries to taking out the trash. We are hands off. Our responsibility is military oversight: overseeing the headcount, ensuring that the contractors are providing nutritional meals and making sure there are no food-borne illnesses. It’s the only sustainable way to get things done, given the number of soldiers we have to feed.”
Horton chimes in: “I treat myself to an ice-cream cone once a week. You know what that is? It’s a touch of home, a touch of sanity, a touch of civilization. The soldiers here do not have bars; all that is gone. You’ve taken the candy away from the baby. What do you have to give him? What’s wrong with giving him a little bit of pizza or ice cream?”
Between a chili-mac military and a pizza-and-ice-cream military, the difference shows — around the waistline. Sarah Stillman, a freelance journalist with the website TruthDig, tells a story she heard about a PowerPoint slide that’s becoming popular in Army briefings: “Back in 2003, the average soldier lost fifteen pounds during his tour of Iraq. Now, he gains ten.”
Stillman says that the first warning many U.S. troops receive here in Baghdad isn’t about IEDs (improvised explosive devices), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), or even EFPs (explosively formed projectiles). It’s about PCPs: “pervasive combat paunches.”
Privatizing the U.S. Army
KBR has grossed more than $25 billion since it won a 10-year contract in late 2001 to supply U.S. troops in combat situations around the world. As of April 2008, the company estimated that it had served more than 720 million meals, driven more than 400 million miles on various convoy missions, treated 12 billion gallons of potable water, and produced more than 267 million tons of ice for those troops. These staggering figures are testimony to the role KBR has played in supporting the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries targeted in President Bush’s Global War on Terror.
And in the first days of the new Obama administration, the company continues to win contracts. On January 28, 2009, KBR announced that it had been awarded a $35.4 million contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq. The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water collection system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR.
How did the U.S. military become this dependent on one giant company? Well, this change has been a long time coming. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a consortium of four companies led by the Texas construction company Brown & Root (the B and R in KBR) built almost every military base in South Vietnam. That, of course, was when Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan with close ties to the Brown brothers, was president. In 1982, two years into Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Brown & Root struck gold again. It won lucrative contracts to build a giant U.S. base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a former British colony.
In 1985, General John A. Wickham drew up plans to streamline logistics work on military bases under what he dubbed the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), but his ideas would remain in a back drawer for several years. In the meantime, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense in the administration of the elder George Bush, loosed the American military on Iraq in the First Gulf War in 1991, and hired hundreds of separate contractors to provide logistics support. The uneven results of this early privatizing effort left military planners frustrated. By the time Cheney left office, he had asked Brown & Root to dust off the Wickham LOGCAP plan and figure out how to consolidate and expand the contracting system.
President Bill Clinton’s commanders took a harder look at the new plan that Brown & Root had drawn up and liked what they saw. In 1994, that company was hired to build bases in Bosnia and later in Kosovo, as well as to take over the day-to-day running of those bases in the middle of a war zone.
By the time Donald Rumsfeld took over as Secretary of Defense under the younger George Bush, he had embraced the revolution that Wickham had begun, and Clinton and Cheney had implemented. At a Pentagon event on the morning of September 10, 2001, one day before three aircraft struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld identified the crucial enemy force his assembled senior staff would take on in the coming years:
“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans, and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.
“We must ask tough questions. Why is DOD [Department of Defense] one of the last organizations around that still cuts its own checks? When an entire industry exists to run warehouses efficiently, why do we own and operate so many of our own? At bases around the world, why do we pick up our own garbage and mop our own floors, rather than contracting services out, as many businesses do?”
He outlined a series of steps to slash headquarter staffs by 15% in the two years to come and promised even more dramatic changes to follow. While the invasion of Afghanistan the following month was conducted by military personnel, Rumsfeld’s ideas started to be implemented in the spring of 2002. Indeed, the building of bases in Kuwait in the fall of 2002 for the coming invasion of Iraq was handled almost entirely by KBR.
Today, there is one KBR worker for every three U.S. soldiers in Iraq — and the main function of these workers, under LOGCAP, is to build base infrastructure and maintain them by doing all those duties that once were considered part of military life — making sure that soldiers are fed, their clothes washed, and their showers and toilets kept clean. While many stories have been written about the $80,000 annual salaries earned by KBR truck drivers, most of the company’s workers make far less, mainly because they are hired from countries like India and the Philippines where starting salaries of $300 a month are considered a fortune.
Outsourcing the Kitchen Patrol
The majority of KBR’s labor force, some 40,000 workers (the equivalent of about 80 military battalions), are “third country nationals” drawn largely from the poorer parts of Asia. In April 2008, I flew to Kuwait city where I spent time with a group of Fijian truck drivers who worked for a local company, PWC, doing subcontracting work for KBR.
My host was Titoko Savuwati from Totoya Lau, one of the Moala Islands in Fiji. He picked me up one evening in a small white Toyota Corolla rental car. The cranked-up sound system was playing American country favorites and oldies. Six feet tall with broad, rangy shoulders, short-cropped hair, and a goatee, Savuwati had been a police officer in Fiji. He was 50 years old and had left at home six children he hadn’t seen in four years. When he got out of his car, I noticed that he had a pronounced limp and dragged one foot ever so slightly behind him.
We joined his friends at his apartment for a simple Anglican prayer service. Deep baritone voices filled the tiny living room with Fijian hymns before they sat down to a meal of cassava and curried chicken parts and began to tell me their stories. Each had made at least 100 dangerous trips, driving large 18-wheeler refrigeration trucks that carry all manner of goodies destined for U.S. soldiers from Kuwaiti ports to bases like LSA Anaconda. They sleep in their trucks, not being allowed to sleep in military tents or trailers along the way.
Savuwati had arrived in Kuwait on January 14, 2005, as one of 400 drivers, hoping to earn $3,000 a month. Instead, his real pay, he discovered, was 175 Kuwaiti dinar (KWD) a month (US$640), out of which he had to pay for all his food and sundries, even on the road, as well as rent. Drivers were given an extra 50 dinar ($183) allowance on each trip to Iraq.
“I came to Iraq because of the large amount of money they promised me,” he said, sighing. “But they give us very little money. We’ve been crying for more money for many months. Do you think my family can survive on fifty KWD?” He sends at least 100 dinars ($365) home a month and has no savings that would pay for a ticket home at a round-trip price of roughly $2,500.
I did a quick calculation. For every trip, if they worked the 12-hour shifts expected of them, the Fijians earned about $30 a day, or $2.50 an hour. I asked Savuwati about his limp. On a trip to Nasariyah in 2005, he told me, his truck flipped over, injuring his leg. Did he get paid sick leave? Savuwati looked incredulous. “The company didn’t give me any money. When we are injured, the company gives us nothing.” But, he assured me, he had been lucky — a number of fellow drivers had been killed on the job.
The next day, I stopped by to see the Fijians again, and Savuwati gave me a ride home. I offered to pay for gasoline and, after first waving me away, he quickly acquiesced. As he dropped me off, he looked at me sheepishly and said, “I’ve run out of money. Do you think you could give me one KWD [$3.65] for lunch?” I dug into my pocket and handed the money over. As I walked away, I thought about how ironic it was that the men who drove across a battle zone, dodging stones, bullets, and IEDs to bring ice cream, steak, lobster tails, and ammunition to U.S. soldiers, had to beg for food themselves.
This, of course, is the real face of the American military today, though it’s never seen by Americans.
Pentagon commanders often speak of a “revolution in military affairs” when summing up the technological advances that allow them to stalk enemies by satellite, fire missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles, and protect U.S. soldiers with night-vision goggles, but they rarely explain the social and logistical changes that have accompanied this revolution.
Today, U.S. soldiers are drawn from a video-game culture that embraces computers on the battlefield, even as the U.S. Army bears ever less relation to the draft armies that did the island-hopping in the Pacific in World War II or fought jungle battles in Vietnam. Indeed, the personnel that Obama will soon visit in Iraq and Afghanistan is generally supplied with hot food and showers around the clock in combat zones in the same way they might be on a Stateside base — by workers like Savuwati.
Undoubtedly, an Obama administration could begin to cut some of the notorious fat out of the contracts that make that possible, including multi-million dollar overcharges. Obama’s potential budget trimmers could, for example, take whistleblowers inside KBR and the Pentagon seriously when they report malfeasance and waste.
But could Obama dismiss KBR’s army, even if he wanted to? Will Obama really be willing to ask American volunteer soldiers to give up the bacon, romaine lettuce, and roast turkey that they have come to expect in a war zone? And even if he could do so, those are only the luxuries. Keep in mind that, on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, every single item, from beans to bullets, is shipped using contractors like PWC of Kuwait and Maersk of Denmark. In the last two decades, the U.S. military has even divested itself of the hardware and people that would allow it to move tanks around the world, relying instead on contractors to do such work.
The White House website states that “Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.” As part of the same policy statement, the site claims the new administration will reform contracting by creating “transparency for military contractors,” as well as restoring “honesty, openness, and commonsense to contracting and procurement” by “rebuilding our contract officer corps.”
Nowhere, however, does that website suggest that the new administration will work toward ending, or even radically cutting back, the use of contractors on the battlefield, or that those 92,000 new soldiers and Marines are going to fill logistics battalions that have been decimated in the last two decades. What we already know of the military policies of the new administration suggests instead that President Obama wants to expand U.S. military might. So don’t be surprised if the new LOGCAP contract, a $150 billion 10-year program that began on September 20, 2008, remains in place, with some minor tinkering around the edges to provide value for taxpayer money. KBR’s army, it seems, will remain on the march.
Pratap Chatterjee is the author of Halliburton’s Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. He is the managing editor of CorpWatch. A TomDispatch audio interview in which Chatterjee discusses KBR World can be heard by clicking here.
A Recipe for Corporate Success in Tough Times? SaladShooters, Adult Diapers and Tactical Ammo December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in War.
Tags: afghnaistan, ammunition, antiprsonnel mines, artillery, boeing, cannon rounds, contractors, corporations, dod, dow, Economic Crisis, flechette, ford, general tire, gm, howitzer, International harvester, Iraq, lockheed, military, national presto, nick turse, Pentagon, pin bullets, roger hollander, technology killing, vietnam, war, war profiteering, weapons, whirlpool
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While many companies have moved away from arms production, the line between civilian industry and military contracting continues to shift. (Photo: State Museum of Pennsylvania)
15 December 2008
by: Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com
Is it possible that one of the Pentagon’s contractors has a tripartite business model for our tough economic times: one division that specializes in crock-pots, another in adult diapers, and a third in medium caliber tactical ammunition? Can the maker of the SaladShooter, a hand-held electric shredder/dicer that hacks up and fires out sliced veggies, really be a tops arms manufacturer? Could a company that produces the Pizzazz Pizza Oven also be a merchant of death? And could this company be a model for success in an economy heading for the bottom?
Once upon a time, the military-industrial complex was loaded with household-name companies like General Motors, Ford, and Dow Chemical, that produced weapons systems and what arms expert Eric Prokosch has called, “the technology of killing.” Over the years, for economic as well as public relations reasons, many of these firms got out of the business of creating lethal technologies, even while remaining Department of Defense (DoD) contractors.
The military-corporate complex of today is still filled with familiar names from our consumer culture, including defense contractors like iPod-maker Apple, cocoa giant Nestle, ketchup producer Heinz, and chocolate bar maker Hershey, not to speak of Tyson Foods, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company. But while they may provide the everyday products that allow the military to function, make war, and carry out foreign occupations, most such civilian firms no longer dabble in actual arms manufacture.
Whirlpool: Then and Now
Take the Whirlpool Corporation, which bills itself as “the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances” and boasts annual sales of more than $19 billion to consumers in more than 170 countries. Whirlpool was recently recognized as “one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute.” The company also professes a “strong” belief in “ethical values” that dates back almost 100 years to founders who believed “there is no right way to do a wrong thing.”
In the middle of the last century, however — as Prokosch has documented — Whirlpool was engaged in what many might deem a wrong thing. In 1957, Whirlpool took over work on flechettes — razor-sharp darts with fins at the blunt end — for the U.S. military. While International Harvester, the prior Pentagon contractor producing them, had managed to pack only 6,265 of these deadly darts into a 90mm canister round, Whirlpool set to work figuring out a way to cram almost 10,000 flechettes into the same delivery vehicle. Its goal: to “improve the lethality of the canisters.” (In addition, Whirlpool also reportedly worked on “Sting Ray” — an Army project involving a projectile filled with flechettes coated in a still-undisclosed chemical agent.)
In 1967, an Associated Press report noted that U.S. troops were using new flechette artillery rounds to “spray thousands of dart-shaped steel shafts over broad areas of the jungle or open territory” in Vietnam. “I’ve seen reports of enemy soldiers actually being nailed to trees by these things,” commented one Army officer.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I spoke to a Vietnamese witness who had seen such “pin bullets” employed by U.S. forces many times in those years. In one case, Bui Van Bac recalled that a woman from his village, spotted by U.S. aircraft while she was walking in a rice paddy, was gravely wounded by them. Local guerillas came to the woman’s aid and brought her to a hospital where a surgeon found a number of extremely sharp, three centimeter long “pins” inside her body. Medically, it was all but hopeless and the woman died.
A top player in lethal technologies back then, Whirlpool is now among the tiniest defense contractors. While, in recent years, the company has ignored requests for information from TomDispatch.com on their dealings with the Pentagon, records indicate that last year, for example, it received just over $105,000 from the Department of Defense, most of which apparently went towards the purchase of kitchen appliances and household furnishings.
Similarly, Whirlpool’s predecessor in the flechette game, International Harvester, is now Navistar International Corporation. Navistar Defense, a division of the company,
remains one of the Pentagon’s stealth “billion dollar babies.” But while it did more than $1 billion in business with the DoD last year, Navistar appears to have been building vehicles for the Pentagon, not creating anti-personnel weaponry. There are, however, companies that can’t seem to say goodbye to lethal technologies.
National Presto Industries
National Presto Industries traces its history to the 1905 founding of the Northwestern Iron and Steel Works in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, according to the Business & Company Resource Center. By 1908, the company was making industrial steam pressure cookers and, in 1915, began making models for home use. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II, the company entered the arms game when it scored a multi-million dollar contract to produce artillery fuses. Even with that deal in hand, it was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy when its new president, Lewis Phillips, landed a series of other lucrative military contracts.
In the early years of the Cold War, about the time Whirlpool was getting into the flechette business, National Presto Industries had just introduced “a revolutionary new concept in electric cooking… a complete line of fully immersible electric cooking appliances employing a removable heat control” — and was about to launch “the world’s first automatic, submersible stainless steel coffee maker.” The company was also still churning out war materiel.
In 1953, National Presto announced plans to build a multi-million dollar plant to produce 105mm artillery shells. In 1955, it was awarded millions to make howitzer shells for the Army, and the next year, millions from the Air Force for fighter-bomber parts. By 1958, company President Lewis Phillips would declare, “The future of this company in Eau Claire and hence the security of our jobs here is now almost wholly dependent upon defense contracts awarded by the U.S. Government.” When the Army cancelled its contracts with Presto in 1959, Phillips lamented, “With little or no notice, this Government decision has forced us completely out of the manufacturing business here in Eau Claire.”
The tough times didn’t last. Soon enough, National Presto returned to the fray, benefiting from the disastrous American war in Vietnam. From 1966 to 1975, the company manufactured more than two million eight-inch howitzer shells and more than 92 million 105mm artillery shells. In Vietnam, 105mm shells would kill or maim untold numbers of civilians, but it was a boom time for National Presto, which took in at least $163 million in Pentagon contracts in 1970-1971 alone for artillery shell parts. Finally shuttered in 1980, the company defense plant was kept on government “stand-by” into the 1990s, a sweetheart deal that earned Presto $2.5 million annually for producing nothing at all.
As the Vietnam War wound down, National Presto turned back to the civilian market with a series of new kitchen gadgets: in 1974, the PrestoBurger, an electric, single-serving fast broiler for hamburgers; in 1975, the Hot Dogger; and in 1976, the Fry Baby deep fat fryer. In 1988, the company introduced its wildly popular SaladShooter, followed in 1991 by its Tater Twister potato peeler. When sales of its SaladShooters, corn poppers, pressure cookers, deep fryers, and griddles became sluggish, however, weaponry again proved a savior.
In 2001, National Presto decided to get back into the arms game. Months before 9/11, the company’s chairman Melvin Cohen expressed fears that a future war might mean ruin for the company’s kitchen appliance business. As a result, Presto purchased munitions manufacturer Amtec. In the years since, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Presto has also “made other complementary acquisitions in the defense industry.” These have included Amron, a manufacturer of medium caliber ammunition (20-40mm) cartridge cases and Spectra Technologies, which is “engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and delivery of munitions and ordnance-related products for the DOD and DOD prime contractors.” Such types of ammunition are extremely versatile and are fired from ground vehicles, naval ships, and various types of aircraft — both helicopters and fixed-wing models.
Additionally, in the months after 9/11, National Presto entered the diapers trade, setting up that business in its old munitions plant. In 2004, with Melvin Cohen’s daughter MaryJo now at the helm, the company further expanded into the business of adult-incontinence products. “I spent a couple of days wearing them,” the younger Cohen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. “They’re very comfortable.”
In 2005, Presto’s Amtec was awarded a five-year deal by the Pentagon for its 40mm family of ammunition rounds. By the end of last year, it had already received $454 million and was expecting the sum to top out, at contract’s end, above $550 million.
Just as 105mm shells of the sort produced by Presto were a nightmare for the people of Vietnam, so too has 40mm ammunition spelled doom for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on a typical joint U.S./U.K. attack on a home in Iraq in which insurgents had taken shelter. After exchanging ground fire, coalition forces called in an airstrike. According to the BBC, “The aircraft fired 40mm cannon rounds at the two houses, finally dropping a bomb on one of them. It collapsed. The other house was set on fire. The two insurgents in the house were buried but so were a number of women and children.” Similarly, in August, news reports tell us, U.S. troops called in an airstrike by an AC-130 — which packs 40mm cannons — that helped kill approximately 90 civilians in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan, according to investigations by the Afghan government and the United Nations.
As in the past, war time has been a boom-time for Presto. In 2000, before the start of the Global War on Terror, National Presto’s annual sales clocked in at $116.6 million. In 2007, they totaled $420.7 million, with more than 50% of that coming from arms manufacturing. Earlier this year, Presto nabbed another 40mm ammunition contract (a $97.5 million supplemental award) set to be delivered in 2009 and 2010. According to official DoD figures, from 2001 through 2008 National Presto received more than $531 million, while Amtec has taken home another $171 million-plus. Their combined grand total, while hardly putting Presto in the top tier of Pentagon weapons contractors, is still a relatively staggering $702.8 million — not bad for a company known for slicing and dicing vegetables.
Death is Our Business and Business is Good
These days, most civilian defense contractors aren’t like Presto. General Tire and Rubber Company, for example, once lorded it over a business empire that produced not only car tires, but antipersonnel mines and deadly cluster bombs. Today, the company seems to have left its days of supplying the U.S. military with lethal technologies behind.
Dow Chemical classically drew ire from protestors during the Vietnam War for making the incendiary agent napalm that clung to and burned off the flesh of Vietnamese
victims. Dow got out of the napalm business long before the war ended, but, due to widespread protests at the time, the company is still living down the legacy today.
At a 2006 Ethics and Compliance Conference, Dow’s President, CEO, and Chairman Andrew Liveris recalled, “Believe me, we have had our share of ethical challenges, most of them very public… starting with the manufacture of Napalm during the Vietnam War… when suddenly we went from being a company that made Saran Wrap to keep food fresh to a kind of war machine… at least, according the characterizations of the time.” While Dow is still a defense contractor, its DoD contracts appear not to include the manufacture of weapons of any type. Instead, such companies have largely ceded the field to dedicated “merchants of death” — weapons-industry giants like Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.
Right now, National Presto Industries may look like a throw-back to an earlier era when companies regularly made both innocuous household items and heavy weapons. In a new hard-times economy, however, in which taxpayer dollars are likely to continue to pour into the Pentagon, could it instead be a harbinger of the future? Having proved that outfitting real shooters is even more lucrative than making SaladShooters, Presto has gotten rich in the Bush war years. It has, in fact, greatly outperformed the big guns of the weapons business. While the stocks of top defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman have all lost significant value in the last year — down 29.3%, 55.3%, and 50.1%, respectively — National Presto’s stock price was up 28.1% as of mid-December.
It isn’t hard to imagine more civilian firms, especially ones which are already Pentagon contractors, getting into (or back into) the weapons game. After all, when the Big Three Detroit automakers were scrounging around for a bailout just a few weeks ago, they used America’s persistent involvement in armed conflict as one argument in their favor. For example, Robert Nardelli, Chrysler’s chief executive, told the Senate that the failure of the auto industry “would undermine our nation’s ability to respond to military challenges and would threaten our national security.” While that argument was roundly dismissed by retired Army Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s combat vehicles division, it probably wouldn’t have been if the automakers made more weapons systems.
Will Presto be the back-to-the-future model for Pentagon contractors in the lean times ahead? Only time will tell. At the very least, it seems that, as long as Americans allow the country to wage wars abroad, require their salads to be shot, and have bladder issues, National Presto Industries has a future.
Copyright 2008 Nick Turse