November 29, 2009

Different Emperor, Same Empire

Like most self-described conservatives, Victor Davis Hanson longs for the not so distant past, back when machismo ruled the day, when men were men and presidents weren’t afraid to swagger. Sure, G.W. Bush’s swagger “may have made things unpopular for America among the masses. But his enemies knew that he would do what it takes to protect the US.” Under Emperor Bush, Hanson tells us,

There was a general recognition among unhinged regimes—a Cuba, Saddam’s Iraq, a Libya, a North Korea, a Syria, Venezuela—that regional aspirations were, well, contained. Redlines were everywhere—Taiwan was sacrosanct; so was South Korea. Israel would not be destroyed. Europe would not face a Russian invasion. And so on. A Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Gaddafi, Arafat, etc. would be “corralled” and not allowed to destroy the Western-inspired global order.

Unlike Bush, Hanson writes, President Obama is a wimp, a softie—so much so in fact that he’s “undermining old-fashioned deterrence.” Consequently, Hanson writes,

If I were in Manila, I’d start learning Chinese; if in Tokyo, I’d think about massive rearmament. I would not wish to be in NATO if east of Berlin—“allies” in the West would (cf. 1939) stay theoretic and distant, enemies would be concrete and proximate.

The survival of Israel now depends on its pilots and missiles, not on any guarantees from the US. In today’s currency, what we guarantee is worth about as much as US treasury bills, or promises of missile defense for Eastern Europe. If I were an Israeli, I’d either pray for the skill and audacity of the nation’s Air Force pilots, or begin cultivating India, Russia, and China, or that and more.

On and on he goes, rehashing a talking point we’ve heard countless times over the past ten months: Through intimidation and military might, Bush kept us safe, while Obama’s peacemongering is just emboldening our enemies. Needless to say, this claim is bound to garner sympathy from your average Sarah Palin devotee, but, upon just a little examination, it becomes clear that it’s deeply flawed.

First of all, it’s simply not the case that Bush’s “old-fashioned deterrence” kept America’s enemies in check. It was under Bush, let’s remember, that Iran accelerated its nuclear program and that Syria began a nuclear program of its own. It was also under Bush that North Korea expelled the IAEA and performed its first test of a nuclear weapon. Moreover, Bush’s “old-fashioned deterrence” didn’t prevent jihadists from flocking to Iraq and Afghanistan to kill American troops; it didn’t prevent Hugo Chavez from asserting his strength throughout South America; and it didn’t prevent Russia from attacking US ally Georgia.

It’s also untrue to say that Obama has kowtowed to America’s enemies. As anyone who’s followed the news since January can testify, the United States relies on intimidation and brute force as much today as it ever has. Since taking office, Obama has kept troop levels in Iraq at around 130,000 and has added 21,000 (soon to be 55,000) forces to Afghanistan. He’s authorized the CIA to continue its Predator drone attacks in Pakistan and bullied President Zardari into escalating his war against militants in the FATA. And, just like Bush, Obama has taken a hard line against Iran, agreeing to try diplomacy but threatening sanctions if Iran doesn’t ultimately comply with America’s wishes.

Yes, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and yes, he reached out to the Muslim world, kind of (but not really) apologizing for past US atrocities and claiming that there’s a new, more culturally-sensitive, sheriff in town. But, as his actions have shown, that was all just a PR move. Though the Guantanamo prison will eventually close (well, maybe), Obama has asserted that the US has the right to permanently detain people who’ve never even been convicted of a crime. And although many right-wingers are having a hissy fit that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to be tried in a New York court, that’s just more PR. It turns out that the Obama crew is going to continue holding military tribunals for those detainees it doesn’t believe it can convict in federal court.

As far as the Israelis go, it’s simply laughable to claim that Obama has turned his back on them. Under his administration, the US continues sending billions of dollars their way and defending even their most egregious war crimes. It’s true that Obama asked them to stop building settlements in the West Bank, hoping this might foster peace talks with the Palestinians, but when they refused to comply, he praised them anyway.

So don’t worry, Victor Davis Hanson. Your American Empire is still here. Sure, it’s been given a minor facelift, but, if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s just as nasty and brutal and murderous as ever. Or, to put it in your words, “old-fashioned deterrence” is alive and well.

November 25, 2009

Netanyahu’s Settlement Non-Freeze

Good news in the paper this morning. Great news, in fact. According to Ha’aretz:

Netanyahu declares 10-month settlement freeze ‘to restart peace talks’

Yes indeed, there’s gonna be peace in the Middle East!

I’m being sarcastic, of course. As I’ve come to learn, whenever there appears to be good news in the Israel-Palestine saga, there’s always a catch.

The catch this time can be found five paragraphs into the Ha’aretz article, where it’s revealed that Netanyahu’s settlement freeze excludes East Jerusalem. Explains the prime minister: “We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital.” Later into the article, we learn that the freeze also excludes homes already under construction, as well as non-residential buildings. “We will not halt existing construction and we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal life in the settlements.”

So, in other words, Bibi has called for a “freeze” in settlement construction that doesn’t actually freeze settlement construction. Presumably this non-freeze means that Israel will go ahead with plans to build 900 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Gilo. If you’ve been following the headlines, you’ll remember that it was only last week that Israel announced it would build these units.

“I hope that this decision,” Bibi states, “will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” He adds: “We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond.”

Not surprisingly, Palestinian leaders were quick to decry Bibi’s non-freeze announcement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat pointed out that this is not “a real settlement freeze,” and PNA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad noted that the “exclusion of Jerusalem is a very serious problem for us.”

So it looks like there aren’t going to be peace talks after all

Now I imagine that some of you might be tempted to side, or at least sympathize, with Bibi here. After all, you might be thinking, at least he’s shown himself willing to make some concessions. Sure, his offer is disappointing, but at least it’s something, right?

But this view only makes sense if we disregard international law. Because, according to international law, all of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem, is Occupied Palestinian Territory. Which, among other things, means that Israel does not have the right to build settlements there.

So it doesn’t make sense to praise Bibi for promising to limit the number of settlements Israel builds on Palestinian land, just as it wouldn’t make sense to praise a criminal who, after stealing your credit cards, promised to watch his spending.

Of course, in Bibi’s defense, he’s probably offered as much as members of his far-right coalition will allow. Which means that, unless the Obama administration tires of enduring one bitch slap after another and shows that it’s willing to stand up to the Israelis—and, of course, the only way to do that is to freeze—I mean, really freeze—foreign aid—then we’re not going to have peace talks anytime soon.

November 24, 2009

KSM to Stand Trial, Part 3

Neoconservative columnist Linda Chavez believes that Eric Holder has put America at risk by deciding to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terror suspects in federal court. Because, Chavez warns, there’s a possibility, a very good possibility, that these suspects will be acquitted. She writes:

Does Eric Holder remember the most infamous criminal trial of the 20th century, the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman? There are obvious differences between a criminal murder trial in a state court and one tried in federal district court -- and, the O.J. trial featured incompetent prosecutors who tried their case before an inept judge -- but there are also problems inherent in the system that may not be avoided. No matter what Holder says about failure to convict not being an option, our entire legal system is based on the presumption of innocence of the accused and there are simply no guarantees.

And, of course, Chavez is correct. In the American legal system, there are no guarantees. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it turns out that when you grant someone the presumption of innocence, when you grant them the right of trial by jury, then you create the possibility that they might be acquitted. All of which means that, in theory at least, even KSM could get off.

Chavez spends the remainder of her column discussing this possibility, envisioning a scenario in which KSM’s lawyers employ wild conspiracy theories (reminiscent of the Dream Team’s “OJ was framed” argument) to convince the jury that 9/11 was actually an inside job. Claiming that KSM’s attorneys will try to get as many black jurors as possible—after all, Chavez writes, blacks tend to buy into all sorts crazy beliefs—she reminds us that it just takes one paranoid juror to force a hung jury. Given this horrible possibility, Chavez concludes that KSM shouldn’t stand trial.

Now I’m certainly not going to defend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It seems clear that the guy’s a thug and a murderer, but, even so, he’s entitled to a fair trial. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just read the fricking Constitution—namely, the Fifth Amendment, which states that “no person” shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and the Sixth Amendment, which states that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Though some might argue that these Amendments only apply to American citizens, this is plainly not the case. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1896 case of Wong Wing v. United States that, although the federal government has the right “to exclude or to expel aliens,” it cannot deprive them of the rights laid out in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. This position was reaffirmed in the 1990 case United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez in which the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to aliens. As the Court concluded, the Fourth Amendment, like the First, Second, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, only applies to “the people” of the United States, whereas the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, which employ the more inclusive language of “persons” and “accused,” apply to all people. (Thanks to Thomas Knapp for pointing this out to me.)

I understand why Linda Chavez doesn’t like the idea of bad guys being acquitted. I don’t like the idea either. But what’s the alternative? Should we just allow the state to imprison anyone it has evidence against? No trial, no judge, no jury—if the state believes that someone’s a lawbreaker, then off they go?

As law professor Scott Horton has noted, people like Chavez sound eerily similar to Ayatollah Khomeini, who once declared, “There is no reason why a criminal should be tried in the first place … Once his identity is established, he should be killed right away.” And I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not the type of country I want to live in.

November 21, 2009

The Bottom Line: War is Murder

When I turned on my computer this morning, I intended to write another article explaining why I believe the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Soon into writing, however, I realized that I just couldn’t do it; my heart wasn’t into it. I’m tired of making amoral arguments in an attempt to persuade amoral Americans to oppose an immoral war.

The truth is that I don’t really care if the war in Afghanistan is winnable, just as I didn’t really care if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I’m against war for one reason and one reason only. War is murder. That’s it. That’s why I get so pissed off when I read through the news every morning. That’s why I spend my free time slaving away at this blog. At times I might give different arguments trying to convince others to oppose war, but all that matters is that war is murder.

Deep down, we all know this. We know that there aren’t clear-cut battle lines in Afghanistan with the righteous Americans on one side and the wicked Islamists on the other. We know that US bombs are falling in civilian areas, killing innocent people.

As I’ve repeatedly argued, such killing only serves to inflame the population and recruit more terrorists, consequently making us all less secure. But again, that’s beside the point. The point is that, regardless of the consequences, the US military shouldn’t be killing these people. It doesn’t matter that these people live halfway around the world. It doesn’t matter that they’re Muslims. It doesn’t matter that many of them undoubtedly hold anti-Western sentiments. There is nothing more precious than life, and nobody has the right to take this from anyone else.

When I see these pictures, I can’t help but wonder how we would feel if this were happening to us. Imagine that our country had been overrun by extremists, people as bad as the Taliban, and that a foreign army subsequently launched an invasion in hopes of “liberating” us. Imagine that this foreign army routinely dropped bombs in our neighborhoods, demolishing homes and school buildings and community centers where extremists were believed to be hiding. How would we feel?

How would we feel if one of our sons or daughters happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? How would we feel knowing that we’d never again see them, never again have the joy of watching them open presents on Christmas morning or hearing them laugh with their friends? Would we chalk their death off as mere “collateral damage”? Would we feel that the bombing, so long as it also ended up killing numerous extremists, had been worth it? Obviously not.

But if it’s wrong to kill innocent Americans, then it’s wrong to kill innocent Afghans. Because people are people, and Americans are no more entitled to life than Afghans are, and vice versa.

So that’s the bottom line. War is murder. And since we know that murder is wrong, since we wouldn’t want anyone to murder our loved ones, we should speak out when other people’s loved ones are being murdered. It’s as simple as that.


Photos courtesy of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

November 18, 2009

KSM to Stand Trial, Part 2

But first…

It looks like just about everyone in the blogosphere is talking about Newsweek and Sarah Palin’s legs. For those of you who haven’t yet heard, the latest issue of Newsweek features a picture of Sarah Palin striking a rather sexy pose in a jogging outfit.

So conservatives are having a hissy fit. Robert Stacy McCain complains that Newsweek is attempting to “diminish and belittle Palin, to portray her as a cheesecake bimbo, the political equivalent of Lindsay Lohan.” David Brody claims that this is yet another example of the mainstream media’s left-winged bias.

I, on the other hand, don’t really give a f*ck.

I really don’t. I mean, I don’t know if these bloggers have noticed, but there’s actually a lot of important stuff going on in the world. Wars, rumors of wars. And yet all these nitwits can do is whine that the big bad media has once again victimized Shit-for-Brains Palin.

So, needless to say, I felt a sense of relief upon seeing that someone had blogged about something that actually matters. His name is Andy D., and, although I don’t agree with what he’s written, I can’t help but respect him for not writing about Sarah Palin.

So Andy D., this one’s for you.

And now for the main event…

In a post titled “Terrorists in Civilian Court: What Does History Say?” Andy D. basically reiterates GOP talking points and argues that the Obama administration should not try Khalid Sheikh Mohhamed or any other 9/11 suspect in federal court. Andy cites three cases that supposedly illustrate that such trials run a high risk of compromising sensitive government information.

Case #1: The Blind Sheikh

Andy writes that the Blind Sheikh’s trial is “believed to have provided valuable intelligence for Al-Queda.” He goes on to quote Michael Mukasey, who presided over the proceedings. In the trial, Mukasey has written,

the government was required to disclose, as it is routinely in conspiracy cases, the identity of all known co-conspirators, regardless of whether they are charged as defendants. One of those co-conspirators, relatively obscure in 1995, was Osama bin Laden. It was later learned that soon after the government's disclosure the list of unindicted co-conspirators had made its way to bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he then resided. He was able to learn not only that the government was aware of him, but also who else the government was aware of.

While all this might be true, Human Rights First notes [.pdf] that the government “did not seek to invoke CIPA [Classified Information Protection Act] or other protections regarding the names on the list of unindicted coconspirators.” As I wrote on Sunday, the whole point of CIPA is to enable the government to prevent classified information from being disclosed in such a trial. So, in other words, had it chosen to, the government could have prevented this information from being released.

Case #2: Zacarias Moussaoui

Regarding the “twentieth hijacker,” Andy writes:

Since Moussaoui represented himself, the prosecution had to turn over their case to the “defendants lawyer” [sic] under discovery. According to CNBC News, the government admitted they turned over classified documents to Moussaoui that he shouldn’t have had access too [sic]. This is important because KSM has decided to represent himself in the upcoming New York trials.

I haven’t been able to find Andy’s source here (he doesn’t provide a link). But if the government in fact gave Moussaoui access to confidential information, then it should be noted that they weren’t required to. Court records show [.pdf] that Moussaoui’s request to be given classified information was denied:

The district court denied the pro se request for access to classified information, pointing to Moussaoui’s “repeated prayers for the destruction of the United States and the American people, admission to being a member of al Qaeda, and pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden” as “strong evidence that the national security could be threatened if the defendant had access to classified information.”

And Andy’s implication that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be given confidential information if he chose to defend himself is factually inaccurate. As legal scholar James J. Benjamin Jr. recently told the New York Law Journal, under CIPA, “It is pretty well established that the [pro se] defendant [i.e., defendant who represents himself] does not have the right to see any classified evidence in discovery.”

Case #3: Ramzi Yousef

Here, Andy again quotes Mukasey, who wrote in a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Again, during the trial of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, an apparently innocuous bit of testimony in a public courtroom about delivery of a cell phone battery was enough to tip off terrorists still at large that one of their communication links had been compromised. That link, which in fact had been monitored by the government and had provided enormously valuable intelligence, was immediately shut down, and further information lost.

Human Rights First notes that this allegation cannot be substantiated by publicly available information. But even if such information were in fact compromised, it should be noted that, just as in the Blind Sheikh case, the government did not invoke CIPA.


As Human Rights First states [.pdf], “The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), although subject to being improved, is working as it should: we were unable to identify a single instance in which CIPA was invoked and there was a substantial leak of sensitive information as a result of a terrorism prosecution in federal court.”

But obviously the mere existence of CIPA will not guarantee that confidential information will not be compromised. As we just saw, in order for CIPA to work, government prosecutors need to use it.

November 15, 2009

Holder Announces that Guantanamo Detainees Will Stand Trial; Conservatives Go Apesh*t

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be tried in New York federal courts and not, as many conservatives had hoped, in military tribunals. Needless to say, this is good news for those who champion due process. As Human Rights Watch states, “Unlike the deeply flawed military commission proceedings, the federal civilian courts can give the defendants a fair and credible trial.”

Predictably, many on the right have reacted to this decision with the sense of alarm you’d expect from Chicken Little. Fox New reports:

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy [not to be confused with the St. Elmo’s Fire hunk]…said public trials will provide a “banquet of intelligence information” for the vast Al Qaeda network, especially operatives in Afghanistan.

“It’s a massively stupid decision when we’re actually at war with them,” McCarthy said in an interview with “We have to give them all kinds of information about our methods of intelligence that can only make them more efficient at killing us.”

Now such fears would perhaps be warranted if it weren’t for the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA). Passed by Congress in 1980, CIPA provides different ways in which the government can prevent classified information from being disclosed in a trial—for example, by substituting classified documents with redacted versions.

A 2008 Human Rights First report shows [.pdf] that CIPA has a successful track record (from the perspective of prosecutors, anyway):

For example, in the [1998 East African] Embassy Bombings case, the government offered the testimony of L’Houssaine Kherchtou, a former al Qaeda member…Prior to Kherchtou becoming a cooperating witness, he had been questioned by a foreign intelligence service for five days concerning his knowledge of al Qaeda. That questioning was taped, provided to the United States, and contained information relevant to the case, but the foreign intelligence service insisted that its involvement not be disclosed. “CIPA effectively resolved the issue: in discovery, a transcript of the debriefing was provided to defense counsel with references to the foreign intelligence service blacked out; at trial, defense counsel’s questioning of Kherchtou on the witness stand was monitored to ensure that the foreign intelligence service was not identified” [Turner & Schulhofer, The Secrecy Problem in Terrorism Trials]. It is our understanding that foreign intelligence agencies have become more willing to share information with the United States over time, as CIPA has proved to be effective in a number of cases. Even in cases where CIPA’s procedures have not been involved, Courts have permitted the government to maintain the secrecy of sensitive law-enforcement information. For example, in United States v. al-Moayad, Judge Sterling Johnson granted motions in limine to preclude defense cross-examination of German law-enforcement witnesses on sensitive, technical aspects of electronic surveillance that had been employed in Germany.

According to one of the prosecutors from the Embassy Bombings case:

When you see how much classified information was involved in that case, and when you see that there weren’t any leaks, you get pretty darn confident that the federal courts are capable of handling these prosecutions. I don’t think people realize how well our system can work in protecting classified information.

Now surely Andrew McCarthy (the attorney, not the actor) must know about CIPA. Therefore, unless we assume that his fearmongering is politically motivated, it’s difficult to understand why he would make such obviously ridiculous claims.

Several Republicans in Congress have echoed McCarthy’s warning and added some sky-is-falling forecasts of their own. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, claims that “our cities will face enormous security problems; and our communities will be potential targets for attack.”

What McConnell fails to mention is that the US has already prosecuted many terrorists, including al Qaeda members, in civilian court, all without incident (h/t Human Rights First [.pdf]). The real threat to American security lies, not in giving terror suspects fair trials, but in continuing to deprive them of justice. As the New York Times warned in a November 2001 editorial:

Using secretive military tribunals would ultimately undermine American interests in the Islamic world by casting doubt on the credibility of a verdict against Osama bin Laden and his aides. No amount of spinning by Mr. Bush’s public relations team could overcome the impression that the verdict had been dictated before the trial began. Reliance on tribunals would also signal a lack of confidence in the case against the terrorists and in the nation’s democratic institutions [h/t Glenn Greenwald].

And sure enough, the Bush administration’s deprivation of human rights radicalized many in the Islamic world. In 2006, Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander reported that, more than anything else, foreign fighters were coming to fight American troops in Iraq because of “the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” General Counsel of the Navy Alberto Mora reached the same conclusion in 2008. More recently, the Center for Strategic & International Studies concluded that “the United States has been damaged by Guantánamo beyond any immediate security benefits. Our enemies have achieved a propaganda windfall that enables recruitment to violence, while our friends have found it more difficult to cooperate with us.”

By announcing that it would close Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration took an important step in restoring America’s image in the Muslim world and thus enhancing American security. By announcing that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these four other Guantanamo detainees will be given fair, public trials, the administration has taken another important step. Of course, more—much more—still needs to be done, but these steps are significant nonetheless.

November 11, 2009

The Imperial Chronicles: Ignoring the Obvious

In an editorial entitled “The case for withdrawal from Afghanistan is not yet made,” the British Independent acknowledges that the argument for withdrawing Western forces from Afghanistan has “grown considerably stronger” over the past few months. “However,” the paper avers, “the case is not yet overwhelming; not least because no convincing alternative strategy for protecting Western security interests in the region has been put forward.”

The Independent goes on to find fault with two different withdrawal strategies, one of them being Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to primarily fight militants with remote-operated drones. The problem with this plan, the paper states, is that “these weapons are already causing heavy civilian casualties and provoking popular anger in the region. Such strikes might succeed in eliminating terrorist targets, but the problem is that, in the long term, they merely feed the problem of Western resentment.”

Now the paper’s analysis here is undoubtedly correct. It’s impossible to drop bombs in Afghanistan without killing innocent people. No matter how good your intelligence, no matter how precise your weapons, you’re going to end up killing civilians. And this in turn inflames the population and drives many into the arms of militants.

So The Independent is smart enough to understand that killing more innocent Afghans isn’t going to make Westerners any safer. And yet the paper believes that we should continue our current campaign, which, of course, largely consists of dropping bombs in civilian areas. Because if we pull back now, the paper fears, then the Taliban will return to power and consequently al Qaeda will again be given a safe haven.

So, in other words, we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. We’re damned if we continue dropping bombs—because that just inflames the population. And we’re damned if we stop dropping bombs—because that will just enable the Taliban, and thus al Qaeda, to return.

One strategy The Independent never considers is the one that should be most obvious. Since killing Muslims engenders terrorism, then it seems to follow that the best way to combat terrorism would be to stop killing Muslims, not just in Afghanistan but everywhere. Let’s remember why Osama bin Laden attacked us in the first place. Unlike George W. Bush claimed, it had nothing to do with us being free. Rather, Osama bin Laden attacked us because we—that is, our governments—have long been attacking Muslims.

For several decades, the West has supported Israel in its oppression of the Palestinian people. For several decades, the West has propped up corrupt regimes throughout the Muslim world. For over ten years, the West imposed sanctions on the Iraqi people, sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

These and other similarly immoral actions led to 9/11.

And yet the West continues its assault against Muslims. And for this reason, I agree with The Independent that merely withdrawing from Afghanistan would not pacify al Qaeda. For even if there were no longer any NATO troops in Central Asia, there would still be American troops in the Persian Gulf, there would still be money going to the governments in Jerusalem and Cairo, there would still be Guantanamo Bay.

But if the West reconsidered all of its relations with the Muslim world, if it started treating Muslims like actual human beings, and not means to their own corrupt ends, then the global jihadist movement would suffer immeasurably.

Violence only begets more violence, and until Western governments learn this important lesson their own citizens will not be safe.

Photo by daweiding

November 10, 2009

Peacenik Ramblings

Sometimes writing this blog feels like mental masturbation.

You know what I mean. I study hard, I write the best, most persuasive antiwar articles I can—and yet the wars continue. When you get down to it, nothing I say, nothing you say, seems to make any difference.

Mental masturbation, I tell you—mental masturbation!

Not that I plan on stopping.

First of all, I’ve always been a big fan of masturbation—mental and otherwise.

Secondly, who the hell knows, maybe we can actually make a difference. Little by little, one seed planted here, another one there.

I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’ve always been somewhat of an optimist. Perhaps this is just what Ernest Becker would call my “denial of death.” By forcing myself to believe that change is possible, that the future will be better than the past, I’m able to go on living, to endure what I fear is an ultimately purposeless and meaningless existence.

Whatever the case, I can’t help but hope.

I can’t help but believe that, by writing this blog, by reading your blogs, by educating myself, by living the best life I know how, I’m helping to make this world a better place. And even if I’m not, at least I know that I’m trying.

And with that I’d like to end this rambling little inspirational speech.

Good night, and good luck.

November 6, 2009

The Blame Islam Game

It didn’t take the hate-Islam crowd long to start blaming the Ft. Hood shooting on Islam. Almost as soon as the media began reporting on the shooting, Jihad Watch, for instance, started highlighting Nidal Hasan’s Islamic faith, attempting to tie his act of murder to the teachings of the Qur’an.

One right-winged blogger described this as “a case of a fully coherent, Muslim man, who also happens to be a diligent practioner [sic] of his Islamic faith. This has nothing to do with ‘bullying’ or feelings of discrimination, but of a pious Muslim acting out on his beliefs.”

Click through the hate-o-sphere and you’ll find many similar comments.

So it seems that Islam is to blame. It seems that Islam is always to blame. According to the hate-Islam mindset, whenever a Muslim engages in evil—be it an honor killing or act of terrorism—Islam is to blame.

Of course, the logic here is atrocious.

For example, if Islam is to be blamed when Muslims do evil, then why isn’t it to be praised when Muslims do good? Why, for instance, don’t the Jihad Watch types give kudos to Islam when Palestinians in the West Bank village of Ni’lin engage in nonviolent protests? Why didn’t they feel that this summer’s peaceful protests in Iran in some sense validated Islam?

Personal experience has led me to believe that the world contains more—many more—good Muslims than bad Muslims. So why then does the hate-Islam crowd base their conclusions of Islam on the bad minority and not the good majority?

Moreover, if the Jihad Watch crowd blames Islam when Muslims do evil, then why don’t they blame Judaism when Jews do evil? If the Ft. Hood shooting discredits Islam, then why doesn’t Israel’s assault in Gaza or why don’t all the incidents of settler violence in the West Bank discredit Judaism?

The truth, of course, is that Islam does not promote terrorism. As Bernard Lewis (himself no Islamophile) has written: “At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point—as far as I am aware—do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.”

Christian Americans are actually more likely to justify terrorism than are those living in many predominantly Muslim countries. That’s right. One in four Americans—and remember, 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians—one in four Americans believe that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “often or sometimes justified.” The corresponding numbers in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey are 10%, 14%, and 17%.

So Islam is not to blame. For the ten billionth time, Islam is not to blame. Just as Sergeant John Russell’s Catholic upbringing was not to blame when he gunned down five fellow soldiers in Baghdad earlier this year.

So don’t join the kooks. Don’t condemn the religion of one billion (mostly good-hearted and peace-loving) people because a small number of them commit evil actions. Don’t hate.

November 3, 2009

Michael Anthony Interview

“You are going to war!” Michael Anthony remembers a drill instructor telling him and some fellow recruits during basic training. “It is no longer a question of if you are going to go, but a question of when. Look around! In a few years, or even a few months, several of you will be dead. Some of you will be severely wounded or so badly mutilated that your own mother can’t stand the sight of you. And for the real unlucky ones, you will come home so emotionally disfigured that you wish you had died over there.”

Soon thereafter, Anthony found himself in Iraq, where he spent the next year working as an operating room medic. In his newly-released memoir, Mass Casualties, he tells about this year, describing how all of his drill instructor’s predictions came to fruition. As I wrote last week, Mass Casualties is an extraordinary work, enjoyable to read but also important for its honest portrayal of life in the military.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Anthony. Here’s what we talked about.

You’ve written on your blog that the TV show M*A*S*H does a better job portraying the realities of military life than many of the “real life” stories you’ve seen in the news. Explain to those who haven’t read your book, why you feel this way. What does M*A*S*H get right that so many news stories don’t?

The first thing that comes to mind is the word “Absurdity.” M*A*S*H got across the real absurdity that comes with war, and it has nothing to do with pro or anti war, just the realities. So many times, I see war movies or a war related TV show/episode, or books, and they all seem too perfect. As if everything is worded perfectly, and all the situations come full circle beginning, middle, end. It’s almost so dull, that I could probably (and this goes for most Veterans I know) watch, any TV show or movie, and if it’s about the military or war, predict what’s going to happen or how things are going to be portrayed. It’s like people already have this perception of the military and war, that the media just fills in the perception rather than tell what really goes on. And anything against the grain, they don’t report because it’s outside of people’s perceptions.

But that’s what M*A*S*H was all about, the craziness of war, that people would never believe goes on. I remember watching one episode and there was a man walking around in woman’s clothes, and I thought that was so funny because, I do remember a few instances where there were guys walking around in drag. It’s little things like that, when most people think of war, they don’t think of men/women goofing around and walking around in drag or doing crazy things. So when you tell them crazy little stories like that, they never believe them; but if you told them a story of a building blowing up, thirty people getting shot, etc., etc., they’d believe that in a heart-beat.

People often assume that just because people go to war, there’s no fun. I think M*A*S*H showed that people make do with what they do. In Iraq, I had the worst times of my life, my worst month, week, day, and hour, all happened in Iraq; but you know what, some of the most fun times of my life also happened over there. So, I go back to my original word, M*A*S*H captured the Absurdity of the situation, and that everything isn’t perfect.

I definitely got the impression that people in your unit were always trying their hardest to create some sense of normalcy. Which, I imagine, largely explains the clowning around, the obsession with office gossip, etc. Of course, it’s impossible to create a sense of normalcy when you’re in a war zone, when you know you might get blown to pieces by a mortar rocket at any given moment. So, in an attempt to escape from reality, many in your unit turned to drugs. Exactly how many people do you think were using drugs?

Well, you’re absolutely right; people did take and get into drugs for a way to escape what was going on. I mean, you’re over there, and if you close your eyes, your thoughts go to the last several things you’ve seen—death, and destruction, and if you open your eyes you see all the death and destruction going on. In an attempt to get out of the circle, people would take drugs, and then when you close your eyes, you see spirally lines and different colors, instead of death. I mean if those were your options, what would you choose? I can’t say for certain how many people were doing drugs, but I can say there’s enough going on that it’s a problem.

What types of drugs are we talking about?

Some of the drugs I’ve heard of going on over there, and have seen—and done—and that are being abused are: Percocet, Vicodin, Pot, Coke, Heroin, Hash, Salvia Divornium, Ambien, Robitusin, Dust-Off, Whip-its, Opium and NyQuil.

And if people weren’t popping pills to escape, they were popping them to sleep! Many people were popping sleeping pills like Pez, or some type of sleep medication/remedy.

Suicide, of course, is another—really, the ultimate—way to escape from reality. At one point in Mass Casualties, you describe how a fellow soldier started to show signs that he was suicidal. Although it seemed clear that this individual might try to harm himself, his officers refused to send him away to receive the care he needed, fearing that doing so might make them look bad. Was this an isolated incident?

I wish I could say that was an isolated incident of one suicidal-soldier not getting the care he needs. However, if you look at the statistics for active duty soldiers and veterans, more soldiers have killed themselves than have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The statistics say five active duty service members commit suicide a day, and some statistics have up to eighteen veteran suicides a day, and a thousand attempts a month! And on top of all this, Katie Couric recently did a series of news casts that exposed that the Veterans Administration was actually trying to cover up these suicide numbers!

When you went over to Iraq, you knew there’d be Sunni insurgents trying to kill you. But did you have any idea that so many of your problems would come from your own commanders? Obviously you didn’t expect to be coddled, but some of your leaders seemed completely self-absorbed, at times even sadistic.

There was a joke that our unit had while in Iraq. Someone would ask us: “Do you hate the Iraqis?” and we’d answer: “No, the only people I hate are in my unit.”

What I can’t understand is how our leaders saw fit to treat the soldiers as they did. We worked in a hospital and a severely wounded patient didn’t get seen for one hour, because there was an awards ceremony going on. Our commander didn’t want to open our hospital early so he lied and said we were operating when we weren’t. I had to do extra guard duty just because two higher ranking people wanted to have an [adulterous] affair.

There are too many peccadilloes of human nature that are missed and not talked about, and it’s to the detriment of our soldiers that these situations aren’t talked about. And the only way to fix them, or to do something about them, is to admit them—that’s always the first step.

I keep reading in the news that returning soldiers aren’t getting the care they need, which seems to be one reason why veterans have such high rates of drug addiction, alcoholism, divorce, suicide, etc., etc. Are these reports accurate? What’s been your personal experience with the VA?

Absolutely, these reports are accurate. Being a veteran makes you more likely to smoke cigarettes, have an alcohol/drug problem, to attempt to kill yourself, kill yourself, and end up homeless.

As far as the VA goes, recently Katie Couric did a series of newscasts that exposed the VA for trying to cover up suicide numbers.

So what’s the answer? What should we—what should the VA, what should the average citizen—be doing to better help veterans?

Recently the Army Times had an article stating that the only consistent cure for PTSD is exposure therapy. This is where Veterans get together and share their stories and hear the stories of other veterans. The only cure is to understand and to be understood.

If people want to help our returning veterans then they’ve got to be willing to hear the full story and not just the parts they want to hear. We’ve got to listen to the worst, most decadent parts of the war, because this is where real growth is going to come from. We’ve got to learn and share the real stories!