January 28, 2010

If I’d been asked to write Obama’s State of the Union address…

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

For the past year, I’ve been running this nation’s foreign affairs in much the same manner as my predecessor. Sure, I’ve tried to change the tone coming from Washington, but, as certain astute observers have noticed, I have not significantly altered this government’s policies.

Tonight, I intended to tell you the reason for this continuity. Unfortunately, my lawyers have advised me against making an outright confession. So instead I’ll simply tell you that it rhymes with Shmilitary Shmindustrial Shmomplex.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s no actual entity known as the Shmilitary Shmindustrial Shmomplex. That’s just a code for the power I’m talking about, the true power in Washington; really, the true power in the world.

For the past year, I’ve marched lockstep to the orders of this power. And, as you might imagine, the rewards—at least for me and my friends—have been great. But I can’t do it anymore. In good conscience, I just can’t do it anymore.

For the past eight years, we’ve been lucky. One major terrorist attack on our homeland, a few smaller, mostly forgotten, attacks. But if we continue down our current path, another attack, one as deadly, perhaps deadlier, than 9/11, seems inevitable.

But we need not continue down this path.

To be more specific, we need not maintain our current foreign policy. We need not continue occupying nations that pose no threat to us, propping up dictators who oppress their people, assisting the Israeli state in its brutalization of the Palestinians.

While these actions certainly line the pockets of the Shmilitary Shmindustrial Shmomplex, they only put our own nation at risk. For it is because of such actions that so many in the Muslim world want to kill us.

As numerous thinkers have argued, al-Qaeda hates us, not because of who we are, but because of what we do. They attack us because we have spent the past several decades attacking innocent men, women, and children throughout the Muslim world. The record is clear, the causal connection unmistakable.

So, effective ten minutes ago, I ordered Secretary Gates to begin withdrawing all our troops from, not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but also places like Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait.

I also sent emails to the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and several other Middle Eastern countries. Though I can’t divulge the exact content of these messages, I essentially told them all that they can go fuck themselves. I made it clear that, if they don’t immediately grant sovereignty to those living within their borders, I will do everything within my power to completely cut off aid to their sorry-ass regimes.

I realize that these actions won’t appease everyone. The world, it’s true, contains some truly evil men, sociopaths who cannot be reasoned with. And, make no mistake about it, I will use every means at my disposal to stop such men. But going forward, the United States government will only engage its military for defensive purposes and will only provide aid to countries that do the same.

Okay, I think I’ve made myself clear. Time is short; there are several other issues I’d like to discuss tonight. So on to healthcare…

January 25, 2010

The pro-life movement, the GOP, and Scott Brown

The pro-life movement is the political equivalent of the abused girlfriend who just can’t bring herself to leave her man. For over three decades now, pro-lifers have continually been sold-out by Republicans, and yet, bruised and bloodied, they keep coming back. “They didn’t mean it. They won’t do it again. They’ve been under a lot of pressure lately…”

I really don’t know what it will take for pro-lifers to realize that they’ve been used. Republicans have been in the White House for twenty of the past thirty years. In that time, they’ve appointed seven new justices to the Supreme Court, and yet Roe v. Wade remains intact.

Even George W. Bush, who maintains a rock star status among pro-lifers, had an unmistakably pro-abortion record; among other things, he appointed two pro-abortion Supreme Court justices and continued forcing taxpayers to fund abortions by signing HHS appropriations bills into law.

Of course, Republican politicians say they care about unborn babies. And evidently that’s all it takes to win over conservative voters—never mind that, because of Republican policies, there continue to be over one million abortions every year in this country.

Let’s return to the abused girlfriend analogy. It really doesn’t take much to please her. Slap her around Monday through Friday, but sweet talk her on Saturday, maybe take her out for a Big Mac and fries, and you’re golden.

Many pro-life groups even rallied behind Scott Brown, who is clearly pro-abortion. For instance, Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote Action, admits that Brown is “certainly not an ideal candidate. After all, he supports Roe v. Wade.” And yet Burch happily contends that Brown’s victory last week “set in motion a movement that many Americans thought was no longer possible,” one which “may very well carry us to the political place where life, faith, and family are truly victorious.” Well that’s optimism for you.

Christianity Today reports that many other pro-life groups were ecstatic about Brown’s victory. For instance, the Liberty Counsel issued a statement declaring, “The tax and spend, big government, anti-life agenda has been pushed back. ObamaCare has been derailed.”

Now I understand the logic here. The abused girlfriend realizes that her man isn’t exactly good to her. But she doesn’t understand how anyone else could ever love her; and being with Bubba, she tells herself, is better than being with nobody at all. So she stays with Bubba.

Yes, I understand the logic. I also understand that compromising, settling for the supposed lesser of two evils, hasn’t gotten the pro-life movement anywhere in the past and isn’t likely to get it anywhere in the future. I’m just wondering when, if ever, the movement’s leaders are going to realize this.

January 21, 2010

It’s the blowback, stupid! (part 2)

Here we are more than eight years since the 9/11 attacks, and most Americans still don’t understand why so many Islamic extremists want to kill us. For instance, in a recent article for Pajamas Media, Ryan Mauro argues that bin Laden and company have declared war on us simply because we’re not Muslim.

(Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who Ryan Mauro is; I didn’t either. Turns out he’s just another neoconservative who heads a bunch of important-sounding organizations that no one’s ever heard of. But given that his beliefs are shared by many Americans, I thought I’d devote some time to him.)

Mauro takes issue with Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent the last several years trying to explain the concept of blowback to Americans. As Paul famously told Rudy Giuliani in a 2007 presidential primary debate: “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years…They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free; they come and they attack us because we’re over there.”

Contrary to Paul, Mauro claims that al-Qaeda would be trying to kill innocent Americans even if we adopted a noninterventionist foreign policy. As proof, he quotes bin Laden himself, who once said:

Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue—one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice—and it is: does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually?

Yes. There are only three choices in Islam: [1] either willing submission [conversion]; [2] or payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; [3] or the sword—for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.

So you see, Mauro goes on to write, this is why they’re at war with us.

It’s not because of who we vote for or because of how we choose to promote our security and values overseas. [Talk about euphemisms.] It’s because the ideology that gives them their sense of purpose commands them to. Extreme anti-Americanism of this kind is the product, not the source, of the radical Islamic ideology. The intent to harm America does not change with policy.

Now I don’t deny that Osama bin Laden would love nothing more than to impose an Islamic order on the entire world. If he got his hands on the ring of power, I’m sure that’s exactly what he’d do. But aside from getting this all-powerful ring, there’s no evidence to suggest that he will continue attacking us until we submit to Islamic rule.

It should go without saying that just because someone desires something doesn’t mean that they’re actually willing to risk their life to bring it about. For example, I’d like to stop paying taxes. And if I had the ring of power, I’d never again give the government a dime. But I know that, given the present state of reality, I’m not willing to face the consequences of not paying taxes. So, alas, I keep paying taxes.

If bin Laden and his compatriots are fighting in order to Islamicize the entire world, then it’s difficult to understand why they offered a truce in 2004. “The truce will begin,” bin Laden said, “when the last soldier leaves our countries.” If these guys have their sights set on world conquest, it’s also difficult to understand why they ended their campaign against the Soviet Union once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989. As Lawrence Wright recounts in The Looming Tower, bin Laden soon returned to Saudi Arabia. Shortly after the Persian Gulf War began, he made his way to Sudan; once there:

Bin Laden explained that he was through with warfare. He said he resolved to quit al-Qaeda altogether and become a farmer.

He made similar statements to many of his friends. He was at a crossroads. Life in Sudan was pleasantly monotonous. In the mornings he walked to his local mosque to pray, followed by a gaggle of acolytes and admirers; he lingered to study with the holy men, often breakfasting with them before going to his office, or to visit one of the various factories that were part of his expanding portfolio, or to hop on a tractor and plow the fields on one of his massive estates.

Wright continues:

There was one galling fact that prevented bin Laden from relaxing into the life of business and of spiritual contemplation that so strongly beckoned: the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. King Fahd had pledged that the nonbelievers would be gone as soon as the war was over, and yet months after the Iraqi defeat coalition forces were still entrenched in Saudi air bases, monitoring the cease-fire agreement. Bin Laden agonized over what he believed was a permanent occupation of the holy land. Something had to be done.

Similar stories can be told of other terrorists. Like bin Laden, these men might love the idea of a worldwide Taliban-like government. But there’s simply no evidence to suggest that they’ve taken up arms in order to bring this about.

Rather, the evidence suggests that anti-American terrorism is a response to American aggression. Similarly, anti-European terrorism is a response to European aggression. Remember, just as al-Qaeda did not attack the United States until we began occupying Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda did not attack any European country until several of them began sending troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

(Regarding this latter point, Robert Pape has pointed out that between 2002 and 2003, “Europeans became al-Qaeda’s most frequent target: ten of fifteen suicide attacks during this period were directed mainly at European or Australian citizens.” Of these ten victims, Pape notes that every single one of them came from a country that had troops in Afghanistan or Iraq.)

People like Ryan Mauro can deny the causes of terrorism all they want, but the facts remain the facts. If we want to prevent another 9/11 (which appears more and more inevitable), then we need to stop lying to ourselves. Young Muslims continue flocking to al-Qaeda and trying to kill us, not because we’re Christians, but because we continue occupying their homelands and propping up the autocratic regimes that rule over them. It’s really not so difficult to understand.

January 18, 2010

Army Sets New Suicide Record - Again

With 160 active-duty soldiers killing themselves last year, the US Army set a new record for suicides. As Jason Ditz reports, “This surpassed the previous record of 140 in 2008, and the previous record before that was 115 in 2007. The Army has been keeping track of suicides since 1980, with the level suddenly rising to epidemic levels in recent years.”

First released by the AP on Friday, this story has been almost completely ignored by the mainstream media. Part of the reason, I imagine, is that it was a fairly busy news weekend, what with the president throwing a surprise birthday party for the first lady and all. But I suspect there’s more to it than that. I suspect part of the reason is that the MSM (and I include Fox News here) realizes that people just don’t want to hear it.

The American people, those loveable idiots who drive around with Support Our Troops ribbons on the backs of their cars, just don’t want to hear bad things about our troops. When anonymous government officials claim that Jessica Lynch fought a John McClane-like battle before being taken captive by Iraqi soldiers, that’s all the networks can talk about. That’s all people want to hear about. Rambo in Iraq. Hell yeah, pass the popcorn.

But nobody wants to expose themselves to anything that would challenge their deeply-held, Hollywood-inspired beliefs about war. They’ll give a shout-out to our troops during Sunday morning church service; they’ll encourage their first-graders to write letters showing their support. But they don’t want to know what’s really happening.

They don’t want to hear that, far from turning our boys into men, these wars are destroying them. There’s, of course, the physical destruction, as many American soldiers keep coming home in body bags. (Expect as many as 500 a month come this summer, warns retired General Barry McCaffrey.) But there’s also the tremendous psychological destruction.

Any war is going to inflict hell on its participants, but “the Long War" has been particularly harsh. Multiple deployments, some of them coming as the result of the military’s stop-loss program, have pushed many of our troops to the breaking point. Psychiatrist Kernan Manion, who’s treated several returning Marines, states: “Frankly, in my more than twenty-five years of clinical practice, I’ve never seen such immense emotional suffering and psychological brokenness—literally, a relentless stream of courageous, well-trained and formerly strong Marines deeply wounded psychologically by the immensity of their combat experiences” (h/t Antiwar Radio).

Manion continues: “There’s currently simply no terminology in the APA [American Psychiatric Association] literature for this. When you’re dealing with cumulative stress from constant guardedness because of continuous exposure to danger—multiple firefights, patrols, losses of buddies and utter exhaustion from deployment—and then you have family problems, and relationship problems, and then on top of all of that you have commanders telling you you’re nothing but a worthless piece of shit, you simply can’t think straight anymore, and who could be expected to.”

In an attempt to cope, many soldiers turn to drugs and alcohol, and many others, as Friday’s AP story reminds us, end up killing themselves. Needless to say, the effects of this psychological destruction remain even after one leaves the service. As Dahr Jamail points out, “A 2008 court case in California revealed a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) email that revealed 1,000 veterans who are receiving care from the VA are attempting suicide every single month, and 18 veterans kill themselves daily.”

But again, the American idiocracy, with all its meaningless symbols and gestures, doesn’t want to hear any of this. Which is why we need to bring this to the idiocracy’s attention and explain why it’s yet another reason to bring our troops home.

January 15, 2010

KSM, Abdulmutallab, and the Pseudo-cons

The pseudo-cons

“Conservatives” continue decrying President Obama’s decision to try some terror suspects in federal court. I put “conservatives” in quotation marks because these people aren’t actually conservatives. Conservatives—people like Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and, of course, all my buddies at the Birch Society—have principles. These bozos—I’m referring to the Sarah Palins and Sean Hannitys of the world—have no principles; they’re partisan hacks and nothing more.

So here we are, two months since the Obama administration announced that KSM would be tried in federal court and three weeks since it announced that Abdulmutallab would receive the same treatment, and these pseudo-conservatives continue running around like a bunch Chicken Littles, warning us how all that is good and noble will somehow be jeopardized if we don’t have these men stand military tribunals.

Now I’d respect these hacks if they truly believed that trying terror suspects in federal court would bring an end to Western civilization. I’d disagree with them, but I’d respect them. But, of course, they don’t believe this; I doubt they believe anything they say.

The Bush administration tried 87 al-Qaeda suspects in federal court and only 6 in military tribunals. Let me repeat that first part: the Bush administration tried 87 al-Qaeda suspects in federal court. And yet I don’t recall any of these pseudo-conservatives raising a fuss back then. To the contrary, many of these Chicken Littles actually praised Bush’s decision to grant these suspects such trials. (Bill O’Reilly’s hypocrisy can be seen here, Rudy Giuliani’s here.)

Not that I’m defending the Democrats

What upsets me about this pseudo-conservative hypocrisy is not so much the hypocrisy—that’s to be expected, not just from these creeps, but also from many—okay, most—okay, virtually all—Democrats. What upsets me is that all this hubub is causing many to believe that Obama is somehow a good guy. Because when many decent Americans hear these Republicans attacking Obama for granting KSM and Abdulmutallab due process, they conclude that Obama must be a defender of due process. So yay Obama—right?

But, as Glenn Greenwald keeps pointing out, the truth of the matter is that the Obama administration will only be granting federal trials to those terror suspects it believes it can convict in federal court. The administration will be giving military tribunals to suspects it believes it can’t convict in federal court. And it has affirmed that it has the right to indefinitely detain some suspects, presumably those it believes it can’t even convict in military tribunals.

I have a dream…

That one day Republicans will excoriate President Obama because he’s trashing the Bill of Rights and not because he’s not trashing the Bill of Rights as much as they would like.

Oh yes, I have a dream.

Speaking of Abdulmutallab

The main argument against putting Abdulmutallab (you know, the underwear bomber) in the criminal justice system is that he’s consequently been given a lawyer and the right to remain silent. But retired JAG officer James Cullen has pointed out that Abdulmutallab would have been granted these same protections under the military tribunal system (h/t Scott Horton).

Moreover: “Republican critics of the president insist that Obama forfeited effective interrogation measures by declining to go the route of a military commission. But there are limitations to what even military interrogators could do with Abdulmutallab. Under the Military Commissions Act, the army field manual has come to dictate the scope of interrogations. This means that tough measures are now out of bounds even if prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation are still permissible. It has also compelled the military to adopt the techniques used by their civilian counterparts in the FBI (lest they risk lessening the chance of securing a conviction).”

January 12, 2010

Christians and Mass-Murder

Why would any decent, intelligent person convert to Christianity? I’m asking a serious question. Why would anyone want to become a Christian?

I know why I became a Christian. I grew up with a Jewish mother and Catholic father. Neither was all that religious, and I eventually concluded that God, if he existed, couldn’t be found in organized religion. But then when I was in college, I became acquainted with a group of Born Again Christians. True believers, the types who genuinely believe, who strive to be Christ to others. “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

I started to want what they had. Their faith and joy. Their love. I started reading the Bible. I started getting up early on Sundays and going to church. And, little by little, I came to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be, that, through faith, I could become a child of God.

But, as I’ve come to learn, true Christians are difficult to find. Yes, they’re there. I imagine you’ll find some in most congregations. But you won’t find many. Far from being superior to unbelievers, it seems to me that most Christians are arrogant, close-minded warmongers.

Which brings me back to my original question. Why would anyone today want to become a Christian? Why would anyone want to have communion with people who so shamelessly defend mass-murder? If I hadn’t spent more than a decade “walking with Christ,” I would quickly conclude that the whole thing is a fraud.

I put quotation marks around those words—“walking with Christ”— because I’m no longer sure if the whole thing is true. Part of me wants to believe. No story offers more hope and comfort than that of God becoming a man and dying for our sins. But I just keep coming back to this: If it really is true, then why do most Christians support mass-murder?

And it’s not just that Christians support mass-murder. It’s that they’re too close-minded to even consider opposing viewpoints. I’ve repeatedly challenged my former seminary professor on his pro-war beliefs; he refuses to even address my arguments. I’ve made numerous anti-war arguments to the former worship leader at my church; though failing to rebut any of my arguments, he continues advocating American mass-murder.

If Christianity is of God, then how can this be? If believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then how can they be among our society’s biggest supporters of mass-murder? Shouldn’t they at least be slightly more opposed to murder than non-Christians?

If God is there, if Christ is real, then how can this be?

January 9, 2010

On Sarah Palin and the Underwear Bomber

I really don’t enjoy responding to Sarah Palin’s asinine comments.

It’s like rebutting the drunk, retarded guy you find yourself sitting next to on the bus. The guy’s obviously off his rocker, and the more he talks, the crazier he gets. But you just don’t have the heart to explain to the guy how reality really works. So you just sit there, try to listen to your iPod, look up and nod when he starts to get too rambunctious.

But today I feel the need to respond to Sarah Palin’s latest Facebook post. And, yes, that last sentence made me feel extremely ridiculous. I’m responding to Sarah Palin’s Facebook post. Good God.

But here’s the thing. Unlike the guy on the bus, people actually take Sarah Palin seriously. Millions of Muslim-hating Evangelical Christians throughout the country actually take their marching orders from Sarah Palin. So I’m left with no choice. Really.

In her post, Sarah berates President Obama for his refusal to designate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (a.k.a. the underwear bomber) an enemy combatant:

It simply makes no sense to treat an al Qaeda-trained operative willing to die in the course of massacring hundreds of people as a common criminal. Reports indicate that Abdulmutallab stated there were many more like him in Yemen but that he stopped talking once he was read his Miranda rights. President Obama’s advisers lamely claim Abdulmutallab might be willing to agree to a plea bargain – pretty doubtful you can cut a deal with a suicide bomber. John Brennan, the President’s top counterterrorism adviser, bizarrely claimed “there are no downsides or upsides” to treating terrorists as enemy combatants. That is absurd. There is a very serious downside to treating them as criminals: terrorists invoke their “right” to remain silent and stop talking. Terrorists don’t tell us where they were trained, what they were trained in, who they were trained by, and who they were trained with. Giving foreign-born, foreign-trained terrorists the right to remain silent does nothing to keep Americans safe from terrorist threats. It only gives our enemies access to courtrooms where they can publicly grandstand, and to defense attorneys who can manipulate the legal process to gain access to classified information.

So, according to Sarah, granting terrorist suspects such constitutional protections as habeas corpus, the right to an attorney, and the right to remain silent precludes the possibility of garnering valuable, potentially life-saving information from them. Because, she claims, once terror suspects are given these rights, they’ll just shut up, refuse to plea-bargain. But surely she must know that people charged with even the most heinous crimes are generally willing to plea-bargain, to divulge important information, even sell-out their buddies for reduced sentences. Why an al-Qaeda suspect would be different isn’t clear. And Sarah, in typical Sarah fashion, never gives us an argument.

Had she bothered to do a simple Google search, she would have learned that al-Qaeda guys aren’t all that different in this regard. For example, take the case of Bryant Neal Vinas, an American-born al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2008. Instead of whisking him away to Guantanamo Bay and subjecting him to “enhanced interrogation,” the Bush administration decided to grant Vinas the same protections afforded to other American criminal suspects. And Vinas ended up providing the FBI with what one law enforcement official called “an intelligence gold mine.” Another official claimed that Vinas provided a “treasure trove” of information. Among other things, Vinas told authorities about various al-Qaeda plots and even provided them with “the locations of safe houses and suspected terrorists.”

And Vinas’ story is not unique. Former FBI special agent Ali Soufan has testified how he was able to get Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s body guard, to open up just by offering him some sugar-free cookies (h/t Raw Story). “While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: ‘He was a diabetic and couldn’t eat anything with sugar in it.’ At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal’s angry demeanor. ‘We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him,’ Soufan recalls. ‘So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures.’”

But Sarah Palin would send Abdulmuttalab and other terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay and subject them to “enhanced interrogation.” Even though all the available evidence suggests that such techniques don’t work. As former CIA agent Robert Baer writes: “When I was in the CIA I never came across a country that systematically tortures its citizens and at the same time produces useful intelligence.” Baer continues: “For the last three years I have been in and out of Israeli jails interviewing members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Many of them had been in suicide bomber cells — just the kind of people the Israelis would want to extract every last detail out of. None of them, however, claimed to have been tortured. The Israelis found out what they needed to know using traditional, legal police methods. It simply isn't worth it for them to risk damaging their already shaky international reputation by torturing suspects on the slim hope they just may get a lead.”

Along with Baer, many others in the know have concluded that torture, or enhanced interrogation, or whatever the hell you want to call it, doesn’t work—e.g., FBI Director Robert Mueller, FBI agents Ali Soufan, Jack Cloonan, Daniel Coleman, former CIA Director Porter Goss, CIA agent Milt Bearden, numerous other CIA agents, Air Force Col. John Rothrock, Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander, Army Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine, Army Col. Stuart Herrington, the State Department’s number 2 counterterrorism official, the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer, the Army Field Manual, DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, the 2004 CIA Inspector General Report, and many others.

If Sarah Palin spent a little more time reading newspapers and magazines and a little less time watching 24, she might actually know this.

January 6, 2010

Rethinking those conspiracy theories…

I’ve never bought into all those Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-intent-upon-destroying-America conspiracy theories. And yet…

I can’t deny that if Obama really were a secret Indonesian national, if he really were trying to subvert the US government, then he’d probably be doing exactly what he’s doing right now.

Thirty years ago, let’s remember, the Carter administration egged the USSR into invading Afghanistan, believing that such an action would lead to the Soviets’ destruction. As Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated, by aiding anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the administration “knowingly increased the probability” that the Soviets would invade. Brzezinski continued:

That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

And now here we are, thirty years later, and Obama is following the same script that Brzezinski wrote for the Soviets. Mikhail Gorbachev, who oversaw the Soviet collapse, has warned that the US won’t be able to achieve its military ends and should start withdrawing its forces (h/t Antiwar.com). And yet the President insists on continuing down this road, somehow believing that things will turn out differently for us.

Ignoring the advice of Gorby, Obama has instead decided to follow the advice of another individual familiar with the Afghan-Soviet War. Osama Bin Laden—you remember him, right?— wants us to stay in Afghanistan, believing that the occupation is going to eventually bankrupt us. As he said in November 2004:

All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa’ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers as we alongside the Mujahedin bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. All Praise is due to Allah.

So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah is willing and nothing is too great for Allah.

According to the Obama administration’s own numbers, it currently costs around $1 million a year for every American soldier in Afghanistan. Since Obama’s surge will bring the total number of US troops in the country to around 100,000, we’re talking $100 billion over the next twelve months. And this figure doesn’t include the hidden costs of the war—e.g., “higher oil prices, money to treat wounded veterans and interest payments on war loans.”

After eight disastrous years under Bush, in which the national debt rose by $5 trillion, and one disastrous year under Obama, in which the debt rose another $1.4 trillion, the US economy simply can’t take this. For nations don’t spend their way to prosperity; by dumping more and more money into Afghanistan, Obama is instead prolonging and increasing the severity of our current depression.

I’m not sure what the end result of all this will be. Some, like Gerald Celente, believe we’re nearing an even greater financial collapse and perhaps the end of the United States as we know it. Whatever the case, it’s clear that the President isn’t doing anybody, save for the terrorists (and, of course, his corporate buddies), any favors.

January 4, 2010

Defending the President

I didn’t wake up this morning with the intention of defending President Obama. As regular readers of this blog know, I think the guy’s actions are mostly indefensible. Mostly indefensible, meaning that he’s done a couple good things over the past year. And today, in response to a John Bolton op-ed in the Washington Times, I’m going to defend those couple good things.

Bolton, in typical Bolton fashion, begins his op-ed by likening Obama to Neville Chamberlain. Because in John Bolton’s universe, everyone who doesn’t share his shameless blood lust is a cowardly appeaser, and that’s all there is to it. Now how, you might be wondering, is Barack Obama—who’s escalated the War in Afghanistan, continued drone strikes in Pakistan, and, just last month, started firing cruise missiles into Yemen—an appeaser?

Let me allow Bolton to explain himself:

Despite the administration’s verbal about-face on the effectiveness of our antiterrorism efforts within days of the unsuccessful Christmas attack, its fundamental approach remains flawed. Mr. Obama himself has led the charge in shifting from a “Global War on Terror” toward a law-enforcement paradigm, continuing, for example, to press for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Even today, the administration is treating would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than an enemy combatant, thus losing the chance to gain enormously valuable information on al Qaeda activities and plans.

Contrary to what Bolton claims, it seems clear that Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay can only make Americans safer. By now, it’s been well-established that the prison has played a major part in radicalizing many throughout the Muslim 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 Guantanamo 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.”

It’s also been well-established that “enhanced interrogation,” which Bolton would like us to inflict upon Abdulmutallab and many others, doesn’t work. Yes, the government has elicited valuable information through interrogating terror suspects, but as the 2004 CIA Inspector General Report makes clear [.pdf], there’s no evidence that it obtained any of this information through enhanced techniques. As Jane Mayer has explained: “Torture works in several ways. It can intimidate enemies, it can elicit false confessions, and it can produce true confessions. Setting aside the moral issues, the problem is recognizing what’s true. [Abu] Zubayda, for instance, reportedly confessed to dozens of half-hatched or entirely imaginary plots to blow up American banks, supermarkets, malls, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and nuclear power plants. Federal law-enforcement officials were dispatched to unlikely locations across the country in an effort to follow these false leads.”

And Bolton is simply wrong when he writes that, by trying Abdulmutallab in a federal court, Obama has lost “the chance to gain enormously valuable information on al Qaeda activities and plans.” It’s not as though Guantanamo Bay is the only place in the world in which terror suspects can be interrogated. Non-Guantanamo-based authorities interrogate criminal suspects all the time. As Spencer Ackerman explains, even if Abdulmutallab invokes his right to silence, authorities can continue interrogating him; they just can’t use this information against him in court.

Bolton proceeds to attack some of Obama’s other policies, some of which I also think are defensible, but frankly I can’t stomach defending the guy anymore. Not today. Yes, he’s done some good things over the past year, but, when all is said and done, he’s still a liar and a warmonger, one who’s only marginally better than George W. Bush. So with that, I’m going to sign off.

January 2, 2010

A Introduction to Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

The Gaza Strip is essentially a prison. That’s the best way to think of it. About two-thirds of Gaza is surrounded by a security fence that is patrolled by the Israeli Army. The rest of Gaza borders the Mediterranean Sea and is patrolled by the Israeli Navy. Israel destroyed the Strip’s only airport in 2001. So Israel, with the help of Egypt, completely controls who and what enters Gaza and who and what leaves Gaza.

After Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel began to sharply restrict the flow of people and goods entering and leaving the Strip. Because Gaza, like most small economies, depends upon foreign trade for its survival, this proved to be devastating. Businesses went bankrupt, unemployment skyrocketed. By August 2008, 80% of the population had become dependent upon international aid.

And then last year Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead” and for three weeks subjected Gazans to what can only be described as Hell. When all was said and done, 1,400 people (most of them civilians) had been killed, 100,000 people displaced, 3,540 homes destroyed, 55,770 homes damaged, 268 businesses destroyed, 432 businesses damaged. Moreover, “Tanks and other military vehicles demolished 17% of Gaza’s cultivated land in the conflict, including 17.5% of olive, date and other fruit orchards and 9.2% of open fields.” [Sources: United Nations OCHA and Amnesty International, Oxfam, et al (h/t Norman Finkelstein and The Heathlander).]

Once the assault ended, foreign governments offered a total of $4 billion to help rebuild Gaza. But Israel has continued the blockade, rendering that offer all but meaningless. For the last twelve months, Israel has allowed just a trickle of humanitarian goods to enter the Strip. And to make matters worse, its definition of “humanitarian goods” keeps changing. Some weeks, this means that Gazans can receive things like pasta, school notebooks, and hearing aids. Other weeks, they’re not so lucky. All total, over the past year, Israel has allowed approximately 112 truckloads of goods to enter Gaza a day, down from 583 truckloads a day during the first five months of 2007.

And Israel has allowed almost no construction materials to enter Gaza. During the past twelve months, Israel has permitted less than four truckloads of such material to enter the Strip a month, down from approximately 7,400 truckloads a month during the first part of 2007. Needless to say, this means that Gazans have been unable to rebuild their homes and businesses.

This also means that Gazans cannot rebuild their medical facilities, 48% of which were damaged or destroyed in “Cast Lead.” And it means that Gazans have been unable to repair their electrical power system, which was heavily damaged in the assault. And it means that Gazans have been unable to repair their water sanitation system, which also suffered major damage. Because of this, the UN warns that the Strip’s “water supply is on the verge of collapse.”

As far as exports go, well, fuhghettaboutit. They’ve been almost nonexistent. Consequently, 40% of Gazans remain unemployed and 70% of Gazan families are forced to survive on less than one dollar a day per person.

I could keep going on and on. I could discuss all the medical patients who are prevented from leaving the Strip to receive treatment. I could discuss all the students who cannot leave to study abroad. I could tell you that most Gazan children have PTSD, that 10% of Gazan children under five suffer from malnutrition. I could describe how Israel recently imposed a 300 meter “buffer zone” along the border, cutting “Gazans off from 30 percent of the strip’s arable land.”

I could go on and on. But I think you get the idea.