I’m sure this will end well

Remember when people were saying that Trump might be less of a warmonger than Hillary Clinton? It seems they were wrong:

The Trump administration is exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.

Already, President Trump has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three provinces of Yemen to be an “area of active hostilities” where looser battlefield rules apply. That opened the door to a Special Operations raid in late January in which several civilians were killed, as well as to the largest-ever series of American airstrikes targeting Yemen-based Qaeda militants, starting nearly two weeks ago, the officials said.

Mr. Trump is also expected to sign off soon on a similar Pentagon proposal to designate parts of Somalia to be another such battlefield-style zone for 180 days, removing constraints on airstrikes and raids targeting people suspected of being militants with the Qaeda-linked group the Shabab, they said.

So more attacks with more civilian deaths, that should make the US popular. And we want to arm everybody:

The Trump administration has told Congress it plans to approve a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed by the State Department under President Barack Obama.

Among the steps the Obama administration had sought from Bahrain was the release of Nabeel Rajab, a famed human rights activist who helped lead the 2011 protests. Rajab, whose trial has been repeatedly delayed, awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading ‘‘false news’’ via Twitter over his posts about the ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen, as well as allegations of torture by authorities at a local prison.

So sell arms to countries even if they’re dictators who imprison their citizens on trumped up charges. Yup, that will make the US popular.

And despite the increase in attacks, there are no real plans for what happens after (shades of the Bush administration):

The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions, and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, US troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Robert Malley, a former senior official in the Obama administration and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group, said the uptick in military involvement since Trump took office did not appear to have been accompanied by increased planning for the day after potential military victories.

“The military will be the first to tell you that a military operation is only as good as the diplomatic and political plan that comes with it,” Malley said.

The lack of diplomacy and planning for the future in such places as Yemen and Syria could render victories there by the United States and its allies unsustainable.

Plans have been announced to send 300 US Marines to Helmand province, their first deployment there since 2014. And the US commander, General John W. Nicholson Jr., told Congress in February he would like another “few thousand” American and coalition troops.

So we’re going to be sending more troops to: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and I’m sure many other countries. I was worried about this under Obama but at least Obama was cautious and was pulling back troops. Trump seems eager to start wars everywhere and at the same time seems determined to piss off all our allies (Australia, Germany, the UK, …). It’s not going to be pretty.

Courage under fire

Two people died in the last week or so that exemplify courage. First is Lawrence Colburn:

Along with his pilot, Hugh Thompson Jr., and their crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, Mr. Colburn set out that morning on a routine aerial reconnaissance mission. When the men spotted wounded civilians — casualties in US ground efforts to root out the enemy Viet Cong — they dropped colored smoke to mark the victims’ location for the US medical units that they assumed were on the way.

As the men continued their surveillance, they observed that the injured civilians were not being aided, and were instead being killed.

‘‘It became obvious to us what was happening when we lingered by one of the bodies that we’d marked,’’ Mr. Colburn said in an interview on the PBS program ‘‘American Experience.’’ ‘‘It was a young female with a chest wound, but she was still alive. . . . We saw a captain approach the woman, look down at her, kick her with his foot, step back, and [he] just blew her away right in front of us.’’

..

Thompson first landed the helicopter near an irrigation ditch where women, children, and the elderly were sheltering. Thompson approached a soldier standing over the group and ordered him to help the civilians out of the ditch. The soldier agreed but began executing the group after the helicopter took off, Mr. Colburn said.

Later, from their air, Thompson and his crew identified a group of Vietnamese hiding in a bunker and a unit of US soldiers advancing on them. Thompson again landed the helicopter and confronted the lieutenant, then called on Mr. Colburn and Andreotta for help. Thompson said that he would personally remove the Vietnamese from the bunker to safety, and that if the Americans fired on them, Mr. Colburn and Andreotta should shoot them.

They risked their lives to save civilians from their fellow US soldiers, that takes a special kind of courage. They must have known they would not be rewarded:

When news of the massacre publicly broke, Thompson repeated his account to then-Colonel William Wilson[4]:222–235 and then-Lieutenant General William Peers during their official Pentagon investigations.[11] In late-1969, Thompson was summoned to Washington, DC to appear before a special closed hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. There, he was sharply criticized by congressmen, in particular Chairman Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), who were anxious to play down allegations of a massacre by American troops.[4]:290–291 Rivers publicly stated that he felt Thompson was the only soldier at My Lai who should be punished (for turning his weapons on fellow American troops) and unsuccessfully attempted to have him court-martialed.[3] As word of his actions became publicly known, Thompson started receiving hate mail, death threats and mutilated animals on his doorstep.[5]

Thompson was vilified by many Americans for his testimony against United States Army personnel. He recounted in a CBS60 Minutes television program in 2004, “I’d received death threats over the phone…Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up.”[12]

The second person is Marion Pritchard:

She was said to have fed, clothed, hidden, or otherwise aided as many as 150 people, many of them children. She insisted that she could not have done her work without the assistance, overt or implied, of neighbors, friends, and other members of the resistance. She observed, her son Arnold Pritchard recalled, that only rarely if ever during the Holocaust could one person single-handedly save the life of another.

Along with about 10 friends, she helped obtain false identity documents and hiding places for Jews. Despite severe food shortages, they scrounged up extra ration cards and provisions. She put her social work training to use by finding host families to take in Jewish children and prepare the families for the perils they faced.

At times, she performed what was known as the ‘‘mission of disgrace,’’ falsely declaring herself to be the unwed mother of a baby to conceal the child’s Jewish identity. A toddler spent several months with her before she found a safer home outside Amsterdam.

For nearly three years, Ms. Pritchard cared for a Jewish man, Fred Polak, and his two young sons and daughter, taking up residence in the country home of an acquaintance where they were hidden. In case of a Nazi roundup, they perfected a routine by which the father and his children could slip beneath the floorboards within 17 seconds. They gave the baby daughter sleeping pills to prevent her from crying.

One day, three Germans and a Dutch policeman came to search the house and left, having failed to detect the hideaway. Shortly thereafter, the Dutchman, who nonetheless suspected that something was awry, returned and discovered the hideout. Before he could make an arrest, Ms. Pritchard grabbed a small revolver that she had kept for such an emergency and fatally shot him.

Another person who was willing to risk their life for strangers. People like her, unfortunately, don’t come around too often.

A communist from 100 years ago

Wow, listen to this guy (or here):

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

This was Smedley Butler, one of two Marines to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice and eventually rose to Major General, the highest rank at the time.

The reason this comes up is that today is the hundredth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Haiti by the US. This was part of the banana wars where the US, mostly for US business interests:

  • invaded Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898 (the US mostly controlled Cuba until 1934; Puerto Rico is, of course, still part of the US)
  • backed the secession of Panama from Colombia in 1903
  • invaded and then occupied Nicaragua from 1912-1933
  • occupied Haiti from 1915-1934
  • invaded and then occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916-1924
  • went into Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925

One can see why Butler was so cynical.

Martin Luther King Jr

Since it’s Martin Luther King Jr Day, I think it’s appropriate to look at what he said and did near the end of his life. His last project was the Poor People’s Campaign:

After all, in December 1967, just four months before he was assassinated, King announced to the press that the Poor People’s Campaign was coming to Washington, DC, that April.

The goal: to demand that President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress take action to help poor people get employment, health care, and decent housing. The tactic: marching through the US Capitol and demonstrating at federal agencies to convince Congress to pass major anti-poverty legislation. The unique approach: the participants would physically stay there, living on the National Mall in an encampment dubbed Resurrection City, until they saw results.

Most people ignore the fact that MLK was seen as divisive which is why at his funeral there were so few whites present:

Alongside a reproduction of a photo of King’s funeral that ran in “Life,” Jaar graphically lays bare the nation’s racial divisions at the time of the civil rights leader’s death. In one frame, Jaar represents all of the African Americans at the funeral march with black dots. In a second frame, he shows the white people present as red dots. There are thousands of black dots and only a few dozen red ones.

He zoomed in on the red dots in Jaar’s work and was able to identify one or two faces. “Back by Coretta, three rows back, the man with the gray hair. That’s Jerry Wurf.” Wurf was president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose workers King had been supporting. Garrow noted that the night the civil rights leader died, Robert Kennedy also spoke movingly about his legacy.

When King died, he was advocating for “radical economic change” and had taken a stance against the Vietnam War, Garrow said. Both of those issues alienated him from some former supporters. “People in the Democratic Party thought King had self-marginalized. His murder alters his historical status hugely. What people now remember is his post-assassination enshrinement.”

Here are some bits from two of his last speeches:

One from March 31, 1968:

Now there is another myth that still gets around: it is a kind of over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty, if the Negro is to rise out of the slum conditions, if he is to rise out of discrimination and segregation, he must do it all by himself. And so they say the Negro must lift himself by his own bootstraps.

They never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma. But beyond this they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two hundred and forty-four years.

In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And you just go up to him and say, “Now you are free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life.

Every court of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is the very thing that our nation did to the black man. It simply said, “You’re free,” and it left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every years not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

And yet somehow there are all those conservatives that believe he would be against affirmative action.

In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.

We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

And yet some people think he was against confrontation.

I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.

It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

Jeff Jacoby has a column today about King and somehow he gets this:

To read (or listen to) King’s final speech, knowing that he was just 39 and would be murdered the next day, is to marvel that America could have produced so extraordinary a liberator. He could and did evoke the shame of his nation’s grievous racial injustices with devastating force — yet he never broke faith with that nation, or doubted that, if its conscience were aroused, it would eventually take seriously its creed of liberty and justice for all.

Notice that he doesn’t mention the Vietnam war or King’s crusade against poverty. Also notice that he elides the fact that King was very much for tension and confrontation–he might have thought that the US would someday live up to it’s ideals, but it would be a struggle.

Jacoby takes bits from King’s last speech (April 3, 1968, the day before he was killed) such as:

Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday. Now about injunctions. We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is to be true to what you said on paper. If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on. We need all of you.

but somehow he fails to mention that this was going to be a march in support of a union. He also doesn’t mention the parts where he is fighting for the poor:

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years. He’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kyles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them, and I want you to thank them because so often preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry. It’s all right to talk about long white robes over yonder, in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and His children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Finally, if you go back to his letter from a Birmingham jail cell, you’ll see what side he would have been on in the latest demonstrations:

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

Yup, people were deploring King for being an outside agitator–some things never change.

 

 

Another war

So, we have now attacked ISIS in Syria, as well as another group, and we also want to get rid of President Assad. Even better, this is an open-ended operation:

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the objectives set for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and now Syria could take years to complete. The attacks in Syria marked the start of a new phase, coming six weeks after the U.S. military began a similar campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Iraq.

But this time it will work–I expect that in 6 months we will have turned the corner.

War and peace

This is a good first step:

The United States and five other world powers announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping agreement.

It was the first time in nearly a decade of talks, US officials said, that an international agreement had been reached to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program and roll some elements of it back.

The aim of the accord, which is to last six months, is to give international negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could only be used for peaceful purposes.

As always, whether this is a good thing will depend on later actions, but talking is always better than war. The US and Iran do not trust each other (for good reasons on both sides) so this will be difficult, but again it’s better than war. This statement takes me back:

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister and a key member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said, “if a nuclear suitcase blows up in New York or Madrid five years from now, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.”

“If there will be a deal which would allow Iran to have the ability to ‘break out’ and build a bomb within six weeks, we cannot sit idly by in this situation, and we will examine all the options,” Bennett told Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday night.

This is Condoleezza Rice saying, with respect to Iraq, that we can’t let the let the smoking gun be a nuclear blast, it is the idea of preemptive war–which worked so well in Iraq. I’m sure Netanyahu would support developments between China and Japan:

The Chinese government on Saturday claimed the right to identify, monitor, and possibly take military action against aircraft that enter a newly declared “air defense identification zone,” which covers sea and islands also claimed by Japan and threatens to escalate an already tense dispute over some of the maritime territory.

The move appeared to be another step in China’s efforts to intensify pressure on Japan over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that are at the heart of the dispute.

Now there’s some good old fashioned saber rattling.

Chemical weapons

A few things to think about when you’re deciding if the US should bomb Syria because of their use of chemical weapons:

  • the US implicitly endorsed the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s (and the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war could be seen as chemical warfare)
  • the US is one of 13 countries with declared chemical weapons production facilities
  • 161 countries have signed the Ottawa treaty which bans the use of mines–the US is one of 36 countries that have not signed it
  • 112 countries have signed the Cluster Munitions Treaty which bans the use of cluster munitions–the US has not signed it
  • the US is one of 190 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are one of 5 of the signatories to have nuclear weapons (India, Israel, and Pakistan have not signed the treaty and North Korea withdrew)

Now look at this list when you hear statements such as this:

Kerry also said he was pleased with the release of a new video that shows the suffering that Syrians faced from the use of chemical weapons.

“Those videos make it clear to people that these are real human beings, real children, parents being affected in ways that are unacceptable to anybody anywhere by any standards,” Kerry said. “And it is the United States of America that has always stood with others to say, ‘We will not allow this. This is not our values. This is not who we are.’”

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