Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Truth-teller for Our Times

November 24, 2008

November 23, 2008
Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Truth-teller for Our Times

[Note to Readers: In the spirit of Nick Turse’s article below on truth-telling and civilian deaths in war, TomDispatch would like to direct your attention to a recently published paperback, Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, a powerful text with words, images, and documents from the Spring 2008 hearings in Washington, DC, at which American veterans of Bush’s two occupations spoke out about the dark side of the wars they fought.]

By October 2005, when American casualties in Iraq had not yet reached 2,000 dead or 15,000 wounded, and our casualties in Afghanistan were still modest indeed, informal “walls” had already begun springing up online to honor the fallen. At that time, I suggested that “the particular dishonor this administration has brought down on our country calls out for other ‘walls’ as well.” I imagined, then, walls of shame for Bush administration figures and their cronies — and even produced one (in words) that November. By now, of course, any such wall would be full to bursting with names that will live in infamy.

That October, we at TomDispatch also launched quite a different project, another kind of “wall,” this time in tribute to the striking number of “governmental casualties of Bush administration follies, those men and women who were honorable or steadfast enough in their government duties,” and so often found themselves smeared and with little alternative but to resign in protest, quit, or simply be pushed off the cliff by cronies of the administration.

Nick Turse led off what we came to call our “fallen legion” project with a list of 42 such names, ranging from the well-known Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki (who retired after suggesting to Congress that it would take “several hundred thousand troops” to occupy Iraq) and Richard Clarke (who quit, appalled by how the administration was dealing with terror and terrorism) to the moderately well known Ann Wright, John Brown, and John Brady Kiesling (three diplomats who resigned to protest the coming invasion of Iraq) to the little known Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin (who resigned under pressure, possibly so that various Bush papers could be kept under wraps). By the time Turse had written his second fallen legion piece that November, and then the third and last in February 2006, that list of names had topped 200 with no end in sight.

Today, to its eternal shame, the Bush administration has left not just its own projects, but the nation it ruled, in ruins. No wall could fit its particular “accomplishments.” Turse, who recently wrote for the Nation magazine “A My Lai a Month,” a striking exposé of a U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam that slaughtered thousands of civilians, returns in the last moments of this dishonored administration with a fitting capstone piece for the honorably fallen in Washington. Think of it as the last of the “fallen legion,” a memory piece — lest we forget. Tom

“We killed her… that will be with me the rest of my life”

Lawrence Wilkerson’s Lessons of War and Truth

By Nick Turse

Nations in flux are nations in need. A new president will soon take office, facing hard choices not only about two long-running wars and an ever-deepening economic crisis, but about a government that has long been morally adrift. Torture-as-policy, kidnappings, ghost prisons, domestic surveillance, creeping militarism, illegal war-making, and official lies have been the order of the day. Moments like this call for truth-tellers. For Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. For witnesses willing to come forward. For brave souls ready to expose hidden and forbidden realities to the light of day.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Aziz Huq, Imperial Pretensions and the Financial Crunch

October 17, 2008

Don’t trust me as a gambler. You’d probably make more by putting your money into credit-default swaps. Nonetheless, I’d like to make a small wager on who the single significant holdover from the Bush administration might be should an Obama presidency actually happen. Keep a close eye on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He was clearly sent into the Rumsfeld breach back at the end of 2006 to begin the clean-up of the Bush administration’s foreign policy mess and — my guess — to prevent Dick Cheney and pals from attacking Iran. And this, with a little help from onrushing reality, he seems to have accomplished. He remains the singular adult in the Bush foreign policy playpen, a skilled bureaucratic maneuverer from his CIA days, who claims he plans to leave Washington in January but would never say “never” to an offer ahead of time.

Like Obama, he’s plunked for an intensified Afghan War and, just last week, a key national security advisor to the candidate, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, praised Gates, suggesting he had been a splendid secretary of defense and adding that “he’d be an even better one in an Obama administration.”

So, when Gates gives a speech aimed at the Pentagon’s future, it’s worth listening carefully. On September 29th, he went to the National Defense University and offered a peek into that future as he imagines it. Now remember, the U.S. financial meltdown was already underway and, after seven unbelievably fat years, Pentagon weapons contractors were starting to express worries about possible future cutbacks. Nonetheless, Gates offered a vision of a U.S. military-plus. There was the usual support for a range of conventional weapons systems for wars that will never be fought and their futuristic equivalents, as well as for a larger Army, a larger Marine Corps, and a larger Navy. (The Air Force, except for unmanned aerial vehicles, looks to be in trouble in Gatesworld.) But above all, the once and (possibly) future secretary of defense wants to invest in “institutionalizing counterinsurgency skills, and our ability to conduct stability and support operations.” Backed by a growing lobby eager to put ever more warm bodies in the military, he’s opting for a major build-up to deal with future insurgencies out there in the global badlands. Think… gulp… “nation building.” Think, as well, future Afghanistans and Iraqs.

Though Gates has also claimed of late that the Pentagon’s gargantuan budget will no longer outpace inflation, that growth in military spending is “probably a thing of the past,” this is still a recipe for a relatively unrestrained imperial future that, as Aziz Huq, author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, points out below is a disaster waiting to happen. It is, in fact, a potential recipe for American bankruptcy. Tom

Use It or Lose It?

How to Manage an Imperial Decline

By Aziz Huq

Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation?

We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it’s been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets — given the present liquidity crunch — have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.

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ICH: Ron Paul: The Creation of the Second Great Depression

September 26, 2008
The Creation of the Second Great Depression
By Ron Paul
Whenever a Great Bipartisan Consensus is announced, and a compliant media assures everyone that the wondrous actions of our wise leaders are being taken for our own good, you can know with absolute certainty that disaster is about to strike. The events of the past week are no exception.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20862.htm
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Show Us the Money
By William Greider
Taxpayers should wake up the politicians and ask them to tell Wall Street: “We want the same deal Warren Buffett got.”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20867.htm
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Richest Americans See Their Income Share Grow
By Jesse Drucker
In a new sign of increasing inequality in the U.S., the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation’s adjusted gross income for two decades, and possibly the highest since 1929, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20863.htm
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America’s Elephant In The Room
By David Michael Green
The scope of the destruction is breathtaking to gaze upon. The rapidity with which American affluence and power and respect and responsibility were converted into their opposite numbers is mind-boggling.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20868.htm
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McCain’s Debate Ploy
By Michael Tomasky
A move so unserious, contemptible and cynical that it’s hard to imagine how they even thought of it.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20866.htm
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The New World War
The Silence Is A Lie
By John Pilger
It is a war of the world. In Latin America, the Bush administration is fomenting incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Paraguay, democracies whose governments have opposed Washington’s historic rapacious intervention in its “backyard”. Washington’s “Plan Colombia” is the model for a mostly unreported assault on Mexico.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20864.htm
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Morales Cites “Evidence” of U.S. Meddling
By Haider Rizvi
Bolivian President Evo Morales reiterated the charge Tuesday that the U.S. government was plotting to overthrow his government and that Washington had a hand in the recent episodes of violence in which a number of his supporters were killed and wounded by opposition gangs.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20860.htm
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The Destabilization of Bolivia and the “Kosovo Option”
By Michel Chossudovsky
The death squads armed with automatic weapons responsible for killing supporters of Evo Morales in El Porvenir are supported covertly by the US. According to one report, “USAID has an “Office of Transition Initiatives” operating in Bolivia, funneling millions of dollars of training and support to right-wing opposition regional governments and movements.”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20861.htm
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The Future Is One Nation
The two-state approach in the Middle East has failed. There is a fairer, more durable solution
By Ghada Karmi
Imagine the scene: the United Nations general assembly meets to discuss a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Unlike previous resolutions, which have been based on a Jewish state in most of historic Palestine with Palestinians relegated to the remnants, this one calls for a new state, covering what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, whose present and former inhabitants are equal under the law. Such a resolution has, in fact, already been drafted and discussions have begun to place it on the agenda at the UN.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20865.htm
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Horrors of War Our Leaders Never Have to Confront
By Robert Fisk
Private James Owen was to describe how an enraged friend was trying to bayonet another German. “He lunged at the German again and again, who each time lowered his arms and stopped the point of the bayonet with his bare hands. He was screaming for mercy. Oh God it was brutal!”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20856.htm
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The Blood of Dresden
By Kurt Vonnegut
The author Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the allied bombing raids and was later forced to dig out bodies from the ruined city. In papers discovered by his son after his death last year, he provides a searing eyewitness account of the ‘obscene brutality’ that inspired his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20857.htm
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Tomgram: Tariq Ali, Has the U.S. Invasion of Pakistan Begun?

September 17, 2008

As Andrew Bacevich tells us in the latest issue of the Atlantic, there’s now a vigorous debate going on in the military about the nature of the “next” American wars and how to prepare for them. However, while military officers argue, that “next war” may already be creeping up on us.

Having, with much hoopla, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each disastrous in its own way, the Bush administration in its waning months seems intent on a slo-mo launching of a third war in the border regions of Pakistan. Almost every day now news trickles out of intensified American strikes — by Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones, or even commando raids from helicopters — in the Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border; and there is a drumbeat of threats of more to come. All of this, in turn, is reportedly only “phase one” of a three-phase Bush administration plan in which the American military “gloves” would “come off.” Think of this as the green-lighting of a new version of that old Vietnam-era tactic of “hot pursuit” across national borders, or think of it simply as the latest war.

The Duel

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

By Tariq Ali

Already Pakistan’s sovereignty has functionally been declared of no significance by our President, and so, without a word from Congress, the American war that already stretches from Iraq to Afghanistan is threatening to widen in ways that are potentially incendiary in the extreme. While Pakistani sources report that no significant Taliban or al-Qaeda figures have been killed in the recent series of attacks, anger in Pakistan over the abrogation of national sovereignty and, as in Afghanistan, over civilian casualties is growing.

In Iraq, 146,000 American soldiers seem not to be going anywhere anytime soon, while in Afghanistan another 33,000 embattled American troops (and tens of thousands of NATO troops), suffering their highest casualties since the Taliban fell in 2001, are fighting a spreading insurgency backed by growing anger over foreign occupation. The disintegration seems to be proceeding apace in that country as the Taliban begins to throttle the supply routes leading into the Afghan capital of Kabul, while the governor of a province just died in an IED blast. “President” Hamid Karzai was long ago nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul.” Today, that tag seems ever more appropriate as the influence of his corrupt government steadily weakens.

In the meantime, in Pakistan, a new war, no less unpredictable and unpalatable than the last two, develops, as American strikes fan the flames of Pakistani nationalism. Already the Pakistani military may have fired its first warning shots at American troops. Part of the horror here is that much of the present nightmare in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be traced to the sorry U.S. relationship with Pakistan’s military and its intelligence services back in the early 1980s. At that time, in its anti-Soviet jihad, the Reagan administration was, in conjunction with the Pakistanis, actively nurturing the forces that the Bush administration is now so intent on fighting. No one knows this story, this record, better than the Pakistani-born journalist and writer Tariq Ali.

As we head into our “next war,” most Americans know almost nothing about Pakistan, the sixth most populous country on the planet with 200 million people, and the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons. As the Bush administration commits to playing with fire in that desperately poor land, it’s time to learn. Ali, who posts below on the next U.S. war, has just written a new book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power — published today — that traces the U.S.-Pakistani relationship from the 1950s to late last night. I can tell you that it’s both riveting and needed. Check it out. And while you’re at it, check Ali out in a two-part video, released by TomDispatch, in which he discusses the history of the tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship and Barack Obama’s Afghan and Pakistani plans. Tom

The American War Moves to Pakistan

Bush’s War Widens Dangerously

By Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.

Click here to read more of this dispatch


Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Legacy of the MBA President

September 15, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Part two of Frida Berrigan’s three-part series on the expansion of the Pentagon is just the sort of post — a major story of the Bush era — that you can only get at this site. The expansion and privatization of the Pentagon should, of course, be the subject of front-page pieces in newspapers across the country as the dark legacy of the Bush presidency begins to be considered. In the light of just this sort of work from TomDispatch, let me mention a new feature at the site. If you look to your right while at the main screen, you’ll see a clickable button (“Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch.”) that leads you to a secure page where, if you wish, you can give modest $$ to help this site fund projects like Berrigan’s and do outreach work of various kinds. I’ve always enjoyed the “freeness” of TomDispatch, but readers, from time to time, have sent in contributions anyway. Now, this added feature makes it easier, if you are so disposed, to do so and, believe me, I’ll be grateful. We’ll use whatever you send our way to improve the site. (Just make sure you never send in even a dollar that you need!) And, by the way, click over to Book TV on C-SPAN2, if you want to catch an appearance I made with Michael Schwartz for the new book, The World According to TomDispatch.]

Having laid out the staggering expansion of a budget-busting Pentagon — as diplomat, arms dealer, spy, intelligence analyst, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, nation-builder, and global viceroy — in part one of her series on the Bush military legacy, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation, turns to the issue of privatization. In these last seven years, the Pentagon’s key role as war fighter has increasingly become a privatized operation. In Iraq, for instance, a Congressional Budget Office report in August revealed that the U.S. has already spent at least $100 billion on private contractors. (Pentagon auditing has, however, been so bad that that’s considered a low-ball figure.)

Approximately one out of every five war dollars spent on the war went private. That’s not so surprising, as James Risen of the New York Times reported, since private contractors now outnumber the 146,000 U.S. troops in that country. At 180,000, they represent, as Risen writes, “a second, private army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.”

Moreover, as modest drawdowns of U.S. troops occur, American taxpayer dollars going to private contractors in Iraq, especially private security contractors, are actually on the rise. Part of the charm of privatizing war, of course, is that you can also privatize information about it, so we really have little idea just how many armed, Blackwater-style mercenaries there are in that country (though the number may rise into the tens of thousands). No less curious, amid all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, you seldom see any serious discussion of those hired guns in the mainstream. When withdrawal does come, who withdraws them? Who decides that? Who knows?

In the meantime, let Frida Berrigan take you past the obvious Blackwater issues and into the deeper quagmire of the massive privatization of the American military. It’s an issue whose time should long ago have arrived, but don’t hold your breath till the media discussion and debate begins. Tom

Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Ann Jones, Afghan Women Behind Closed Doors

August 29, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch readers: This is the third and last post in a pre-Labor-Day “best of TomDispatch” series — and a good reminder that yesterday’s story at this site may turn out to be tomorrow’s headlines. Back in February 2007, I wrote of our “forgotten war” in Afghanistan. There, civilians were dying in startling numbers, as they are today, and the Taliban was proving resurgent, as it also is today. I listed a set of grim then-recent headlines about those civilian deaths and added: “So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war — and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere. Ann Jones, who has spent much time as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan these last years and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, on her experiences, turns to one of those tragedies: the fate of Afghan women.”

A year and a half later, with the U.S. reportedly planning to ship 12,000-15,000 extra troops to Afghanistan early next year, that tragedy only deepens and, far from turning into ancient history, Jones’s piece might as well have been written yesterday. Or tomorrow — for no matter who becomes president in January 2009, those extra troops are likely to be but an American downpayment on further grim headlines and more suffering for Afghan women.

As you may know, this post by Ann Jones is now in print, chapter 14 of The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008). It’s a book that helps explain tomorrow’s headlines. Why not buy a copy for your friends today — or tomorrow? Tom]

Surging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?

Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”

When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan — women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.

To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Outlaw Administration

August 26, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch readers: This is the first of a “best of TomDispatch” series I’ll be posting in the week leading up to Labor Day, each with a new introduction by the author. Few in the United States give much thought any longer to the looting of Iraq’s cultural heritage, which continues to this day, under American occupation. And yet it has been a cataclysmic event in its own right. As I wrote long ago of the initial moments of destruction after American troops entered Baghdad in April 2003: “Words disappeared instantly. They simply blinked off the screen of Iraqi history, many of them forever. First, there was the looting of the National Museum. That took care of some of the earliest words on clay, including, possibly, cuneiform tablets with missing parts of the epic of Gilgamesh. Soon after, the great libraries and archives of the capital went up in flames and books, letters, government documents, ancient Korans, religious manuscripts, stretching back centuries — all those things not pressed into clay, or etched on stone, or engraved on metal, just words on that most precious and perishable of all commonplaces, paper — vanished forever. What we’re talking about, of course, is the flesh of history. And it was no less a victim of the American invasion — of the Bush administration’s lack of attention to, its lack of any sense of the value of what Iraq held (other than oil) — than the Iraqi people. All of this has been, in that grim phrase created by the Pentagon, ‘collateral damage.'”

Back in July 2005 at this site, Chalmers Johnson wrote a summary piece on that cataclysm of destruction of history, of the past, and — here’s the saddest story – it is no less readable, relevant, or powerful today than it was more than three years ago. This piece, by the way — along with many other TomDispatch pieces that have stood the test of time — has just been republished in a little alternate history of these last years, The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), which I hope you’ll consider ordering. Johnson, author of the now-classic Blowback Trilogy, has written a new introduction to his 2005 piece, looking back on the destruction we enabled — or wrought. Tom]

The Past Destroyed: Five Years Later

On April 11, 12, 13, and 14, 2003, the United States Army and United States Marine Corps disgraced themselves and the country they represent in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city. Having invaded Iraq and accepted the status of a military occupying power, they sat in their tanks and Humvees, watching as unarmed civilians looted the Iraqi National Museum and burned down the Iraqi National Library and Archives as well as the Library of Korans of the Ministry of Religious Endowments. Their behavior was in violation of their orders, international law, and the civilized values of the United States. Far from apologizing for these atrocities or attempting to make amends, the United States government has in the past five years added insult to injury.

Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense and the official responsible for the actions of the troops, repeatedly attempted to trivialize what had occurred with inane public statements like “democracy is messy” and “stuff happens.”

On December 2, 2004, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, to General Tommy Franks, the overall military commander in Iraq at that time, for his meritorious service to the country. (He gave the same award to L. Paul Bremer III, the highest ranking civilian official in Iraq, and to George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which had provided false information about Saddam Hussein and Iraq to Congress and the people.)

In the five years since the initial looting and pillaging of the Iraqi capital, thieves have stolen at least 32,000 items from some 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq with no interference whatsoever from the occupying power. No funds have been appropriated by the American or Iraqi governments to protect the most valuable and vulnerable historical sites on Earth, even though experience has shown that just a daily helicopter overflight usually scares off looters. In 2006, the World Monuments Fund took the unprecedented step of putting the entire country of Iraq on its list of the most endangered sites. All of this occurred on George W. Bush’s watch and impugned any moral authority he might have claimed.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.