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.

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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Lessons of Endless War

August 20, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Andrew Bacevich will discuss his new book — and the limits of American power in the Bush era — for a full hour on “Bill Moyers Journal,” Friday, August 15th. Don’t miss it. If you’re watching the Olympics, TIVO it or look for a repeat.]

To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation’s capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren’t so blinded by the idea of our “global reach,” by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission. It’s a particularly timely observation to which Bacevich returns in part two of his TomDispatch series, adapted from his new book. (Click here for part one, “Illusions of Victory.”)

Unfortunately, the mission looks all-too-ready to expand, no matter who makes it to the White House in January. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, increasingly being mentioned in the media as a possible carry-over appointment for either candidate, endorsed a $20 billion down payment on our future role in Afghanistan — to be used to double the size of the Afghan army — and a restructuring of the U.S. and NATO commands in that country. All of this is meant as preparation for a new president’s agreement to consign yet more American troops to our war there. This, in a phrase Bacevich has used in another context, is no less “the path to perdition” for the globe’s former “sole superpower” than was the dec! ision of a small country in the Caucasus to essentially launch a war, no matter the provocation, against its energy-superpower neighbor. This way to the madhouse, ladies and gentlemen.

Consider, in this context, the immodest lessons our leaders have chosen to learn from the Bush era, and then, with Bacevich, what lessons we might actually learn if we seriously (and far more modestly) considered the real limits of American power. Tom

Is Perpetual War Our Future?

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Bush Era
By Andrew Bacevich

To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.

In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Bush’s Fierce Global War of Denial

August 1, 2008

When I’m 64…

Living Through the Age of Denial in America

By Tom Engelhardt

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.
— the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

I set foot, so to speak, on this planet on July 20, 1944, not perhaps the best day of the century. It was, in fact, the day of the failed German officers’ plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

My mother was a cartoonist. She was known in those years as “New York’s girl caricaturist,” or so she’s called in a newspaper ad I still have, part of a war-bond drive in which your sizeable bond purchase was to buy her sketch of you. She had, sometime in the months before my birth, traveled by train, alone, the breadth of a mobilized but still peaceable American continent to visit Hollywood on assignment for some magazine to sketch the stars. I still have, on my wall, a photo of her in that year on the “deck” of a “pirate ship” on a Hollywood lot drawing one of those gloriously handsome matinee idols. Since I was then inside her, this is not exactly part of my memory bank. But that photo does tell me that, like him, she, too, was worth a sketch.

Certainly, it was appropriate that she drew the card announcing my birth. There I am in that announcement, barely born and already caricatured, a boy baby in nothing but diapers – except that, on my head, I’m wearing my father’s dress military hat, the one I still have in the back of my closet, and, of course, I’m saluting. “A Big Hello — From Thomas Moore Engelhardt,” the card says. And thus was I officially recorded entering a world at war.

By then, my father, a major in the U.S. Army Air Corps and operations officer for the 1st Air Commando Group in Burma, had, I believe, been reassigned to the Pentagon. Normally a voluble man, for the rest of his life he remained remarkably silent on his wartime experiences.

I was, in other words, the late child of a late marriage. My father, who, just after Pearl Harbor, at age 35, volunteered for the military, was the sort of figure that the — on average — 26-year-old American soldiers of World War II would have referred to as “pops.”

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Tomgram: Endless War

May 15, 2008

The Last War and the Next One

Descending into Madness in Iraq — and Beyond


By Tom Engelhardt

The last war won’t end, but in the Pentagon they’re already arguing about the next one.

Let’s start with that “last war” and see if we can get things straight. Just over five years ago, American troops entered Baghdad in battle mode, felling the Sunni-dominated government of dictator Saddam Hussein and declaring Iraq “liberated.” In the wake of the city’s fall, after widespread looting, the new American administrators dismantled the remains of Saddam’s government in its hollowed out, trashed ministries; disassembled the Sunni-dominated Baathist Party which had ruled Iraq since the 1960s, sending its members home with news that there was no coming back; dismantled Saddam’s 400,000 man army; and began to denationalize the economy. Soon, an insurgency of outraged Sunnis was raging against the American occupation was raging.

After initially resisting democratic elections, American occupation administrators finally gave in to the will of the leading Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and agreed to sponsor them. In January 2005, these brought religious parties representing a long-oppressed Shiite majority to power, parties which had largely been in exile in neighboring Shiite Iran for years.

Now, skip a few years, and U.S. troops have once again entered Baghdad in battle mode. This time, they’ve been moving into the vast Sadr City Shiite slum “suburb” of eastern Baghdad, which houses perhaps two-and-a-half million closely packed inhabitants. If free-standing, Sadr City would be the second largest city in Iraq after the capital. This time, the forces facing American troops haven’t put down their weapons, packed up, and gone home. This time, no one is talking about “liberation,” or “freedom,” or “democracy.” In fact, no one is talking about much of anything.

And no longer is the U.S. attacking Sunnis. In the wake of the President’s 2007 surge, the U.S. military is now officially allied with 90,000 Sunnis of the so-called Awakening Movement, mainly former insurgents, many of them undoubtedly once linked to the Baathist government U.S. forces overthrew in 2003. Meanwhile, American troops are fighting the Shiite militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, a cleric who seems now to be living in Iran, but whose spokesman in Najaf recently bitterly denounced that country for “seeking to share with the U.S. in influence over Iraq.” And they are fighting the Sadrist Mahdi Army militia in the name of an Iraqi government dominated by another Shiite militia, the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, whose ties to Iran are even closer.

Ten thousand Badr Corps militia members were being inducted into the Iraqi army (just as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was demanding that the Mahdi Army militia disarm). This week, an official delegation from that government, which only recently received Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with high honors in Baghdad, took off for Tehran at American bidding to present “evidence” that the Iranians are arming their Sadrist enemies.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Oops, Our Bad

April 15, 2008

[Note to Tomdispatch Readers: Last week, I thanked those of you who responded to an appeal to round up new subscribers to sign up for Tomdispatch emails notifying them whenever I post at the site. That thank-you resulted in another little flood of subscriptions. I’m truly appreciative. Even if this note results in a third small inundation, I know when enough is enough. I swear I’ll restrain myself from thanking you yet again, lest this come to seem a modest subscription scam.

By the way, although today’s piece stands on its own, it might also be read as part 2 of “Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry, Globalization Bush-style,” which I posted in mid-March. Tom]

Catch 2,200

9 Propositions on the U.S. Air War for Terror


By Tom Engelhardt

Let’s start with a few simple propositions.

First, the farther away you are from the ground, the clearer things are likely to look, the more god-like you are likely to feel, the less human those you attack are likely to be to you. How much more so, of course, if you, the “pilot,” are actually sitting at a consol at an air base near Las Vegas, identifying a “suspect” thousands of miles away via video monitor, “following” that suspect into a house, and then letting loose a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone cruising somewhere over Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Second, however “precise” your weaponry, however “surgical” your strike, however impressive the grainy snuff-film images you can put on television, war from the air is, and will remain, a most imprecise and destructive form of battle.

Third, in human terms, distance does not enhance accuracy. The farther away you are from a target, the more likely it is that you will have to guess who or what it is, based on spotty, difficult to interpret or bad information, not to speak of outright misinformation; whatever the theoretical accuracy of your weaponry, you are far more likely to miscalculate, make mistakes, mistarget, or target the misbegotten from the air.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.