Archive for the ‘War’ Category

You Just Can’t Trust the Hawks

September 29, 2009

Glenn Greenwald:

What people like David Brooks were saying back then was so severe — so severely wrong, pompous, blind, warmongering and, as it turns out, destructive — that no matter how many times one reviews the record of the leading opinion-makers of that era, one will never be inured to how poisonous they are.

All of this would be a fascinating study for historians if the people responsible were figures of the past.  But they’re not.  They’re the opposite.  The same people shaping our debates now are the same ones who did all of that, and they haven’t changed at all.  They’re doing the same things now that they did then.  When you go read what they said back then, that’s what makes it so remarkable and noteworthy.  David Brooks got promoted within our establishment commentariat to The New York Times after (one might say:  because of) the ignorant bile and amoral idiocy he continuously spewed while at The Weekly Standard.  According to National Journal’s recently convened “panel of Congressional and Political Insiders,” Brooks is now the commentator who “who most help[s] to shape their own opinion or worldview” — second only to Tom “Suck On This” Friedman.  Charles Krauthammer came in third.  Ponder that for a minute.

Just read some of what Brooks wrote about Iraq.  It’s absolutely astounding that someone with this record doesn’t refrain from prancing around as a war expert for the rest of their lives.  In fact, in a society where honor and integrity were valued just a minimal amount, a record like this would likely cause any decent and honorable person, wallowing in shame, to seriously contemplate throwing themselves off a bridge:

David Brooks, Weekly Standard, February 6, 2003:

I MADE THE MISTAKE of watching French news the night of Colin Powell’s presentation before the Security Council. . . . Then they brought on a single “expert” to analyze Powell’s presentation. This fellow, who looked to be about 25 and quite pleased with himself, was completely dismissive. The Powell presentation was a mere TV show, he sniffed. It’s impossible to trust any of the intelligence data Powell presented because the CIA is notorious for lying and manipulation. The presenter showed a photograph of a weapons plant, and then the same site after it had been sanitized and the soil scraped. The expert was unimpressed: The Americans could simply have lied about the dates when the pictures were taken. Maybe the clean site is actually the earlier picture, he said. That was depressing enough. Then there were a series of interviews with French politicians of the left and right. They were worse. At least the TV expert had acknowledged that Powell did present some evidence, even if he thought it was fabricated. The politicians responded to Powell’s address as if it had never taken place. They simply ignored what Powell said and repeated that there is no evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that, in any case, the inspection system is effective. This was not a response. It was simple obliviousness, a powerful unwillingness to confront the question honestly. This made the politicians seem impervious to argument, reason, evidence, or anything else. Maybe in the bowels of the French elite there are people rethinking their nation’s position, but there was no hint of it on the evening news. Which made me think that maybe we are being ethnocentric. As good, naive Americans, we think that if only we can show the world the seriousness of the threat Saddam poses, then they will embrace our response. In our good, innocent way, we assume that in persuading our allies we are confronted with a problem of understanding. But suppose we are confronted with a problem of courage? Perhaps the French and the Germans are simply not brave enough to confront Saddam. . . . Or suppose we are confronted with a problem of character? Perhaps the French and the Germans understand the risk Saddam poses to the world order. Perhaps they know that they are in danger as much as anybody. They simply would rather see American men and women–rather than French and German men and women–dying to preserve their safety. . . . Far better, from this cynical perspective, to signal that you will not take on the terrorists–so as to earn their good will amidst the uncertain times ahead.

War. War never changes.

September 24, 2009

How far we’ve come from a nation that thought two oceans could separate us from Europe’s constant internecine warfare. 

Glenn Greenwald:

That’s why I keep quoting the 1790 warning of James Madison about what happens — inevitably — to a country when it chooses to be a permanent war-fighting state devoted to maintaining imperial power:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied : and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Shouldn’t we think about what that means?  All of these subsidiary, discrete battles are shaped by this larger truth.  We’re a country that has been continuously at war for decades, insists it is currently at war now, and vows that it will wage war for years if not decades to come (Obama:  we’ll be waging this war “a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — ten years from now”).  Exactly as Madison said (and as Wills this week emphasized), as long as we’re choosing to be that kind of a nation, then the crux of the Bush/Cheney approach will remain in place.  We can sand-paper away some of the harshest edges (“we’re no longer going to drown people in order to extract confession”); prettify some of what we’re doing (“we’re going to detain people with no charges based on implied statutory power rather than theories of inherent power”); and avoid making things worse (“we won’t seek a new preventive detention law because we don’t need one”).  But no matter who we elect, the pervasive secrecy, essentially authoritarian character of the Executive, and rapid erosion of core liberties will continue as long as we remain committed to what Wills calls “the empire created by the National Security State.”

Why he threw the shoe

September 23, 2009

From the always-entertaining Guardian:

When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora.

If I have wronged journalism without intention, because of the professional embarrassment I caused the establishment, I apologise. All that I meant to do was express with a living conscience the feelings of a citizen who sees his homeland desecrated every day. The professionalism mourned by some under the auspices of the occupation should not have a voice louder than the voice of patriotism. And if patriotism needs to speak out, then professionalism should be allied with it.

I didn’t do this so my name would enter history or for material gains. All I wanted was to defend my country.

Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic

September 22, 2009

A personal letter to George W Bush:

Dear President Bush,

We have never met, and so I hope you will forgive the personal nature of this letter. I guess I should start by saying I supported your presidential campaign in 2000, as I did your father’s in 1988, and lauded your first efforts to wage war against jihadist terrorism in the wake of 9/11. Some of my praise of your leadership at the time actually makes me blush in retrospect, but your September 20, 2001, address to Congress really was one of the finest in modern times; your immediate grasp of the import of 9/11—a declaration of war—was correct; and your core judgment—that religious fanaticism allied with weapons of mass destruction represents a unique and new threat to the West—was and is dead-on. I remain proud of my support for you in all this. No one should forget the pure evil of September 11; no one should doubt the continued determination of an enemy prepared to slaughter thousands in cold blood in pursuit of heaven on Earth.

Of course, like most advocates of the Iraq War, I grew dismayed at what I saw as the mistakes that followed: the failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora; the intelligence fiasco of Saddam’s nonexistent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; the failure to prepare for an insurgency in Iraq; the reckless disbandment of the Iraqi army; the painful slowness in adapting to drastically worsening conditions there in 2004–06; the negligence toward Afghanistan.

These were all serious errors; but they were of a kind often made in the chaos of war. And even your toughest critics concede that, eventually, you adjusted tactics and strategy. You took your time, but you evaded catastrophe in temporarily stabilizing Iraq. I also agree with the guiding principle of the war you proclaimed from the start: that expanding democracy and human rights is indispensable in the long-term fight against jihadism. And I believe, as you do, that a foreign policy that does not understand the universal yearning for individual freedom and dignity is not a recognizably American foreign policy.

Yet it is precisely because of that belief that I lost faith in your war. In long wars of ideas, moral integrity is essential to winning, and framing the moral contrast between the West and its enemies as starkly as possible is indispensable to victory, as it was in the Second World War and the Cold War. But because of the way you chose to treat prisoners in American custody in wartime—a policy that degraded human beings with techniques typically deployed by brutal dictatorships—we lost this moral distinction early, and we have yet to regain it. That truth hangs over your legacy as a stain that has yet to be removed. As more facts emerge, the stain could darken further. You would like us to move on. So would the current president. But we cannot unless we find a way to address that stain, to confront and remove it.

Are terrorist havens sufficient threat to warrant war?

September 21, 2009

Great essay in the Washington Post exploring this point:

Rationales for maintaining the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are varied and complex, but they all center on one key tenet: that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda. Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaeda leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.

The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.

In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens.

The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group — it would.

Instead, the issue is whether preventing such a haven would reduce the terrorist threat to the United States enough from what it otherwise would be to offset the required expenditure of blood and treasure and the barriers to success in Afghanistan, including an ineffective regime and sagging support from the population. Thwarting the creation of a physical haven also would have to offset any boost to anti-U.S. terrorism stemming from perceptions that the United States had become an occupier rather than a defender of Afghanistan.