Later On

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Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

Revealing how far the press has fallen: Jill Abramson’s sad speech

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And, as Patrick L. Smith points out, by revealing how the controlling wealth and power think. Well worth reading. From the link:

This speech deserves careful consideration. Forget about what Abramson wanted to put across. So often, I find, the most interesting things people have to say are the things they say without meaning to. This was inevitable in Abramson’s case. How could a former editor of the Times address the paper’s role in maintaining official secrecy without telling us something about the corruption of the reasoning behind the stance?

Abramson’s focus is how and why the American press performed as it did after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. These are good questions. To an important extent what reporters and editors did from 2001 onward — what they continue to do — is merely an exaggerated case of what they did at least as far back as 1947, when Truman declared the Cold War. But there was also a turn on a dime in the media as the Bush administration stumbled back on its feet.

Abramson was the Times’ Washington bureau chief at the time. The debris in lower Manhattan was still settling when Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, arranged a conference call that included “every leading editor in Washington.”

Abramson dilates on this key moment:

“The purpose of his call was to make an agreement with the press—this was just days after 9/11—that we not publish any stories that would go into details about the sources and methods of our intelligence programs. I have to say, that in the wake of 9/11, all of us readily agreed to that.”

And then the reflection:

“It wasn’t complicated to withhold such information. And for some years, really quite a few years, I don’t think the press, in general, did publish any stories that upset the Bush White House or seemed to breach that agreement.”

So did the media participate in Bush’s declaration of his “war on terror,” an idea of what the U.S. is doing that has brought one disaster, breach of law and murderous episode after another upon us — Guantánamo, the war in Iraq, drone killings, the lot. To hold back on this definition of our time would have been decisive, but were the press to do so, of course, it would have “upset the Bush White House.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 3:17 pm

George Tenet desperate to censor report on CIA torture program

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George Tenet, one-time director of the CIA who famously declared it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (meaning actual weapons of mass destruction, not merely hand grenades), is now furiously at work to keep details of the US torture program from coming out. This NY Times article by Mark Mazzetti describes some of his machinations. From the article:

The April meeting at C.I.A. headquarters highlighted how much of the agency is still seeded with officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program, which Mr. Obama officially ended during his first week in office in 2009.

At one point during the meeting, the current head of the counterterrorism center, an officer with the first name Mike, told Mr. Brennan that roughly 200 people under his leadership had at some point participated in the interrogation program. They wanted to know, he said, how Mr. Brennan planned to defend them in public against accusations that the C.I.A. engaged in systematic torture and lied about its efficacy.

Mr. Tenet flashed his anger at these accusations in 2007, when he was asked about the interrogation program during an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.”

Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”

“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”

First, of course, it is well known that the CIA did indeed torture people, sometimes to death. That is documented. (The CIA destroyed all videotaped evidence, of course, but word was already out.)

Second, Mr. Tenet simply denies that the CIA tortured people, but then in his rebuttal explains why the CIA tortured people: denial, and then justification.

It’s a lawyer’s defense. “We didn’t do it—and the reasons we did do it are very good.”

Contemptible—and Obama apparently is fine with Tenet riding herd on the investigation and its report. But that helps clarify the degree to which intelligence services control the White House and the government.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 9:21 am

Hunting American Spooks: Germany Prepares Further Spying Clampdown

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Der Spiegel has a lengthy two-part article on Germany’s efforts to expel American spies. Here’s the first part, which has the same title as this post. The second part is titled “A Palpable Sense of Insecurity.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:28 am

Good news: Those who hated us for our freedoms must be hating us a lot less these days

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Andrea Peterson has a good article in the Washington Post, in which she quotes this from a new report by Pew Research:

The Snowden revelations appear to have damaged one major element of America’s global image: its reputation for protecting individual liberties. In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens. In six nations, the decline was 20 percentage points or more.

pewsnowden

 

Read the whole thing. More charts and graphs at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 4:50 pm

US spying on Germany

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From a good report in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson. Markus R. is the German working in the BND who was spying for the US:

Markus R. would be a lesser figure if the Germans were not still enraged about the N.S.A.’s unabashed spying on its citizens, including the agency’s eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone calls. (Merkel, whose own life in East Germany gives her some perspective on spying, said this week that she wasn’t angry, just really disappointed.) Even before that, there was the case of a car salesman from the German city of Ulm whom the C.I.A. accidentally kidnapped because his name was similar to someone whom they were interested in—and who was then held in a secret prison for months, even after the Agency realized its mistake.

Also: the CIA tortured him, and when he was released he was simply dumped in the countryside in Macedonia, and the US has refused to apologize, allow him to sue for damages, or even to acknowledge our actions (presumably because of shame, but it’s not a constructive response).

I’m beginning to think that it’s not our freedoms that makes others hate us—or perhaps it is, in a way: that the US feels it’s free to do whatever it damn pleases and to refuse to accept any accountability for its actions.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 3:42 pm

Ever Wondered Why the World is a Mess? Here’s why.

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Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:

Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.

ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.

Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.

This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.

1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.

Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.

2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.

The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.

The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.

3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.

Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.

Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.

The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.

There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.

4) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 2:21 pm

Brookings: One political party is actively working to make government fail

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Talk about stating the obvious! As Kevin Drum points out, our current migration crisis is completely due to an obstructionist political party. Christopher Ingraham and Tom Hamburger write in the Washington Post:

The federal government is failing now more than ever. That’s the conclusion of a unique taxonomy of federal ball-dropping just released by Paul C. Light, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Light analyzed 41 high-profile cases of federal failure from 2001 to the present day, culled from the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index. Because it’s ultimately derived from news accounts, the contours of the list are roughly what you’d expect. It starts with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ends – for now – with the VA waiting list debacle in Phoenix. In between it covers everything from the search for WMDs in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to Operation Fast and Furious. You check out the full list in an interactive over at the Brookings website, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

As with any qualitative taxonomy, there’s plenty of room quibble over which government mishaps made the cut and which didn’t. For instance, last year’s government shutdown, and the debt ceiling brinkmanship that led to the loss of S&P’s AAA credit rating for U.S. debt in 2011, didn’t make the cut. This is because Light focused only on “management/delivery failures by agencies. Some of these failures involved poorly crafted policy as a contributor, but failure had to come from the bureaucracy in some way.” So business-as-usual gridlock in Congress doesn’t make the cut.

Setting aside questions of inclusion/exclusion, Light’s work is the only methodologically rigorous account of government failures we know of, so it’s worth hearing what he has to say about these failures, what caused them, and how similar missteps can be avoided in the future.

Light breaks down the myriad factors that contribute to each of the failures he studies – bad policy, limited resources, and structural, leadership and cultural shortcomings. The study tracks the growing failure rate through the past five presidents. While many factors contribute to the generally increasing frequency of bureaucratic failures, the fluctuating numbers do reflect on an administration’s overall managerial competence. Light believes that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush led especially competent White House teams. Reagan, his study shows, averaged 1.6 failures per year during the final part of his term.

On the other hand, George W. Bush’s administration was the most failure-ridden of them all. W. averaged 3.1 failures per year – overseeing more than twice as many annual failures as his father. . .

Continue reading. Article includes graphs, and also includes this quotation from Light’s report:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

As the WaPo article notes:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 12:45 pm

Still Living With Jack Bauer in a Terrified New American World

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Rebecca Gordon has a good column at TomDispatch.com:

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office

The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.

The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” — the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer… individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel — once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.

Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.

Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo — a hunger strike — are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”

The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture — from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone — government officials, the press, and the public — agreed that torture was wrong.

That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?

We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”

Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.

In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a frightening place as it becomes ever more frightened. Many men fear to go in public unless they are armed. (Some were upset at not being able to carry a gun into the polling place, so frightening is it to be unarmed in America today.) Having to arm yourself to go to the store is a new kind of United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 6:18 pm

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

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This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

A reprise of a fine Chalmers Johnson column, with a good introduction by Tom Englehardt

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Extremely good; written in August of 2010, republished because it’s still appropriate.

In September 1998, I was handed a submission for a proposed book by Chalmers Johnson. I was then (as I am now) consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. 9/11 was three years away, the Bush administration still an unimaginable nightmare, and though the prospective book’s prospective title had “American Empire” in it, the American Empire Project I now co-run with my friend and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser was still almost four years from crossing either of our minds.

I remembered Johnson, however. As a young man, I had read his book on peasant nationalism in north China where, during the 1930s, Japanese invaders were conducting “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” operations. Its vision of how a revolution could gain strength from a foreign occupation stayed with me. I had undoubtedly also read some of Johnson’s well-respected work on contemporary Japan and I knew, even then, that in the Vietnam War era he had been a fierce opponent of the antiwar movement I took part in. If I didn’t already know it, the proposal made no bones about the fact that he had also, in that era, consulted for the CIA.

I certainly turned to his submission — a prologue, a single chapter, and an outline of the rest of a book — with a dubious eye, but was promptly blasted away by a passage in the prologue in which he referred to himself as having been a “spear-carrier for empire” and, some pages in, by this passage as well:

“I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”

I was little short of thunderstruck. I knew then — and I think it still holds today — that no one of prominence with Johnson’s position on the war and in his age range had ever written such a set of sentences. At that moment, knowing nothing else, I made the decision to publish his book. It was possibly the single most impulsive, even irrational, and thoroughly satisfying decision I’ve made in my 30-odd years as an editor in, or at the fringes of, mainstream publishing.

Though I didn’t have expectations for the book then, the rest is, quite literally, history. After all, its title would be Blowback, a term of CIA tradecraft that neither I nor just about any other American had ever heard of, and which, thanks to Johnson, has now become part of our language (along with the accompanying catch phrase “unintended consequences”). On its publication in 2000, the book was widely ignored. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, it seemed nothing short of prophetic, and so, in paperback, stormed those 9/11 tables at the front of bookstores, and soared to bestsellerdom.

That I ever edited Blowback or Johnson’s subsequent books was little short of a fluke, one of the luckiest of my life. It led as well to a relationship with a man of remarkable empathy and insight, who was then on a no less remarkable journey (on which I could tag along). Now, a new book of his, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, has arrived, focused on the many subjects — from our empire of bases to the way the Pentagon budget, the weapons industries, and military Keynesianism may one day help send us into great power bankruptcy — that have obsessed him in recent years. It’s not to be missed. Tom

The Guns of August
Lowering the Flag on the American Century
By Chalmers Johnson

In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it The Guns of August. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.

So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless “targeted killings” which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?

I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called “the fog of the future,” the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.

Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.

Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it.

Would various countries we’ve invaded, sometimes occupied, and tried to set on the path of righteousness and democracy decline into “failed states?” Probably some would, and preventing or controlling this should be the function of the United Nations or of neighboring states. (It is well to remember that the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot was finally brought to an end not by us, but by neighboring Vietnam.)

Sagging Empire

In other words, the main fears you might hear in Washington — if anyone even bothered to wonder what would happen, should we begin to dismantle our empire — would prove but chimeras. They would, in fact, be remarkably similar to Washington’s dire predictions in the 1970s about states all over Asia, then Africa, and beyond falling, like so many dominoes, to communist domination if we did not win the war in Vietnam.

What, then, would the world be like if the U.S. lost control globally — Washington’s greatest fear and deepest reflection of its own overblown sense of self-worth — as is in fact happening now despite our best efforts? What would that world be like if the U.S. just gave it all up? What would happen to us if we were no longer the “sole superpower” or the world’s self-appointed policeman?

In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession — none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons, and bribes for petty dictators.

Even without our interference, the Middle East would continue to export oil, and if China has been buying up an ever larger share of what remains underground in those lands, perhaps that should spur us into conserving more and moving more rapidly into the field of alternative energies.

Rising Power

Meanwhile, whether we dismantle our empire or not, China will become (if it isn’t already) the world’s next superpower.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:37 am

Whose Security?: How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector

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Noam Chomsky writes at TomDispatch.com:

The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs. In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons. First, the U.S. is unmatched in its global significance and impact. Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it. Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the U.S. — and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices. The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.

There is a “received standard version,” common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse. It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.

There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine. One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989? Answer: everything continued much as before.

The U.S. immediately invaded Panama, killing probably thousands of people and installing a client regime. This was routine practice in U.S.-dominated domains — but in this case not quite as routine. For first time, a major foreign policy act was not justified by an alleged Russian threat.

Instead, a series of fraudulent pretexts for the invasion were concocted that collapse instantly on examination. The media chimed in enthusiastically, lauding the magnificent achievement of defeating Panama, unconcerned that the pretexts were ludicrous, that the act itself was a radical violation of international law, and that it was bitterly condemned elsewhere, most harshly in Latin America. Also ignored was the U.S. veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by U.S. troops during the invasion, with Britain alone abstaining.

All routine. And all forgotten (which is also routine).

From El Salvador to the Russian Border

The administration of George H.W. Bush issued a new national security policy and defense budget in reaction to the collapse of the global enemy. It was pretty much the same as before, although with new pretexts. It was, it turned out, necessary to maintain a military establishment almost as great as the rest of the world combined and far more advanced in technological sophistication — but not for defense against the now-nonexistent Soviet Union. Rather, the excuse now was the growing “technological sophistication” of Third World powers. Disciplined intellectuals understood that it would have been improper to collapse in ridicule, so they maintained a proper silence.

The U.S., the new programs insisted, must maintain its “defense industrial base.” The phrase is a euphemism, referring to high-tech industry generally, which relies heavily on extensive state intervention for research and development, often under Pentagon cover, in what economists continue to call the U.S. “free-market economy.”

One of the most interesting provisions of the new plans had to do with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2014 at 11:46 am

When will Guantánamo end?

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It has been, like other initiatives by George W. Bush, a monumental failure. David Cole has a good post at the New Yorker:

Ten years ago Saturday, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that foreign “enemy combatants” held at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station had a right to challenge the legality of their detention in court. The decision, the first to extend such a right to the enemy in an armed conflict, was widely and justifiably hailed as a major victory for the rule of law. The Court had rejected President George W. Bush’s claims of uncheckable authority to deprive people of their liberty without review. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, in a companion case issued the same day, “a state of war is not a blank check for the President.”

Ten years later, the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo—a hundred and forty-nine of them—may wonder what all the fuss was about. They obtained the theoretical right to seek judicial review, but in most cases that review has proved virtually meaningless. At first, the district courts ruled that many detainees were unlawfully detained. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which had earlier denied the detainees any review at all, upheld the government in every appeal it filed. Moreover, the detainees themselves cannot see most of the evidence against them, and therefore often cannot participate meaningfully in their own defense. After a decade, not a single detainee has been released because of the government losing or exhausting its appeals. (The Administration chose not to appeal some release orders, but given its record in the court of appeals these releases were, for all practical purposes, voluntary.) The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has repeatedly declined to step in.

In this respect, the Rasul decision recalls another Supreme Court opinion: Brown v. Board of Education. When Brown was decided, in 1954, the Court unanimously declared that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In a ruling on remedies shortly thereafter, however, the Court announced that the problem did not need to be fixed immediately but, rather, “with all deliberate speed.” Segregation persisted for years; practically speaking, it persists to this day. Progress required the active involvement of Congress and the President, through the passage of civil-rights laws in the sixties, and such initiatives as President Eisenhower’s ordering troops to Little Rock to protect newly integrated students.

The Court in Rasul issued no such open invitation to delay, but the effect has been much the same. The Court addressed only the question of whether detainees could have a day in court, but it provided no guidance for how such judicial review should be exercised, or even what the government would have to show to justify continued detention. It rested its decision on statutory grounds, which prompted Congress to amend the law to deny judicial review. It was another four years before the Court invalidated that statute, and held, in Boumediene v. Bush, that judicial review was constitutionally compelled. Even then, it said nothing about what rights detainees might have once they got into court. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2014 at 12:15 pm

Corporate gloves being removed: Blackwater manager threatened to murder State Dept investigator; investigation halted in response

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I imagine this is not the only instance—such threats might explain why the SEC seems so inept at its investigations. In the NY Times James Risen reports (still—he’s probably headed for jail for not letting the US government know his sources for his reporting; Obama hates whistleblowers):

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009.

The shooting was a watershed moment . . .

Continue reading.

(I included the category “terrorism,” because what Blackwater was doing in Iraq was exactly terrorism—e.g., gunning down 17 civilians over NO PRETEXT. That’s terrorism: actions to induce terror, like a marketplace bombing. Or an appearance of Blackwater… troops? And they even threaten a US State Department Investigator—and get totally away with it! It does show that some sort of tide has turned.

UPDATE: And read what Paul Krugman wrote.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 1:57 pm

Why the US is incompetent in its foreign interventions

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James Fallows in the Atlantic has an important essay by the diplomat and scholar William R. Polk:

Analysis of foreign affairs problems often ends in a mental block. As we have seen in each of our recent crises — Somalia, Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine and Iran — “practical” men of affairs want quick answers: they say in effect, ‘don’t bother us with talk about how we got here; this is where we are; so what do we do now?’ The result, predictably, is a sort of nervous tick in the body politic: we lurch from one emergency to the next in an unending sequence.

This is not new. We all have heard the quip: “ready, fire, aim.” In fact those words were not just a joke. For centuries after infantry soldier were given the rifle, they were ordered not to take the time to aim; rather, they were instructed just to point in the general direction of the enemy and fire. Their commanders believed that it was the mass impact, the “broadside,” that won the day.

Our leaders still believe it. They think that our “shock and awe,” our marvelous technology measured in stealth bombers, drones, all-knowing intelligence, our massed and highly mobile troops and our money constitute a devastating broadside. All we have to do is to point in the right direction and shoot.

So we shoot and then shoot again and again. We win each battle, but the battles keep happening. And to our chagrin, we don’t seem to be winning the wars. By almost any criterion, we are less “victorious” today than half a century ago.

Professionally, I find it disturbing to keep repeating such simple observations. Like some of my colleagues, I had hoped that the “lesson” of Vietnam would be learned. It was not. Indeed, the guru of the neoconservatives, Sam Huntington, memorably proclaimed that there was no lesson that could be drawn from Vietnam. He led the way, but today he has had many acolytes. They are still acting as guides of our government and the media.

So what do they tell us? Like Huntington they say that we have nothing to learn from the expenditure of our blood, sweat and tears — not to quibble about the trillions of dollars. As each crisis explodes, our guides told us that it is unique, has no usefully analyzed background, is not to be seen in a sequence of events and decisions. It just is. So it requires immediate action of the kind we know how to take — a broadside.

Also never-mind what motivates the “other-side.” What they think might be of interest to ivory-tower historians or a few curious members of the chattering class, but in the real world they do not command attention. Real men just act!

Examples abound. Take Somalia: those wretched people are just a bunch of terrorists living in a failed state — the pirates of the modern world. Simple. We knew what to do about them! That “appreciation,” as they say in the intelligence trade, was reached some years ago , and we are still doing “our thing.”

As a few of us pointed out, “our thing” did not stop out-of-work, hungry and able men from doing “their thing.” When fishermen found their fishing sites virtually destroyed by industrial-scale fleets, armed with sonar, radar and mile-long drag nets and, unable to catch fish and they faced starvation, they discovered piracy. Since they already had boats, were good sailors and were near a major cargo-shipping lane, transition to that new trade was easy. We knew the answer: military force. However, we have seen that sending the Navy is expensive and it did not stop desperate men. No one considered stopping the overfishing before the fishermen turned pirate.

Also, in Somalia, we smugly talk about the “failed state.” But, as the Somalis see themselves, they are not a state at all; rather, they are a collection of separate societies living under a shared cultural-religious system. That, in fact, is how all our ancestors lived until the nation-state system evolved in Europe. Now most of us find it almost inconceivable that the Somalis do not adopt our system. Why are they so backward? If they would just shape up, piracy would end and peace would come. So we try to attach our institutions to their social organization. But, when the Somalis stubbornly try to retain their system, we try our best to modernize, reform, subvert or destroy it. We are still trying each of these or all of them together.

Variations on the Somali theme can be witnessed around the world as we jump from one crisis to the next. We prove to be good tacticians but not strategists, shooters but not aimers, and, above all, loud talkers but poor listeners.

In Syria also we see exemplified our penchant to rely on force, for leaping before we look. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 9:28 am

Eric Alterman Warns: Pundits and Partisans Are Up to Old Tricks in Iraq

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Estremely good column by Eric Alternman at billmoyers.com:

In a column entitled “Bush’s toxic legacy in Iraq,” terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes about the origins of ISIS, “the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Bergen notes that, “One of George W. Bush’s most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship. If this wasn’t so tragic it would be supremely ironic, because before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein’s men were training members of al Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most compelling rationales for the impending war.”

There was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection until the war; our invasion made it so. We have known this for nearly a decade, well before the murderous ISIS even appeared. In a September 2006 New York Times article headlined “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” reporter Mark Mazetti informed readers of a classified National Intelligence Estimate representing the consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ the analysis cited the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology: “The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.”

The Bush Administration fought to quash its conclusions during the two years that the report was in the works. Mazetti reported, “Previous drafts described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.” Apparently, these were dropped from the final document, though the reference to jihadists using their training for the purpose of “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies” as in say, Syria, remained.

At the beginning of 2005, Mazetti notes, another official US government body, the National Intelligence Council, “released a study concluding that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists, and that veterans of the Iraq war might ultimately overtake Al Qaeda’s current leadership in the constellation of the global jihad leadership.”

On the one hand, it is impressive how well our intelligence agencies were able to predict the likely outcome of the Bush Administration’s foolhardy obsession with invading Iraq. On the other, it is beyond depressing how little these assessments have come to matter in the discussion and debate over US foreign policy.

As we know, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other architects of the war did everything possible to intimidate, and when necessary, discredit those in the intelligence agencies who warned of the predictable consequences of war. Cheney and his deputies made repeated trips to Langley to challenge professional intelligence work and used pliant members of the media — including Robert Novak of The Washington Post and Judith Miller of The New York Times, among many, many others — to undermine the integrity of people like Joseph P. Wilson and Valerie Plame lest the truth about the administration’s lies come out. Rather incredibly, they even went so far as to ignore the incredibly detailed planning documents, created over a period of a year at a cost of $5 million by the State Department, that had a chance of providing Iraq with a stable postwar environment. Instead, they insisted on creating an occupation that generated nothing but chaos, mass murder and the terrorist victories of today.

One of the many horrific results was the decision to support Nouri al-Maliki as a potential leader of the nation. Maliki’s sectarian attacks on Sunni Muslims on behalf of his Shiite allies are the immediate cause of the current murderous situation. And his placement in that job, as Fareed Zakaria aptly notes, “was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration. Having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called ‘the worst war plan in American history’ — the administration needed to find local allies.”

One could go on and on (and on and on and on) about the awful judgment — the arrogance, the corruption, the ideological obsession and the purposeful ignorance — by the Bush Administration that led to the current catastrophe. As Ezra Klein recently noted, “All this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.” And this is to say nothing of the destruction of our civil liberties and poisoning of our political discourse at home and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died, the millions of refugees created, the hatred inspired in the world toward the United States.

But to focus exclusively on the administration begs an obvious question. How did they get away with it? Where were the watchdogs of the press?

Much has been written on this topic. No one denies that the truth was available at the time. Not all of it, of course, but enough to know that certain catastrophe lay down the road the administration chose to travel at 100 miles per hour. Top journalists, like those who ran the Times and The Washington Post, chose to ignore the reporting they read in their own papers.

As the Post itself later reported, its veteran intelligence reporter Walter Pincus authored a compelling story that undermined the Bush administration’s claim to have proof that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. It only made the paper at all because Bob Woodward, who was researching a book, talked his editors into it. And even then, it ran on page A17, where it was immediately forgotten.

As former Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks later explained, “Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?” The New York Times ran similarly regretful stories and its editors noted to its readers that the paper had been “perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.” (Bill Moyers’ documentary special “Buying the War: How Big Media Failed Us” tells the story, and in conjunction with that Moyers report, you can find an Interactive Timeline as well as post-March 2003 coverage of Iraq.)

Many in the mainstream media came clean, relatively speaking, about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2014 at 4:31 pm

Extremely good post, with extremely good links, on the Iraq situation

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James Fallows has a must-read post, filled with must-follow links. It begins:

If you’re anything like me, when you hear the words “wise insights about the Iraq war,” two names that immediately come to mind are Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby.

Fortunately the Hertog Institute has engaged them both to teach a course, “The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making.”

I will confess that when someone told me about this today, I assumed it was an Onion-style joke. As in, “The Work-Family Balance: Getting It Right,” co-taught by John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer. But it turns out to be real. Or “real.”

In the cause of public knowledge, I am happy to offer royalty-free use of several items for the reading list. Like:

• “The Fifty-First State?” from the year before the war. The Wolfowitz-Libby “study in decision-making” might consider why on Earth so many obvious implications of the war were blithely dismissed ahead of time, including by these two men. Or …

• “Blind into Baghdad,” about the grotesque combination of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence that characterized decision-making about the war. Or …

• “Bush’s Lost Year,” about the sequence of advantages squandered, opportunities missed, and crucial wrong bets made in the months just after the 9/11 attacks. Students might find this one particularly interesting, since it begins with a long interview with their own Professor Wolfowitz. For the Cliff’s Notes version, see after the jump.

Somehow I am guessing that the professors might pass up my generous offer. So instead, here’s another “at first I thought this was a joke” candidate: a new essay by William Kristol and Frederick Kagan in Kristol’s Weekly Standard with advice about Iraq: . .  .

Continue reading.

Do click through and read the entire article. It is astonishing that men who are ON RECORD as being totally wrong about the Iraq War are still giving public advice on re-engaging. They should sit down and shut up. And follow the link in the post above to read Andrew Bacevich’s article.

Two other articles to read: Frank Rich’s very strong article on the cheering section for the Iraq War, who are (with some exceptions) a shameless and dishonest lot, and an interview with James Fallows on his warnings before the war.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2014 at 7:45 pm

Angry but accurate: A post about Iraq

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2014 at 10:15 am

Look at what Bush-Cheney wrought

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 11:10 am

Do you ever get the feeling that invading Iraq was a mistake of historic proportions?

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And as but one example.

I think the world would be much better off if the US had not invaded Iraq based on what were patently a bunch of lies. George W. Bush can truly say that he left the world worse than he found it, a lot worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2014 at 2:54 pm

Richard Clarke speaks up: Obama and drones, George W. Bush and war crimes

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An interesting interview at Democracy Now! with Richard Clarke:

U.S. Drone Program Under Obama “Got Out of Hand”

Richard Clarke served as the nation’s top counterterrorism official under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before resigning in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War. A year before the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke pushed for the Air Force to begin arming drones as part of the U.S. effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden. According to Clarke, the CIA and the Pentagon initially opposed the mission. Then Sept. 11 happened. Two months later, on November 12, 2001, Mohammed Atef, the head of al-Qaeda’s military forces, became the first person killed by a Predator drone. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, U.S. drones have since killed at least 2,600 people in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clarke has just written a novel about drone warfare called, “Sting of the Drone.” We talk to Clarke about the book and his concerns about President Obama’s escalation of the drone war. “I think the [drone] program got out of hand,” Clarke says. “The excessive secrecy is as counterproductive as some of the strikes are.”

Democracy Now! also has this brief clip from a program that they will air next week:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2014 at 12:22 pm

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