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The New York Times’s (and Clinton Campaign’s) Abject Cowardice on Israel

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Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

In January, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a speech to the Security Council about, as he put it, violence “in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory,” noting that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation” and that “it is human nature to react to occupation.” His use of the word “occupation” was not remotely controversial because multiple U.N. Security Resolutions, such as 446(adopted unanimously in 1979 with three abstentions), have long declared Israel the illegal “occupying power” in the West Bank and Gaza. Unsurprisingly, newspapers around the world — such as the Wall Street JournalThe Guardian, the BBC, the LA Times — routinely and flatly describe Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza in their news articles as what it is: an occupation.

In fact, essentially the entire world recognizes the reality of Israeli occupation with the exception of a tiny sliver of extremists in Israel and the U.S. That’s why Chris Christie had to grovel in apology to GOP billionaire and Israel-devoted fanatic Sheldon Adelson when the New Jersey governor neutrally described having seen the “occupied territories” during a trip he took to Israel. But other than among those zealots, the word is simply a fact, used without controversy under the mandates of international law, the institutions that apply it, and governments on every continent on the planet.

But not the New York Times. They are afraid to use the word. In NYT article today by Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman on the imminent conflict over Israel and Palestine between Sanders-appointed and Clinton-appointed members of the Democratic Party platform committee, this grotesque use of scare quotes appears:

A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity as representatives of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.

Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform, the party’s statement of core beliefs, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

The refusal to use the word occupation without scare quotes is one of the most cowardly editorial decisions the New York Times has made since refusing to use the word “torture” because the Bush administration denied its validity (a decision they reversed only when President Obama in 2014 gave them permission to do so by using the word himself). This is journalistic malfeasance at its worst: refusing to describe the world truthfully out of fear of the negative reaction by influential factions (making today’s article even stranger is that a NYT article from February on settlers’ use of Airbnb referred to an “illegal settler outpost deep in the occupied West Bank”). And the NYT’s editorial decision raises this question, posed this morning by one man in the West Bank:

@ggreenwald @nsheizaf If I’m not living under occupation then I’m living under an Apartheid state. Which one is it?

— A Man In The Sun (@AManInTheSun) May 26, 2016

The cowardice of the NYT regarding Israel is matched only by the Clinton campaign’s. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to move the U.S. closer not only to Israel but also to its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Pandering to Israel — vowing blind support for its government — is a vile centerpiece of her campaign.

The changes to the Democratic Party platform proposed by Bernie Sanders’s appointees such as Cornel West, Keith Ellison, and James Zogby — which Israel-supporting Clinton appointees such as Neera Tanden and Wendy Sherman are certain to oppose — are incredibly mild, including echoing the international consensus in condemning the Israeli occupation. As the Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf put it this morning, the NYT’s use of scare quotes is “just as pathetic as the Democratic fear that their platform would actually say Palestinians deserve civil rights.”

This craven posture is particularly appalling as Israel just this week has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2016 at 10:50 am

Does Israel offers a view of a possible US future?

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Ronen Bergman writes in the NY Times:

IN most countries, the political class supervises the defense establishment and restrains its leaders from violating human rights or pursuing dangerous, aggressive policies. In Israel, the opposite is happening. Here, politicians blatantly trample the state’s values and laws and seek belligerent solutions, while the chiefs of the Israel Defense Forces and the heads of the intelligence agencies try to calm and restrain them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer last week of the post of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, a pugnacious ultranationalist politician, is the latest act in the war between Mr. Netanyahu and the military and intelligence leaders, a conflict that has no end in sight but could further erode the rule of law and human rights, or lead to a dangerous, superfluous military campaign.

The prime minister sees the defense establishment as a competitor to his authority and an opponent of his goals. Putting Mr. Lieberman, an impulsive and reckless extremist, in charge of the military is a clear signal that the generals’ and the intelligence chiefs’ opposition will no longer be tolerated. Mr. Lieberman is known for ruthlessly quashing people who hold opposing views.

This latest round of this conflict began on March 24: Elor Azariah, a sergeant in the I.D.F., shot and killed a Palestinian assailant who was lying wounded on the ground after stabbing one of Sergeant Azariah’s comrades. The I.D.F. top brass condemned the killing. A spokesman for Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of staff, said, “This isn’t the I.D.F., these are not the I.D.F.’s values.”

But right-wing politicians backed Sergeant Azariah. “I.D.F. soldiers, our children, stand before murderous attacks by terrorists who come to kill them,” the prime minister said. “They have to make decisions in real time.” Mr. Lieberman, then still the leader of a small far-right opposition party, turned up in military court to support the soldier. Mr. Netanyahu also called the soldier’s father to offer support.

An I.D.F. general told me that the top brass saw the telephone call as a gross defiance of the military’s authority. The deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, chose one of the most sensitive dates on the Israeli calendar, Holocaust Memorial Eve, to react: He suggested that Israel today in some ways resembles Germany in the 1930s.

Mr. Netanyahu countered that General Golan’s words do Israel an injustice and “cheapen the Holocaust.” His defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff and a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, backed the army. He told a gathering of top officers to speak freely, even if it went against political leaders. . .

Continue reading.

The shooting of the wounded prisoner offering no threat—and by a medic, no less—is clearly and unambiguously a war crime. War crimes now are praised and defended even when they are clearly war crimes. In the US we see Donald Trump call more more torture, and worse torture, and killing the families of (suspected?) terrorists, and being applauded for it.

And of course the approach being taken will motivate more strongly those viewed as “the enemy,” though of course other descriptions might be conceived. (Cf. the essay in Stir blogged earlier.)

We live in dangerous times.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2016 at 12:37 pm

“This will stop only when the American people get fed up”

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In Salon Patrick L. Smith continues his interview with Andrew Bacevich:

Part one of my interview with Andrew Bacevich, the soldier-turned-scholar who has just published America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, was posted last week. It focused on aspects of what Bacevich, originally, considers one long war now in its 37th year. We looked at the chronology since Jimmy Carter fatefully set the adventure in motion in his 1980 “doctrine” speech, at the American strategy and how it has developed—and at all that is wrong with it.

Somewhere around the halfway mark in our lengthy exchange, which Salon is publishing with only the very lightest edit, the conversation turned. We dilated the lens, let’s say, and found our way into all manner of subjects. He was interesting in his take on the Cold War 1950s as a prelude to the war that is the topic of his book, and on his pilgrim’s progress from West Point cadet to commissioned officer to his retirement and his scholarly work since. He collects old editions of Life Magazine, it turns out. His capacity for critical thought, the honed tool with which he earns his crust, did not develop until after he retired as a colonel, it also turns out. No need to ask about causality on this point: Bacevich is clear as to the dearth of thought in this man’s army.

Bacevich ends his book on a pessimistic note, and our conversation seemed headed in the same direction. But as he finished explaining his perspective and we prepared to part, he forced me back on a point occasionally made in this space: Find the optimism buried within the pessimism. It is usually in there somewhere. The sourest critic is an optimist, otherwise he or she would not bother. In his way Bacevich seemed to agree: The future seems fixed and grim, but it is up to us in the end.

Part 2 of this exchange, like the first half, was scrupulously transcribed by Salon’s Michael Conway Garofalo, to whom I again offer thanks.

Early in the book you cite Hermann Eilts, a former U.S. ambassador in Cairo and Riyadh. He asserted that rather than gearing up for war, the U.S. would be better served if it sought “an equitable solution to the Palestinian problem.” I thought this very interesting, given how assiduously American officials insist that Palestine has nothing whatever to do with the crisis that envelops the entire region all the way to Afghanistan. Do you agree with him?

I do. I knew him slightly. He was one of the founders of the international relations program at Boston University.

Eilts’s implication is that Palestine lies at the very core of the Middle East crisis. As long as it festers, there will be no peace.

I don’t know that. What I do believe is that Eilts is not the only person who has said that. Indeed, this is an argument that is made frequently by Arab leaders and other leaders in the Islamic world. What I believe is that we have an interest in testing that proposition. The counterargument is, “Oh, when the Arab leaders are talking about how much they care about the Palestinians that is simply posturing on their part. They find it politically useful because it plays well with their domestic constituents as a way of distracting attention from the fact that Egypt is a poorly governed, miserable place.” And so on.

I don’t know where the truth lies. I do believe we have an interest in testing the proposition. In other words, yes, let’s respond to the grievances of the Palestinians—they are real grievances—and then let’s see how that affects the attitude of other countries in the reason toward the United States. If there is no real response, then I’ll concede the argument and I’d guess that the Palestinian issue was simply contrived. But it could be that the argument is sincere and genuine, and it could be that the creation of a Palestinian state actually would provide a real breakthrough in terms of trying to bring about an end to the conflict.

Further, I also recognize that from the point of view of the Israeli government, there is not that profound an interest. From the point of the Israeli government, the status quo is not that bad. I think it’s very short-sighted, but democratically elected governments tend to be short-sighted. The way you get reelected is by responding to the needs, the complaints, the concerns of the people here today, not what their concerns might be 10 years from now. It makes democratic political sense for the Netanyahu government to sustain the status quo. They sustain themselves in power. But frankly, just because it’s in the interests of the Netanyahu government doesn’t mean that it should be in the interest of the United States to play along with him—which is, in effect, what we do: minor complaints when they expand settlements, but basically the relationship is unaffected. The military support continues to flow. The diplomatic protection in the United Nations continues.

If we were to test the thesis, I bet we’d find it absolutely transformative.

I don’t know. But I think it is imperative to examine the outcome.

How do you interpret our Syria policy? I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that we have been behaving with a fair amount of cynicism. While pretending to hold the humanitarian crisis as our first concern, we tacitly tolerated ISIS until recently. Even now, we continue to view Syria through a Cold War template.

The Russians called our bluff. If you recall, the American bombing campaign started [in 2014] as front-page news and then virtually disappeared. I think the Russians called our bluff last September 30 [when Russian planes began bombing runs]. In my view, the object all along has been to eliminate a Russian ally, the last in the Middle East. Only since Moscow moved last September have we become serious about countering the Islamic State.

I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. You may attributing clearer calculation on the part of the Obama administration than they deserve credit for. My sense would be that when the Syrian civil war began, without thinking through what he was doing, the president made his remarks about “Assad must go” with no appreciation for the implications of that kind of a statement. He didn’t appreciate how difficult dislodging Assad was going to be. So the president’s rhetoric was way out in front of his willingness to act. My sense is that in the utter confusion of the Syrian civil war, where the anti–Assad forces came in various stripes and colors, combined with the emergence of ISIS as a force determined to overturn the regional political order, there was a period of confusion about what the United States should do. My sense is that today the administration has established a pretty clear priority, and the priority is to focus on the destruction of ISIS and worry about Syria somewhere down the road.

That said, mustering the military wherewithal to deal with ISIS has turned out to be a far more difficult proposition than the Obama administration anticipated, I think. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2016 at 7:40 am

Israel’s defense minister abruptly resigns in slap at Israel government’s growing ‘extremism’

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William Booth reports in the Washington Post:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to remake his governing coalition has set heads spinning — dumping his well-regarded defense minister to possibly bring aboard a polarizing maverick with few friends in Washington.

Definitely out: Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who resigned his post on Friday. On the way to the door, Yaalon blasted Netanyahu, saying he has lost confidence in the prime minister’s decision-making and morals.

Maybe in: Avigdor Lieberman. He’s a former foreign minister and current leader of an ultranationalist political party built around the 1 million Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel.

He has pressed for Arab citizens of Israel to move to the West Bank and wants to implement the death penalty for terrorists. He also wants to increase pension payments for the Russian newcomers.

Israeli pundits previously called the current Netanyahu government the most right-wing in history, but this new coalition, if formed, will take the title.

Netanyahu’s closed-door negotiations are ongoing and the deal has not been struck. There also is not a lot of wiggle room. Netanyahu’s coalition holds a one-seat majority in parliament.

In a press conference Friday, Yaalon, a fellow member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned that Israel was drifting dangerously toward extremism.

“I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and trickling into the armed forces, hurting it already,” he said.

Yaalon appeared to be referring to widespread support by Israeli leaders for a combat medic who shot to death a wounded Palestinian attacker as he lay on a street in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the soldier a hero. Israeli human rights activists called it a cold-blooded execution. The killing was captured on video. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 9:49 am

Interview With BDS Co-Founder Omar Barghouti: Banned by Israel From Traveling, Threatened With Worse

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In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald interviews Omar Barghouti:

Despite having lived in Israel for 22 years with no criminal record of any kind, Omar Barghouti (above) was this week denied the right to traveloutside the country. As one of the pioneers of the increasingly powerful movement to impose boycotts, sanctions and divestment measures (BDS) on Israel, Barghouti, an articulate, English-speaking activist, has frequently traveled around the world advocating his position. The Israeli government’s refusal to allow him to travel is obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.”

As the husband of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Barghouti holds a visa of permanent residency in the country, but nonetheless needs official permission to travel outside of Israel, a travel document which – until last week – had been renewed every two years. Haaretz this week reported that beyond the travel ban, Barghouti’s “residency rights in Israel are currently being reconsidered.”

The travel denial came after months of disturbing public threats directed at him by an Israeli government that has grown both more extreme and more fearful of BDS’s growing international popularity. In March, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency rights, explicitly admitting that this was in retaliation for his speech and advocacy: “he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner . . . . he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told The Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.” She added: “Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

But the threats to Barghouti from the Israeli Government extend far beyond his right to travel. Last month, Amnesty International issued an extraordinary warning that the group “is concerned for the safety and liberty” of Barghouti, citing threats from Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence. As Amnesty noted, “the term alludes to ‘targeted assassinations’ which is used to describe Israel’s policy of targeting members of Palestinian armed groups.”

As The Intercept has regularly reported over the last year, the attempts tocriminalize BDS activism – not only in Israel but internationally – is one of the greatest threats to free speech and assembly rights in the west. The threat has become particularly acute on U.S. college campuses, where official punishments for pro-Palestinian students are now routine. But obviously, the threats faced by Barghouti inside Israel are far more severe.

Regardless of one’s views on BDS and the Israeli occupation, anyone who purports to believe in basic conceptions of free speech rights should be appalled by Israeli behavior. I spoke with Barghouti yesterday about this latest Israeli attack on his core civil liberties, the growing extremism in Israel, and broader trends with free speech and BDS activism. “I am unnerved,” he told me, “but I’m certainly undeterred.” You can listen to the 25-minute discussion on the player below; a full transcript appears below that.


GLENN GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with the Intercept. And my guest today is Omar Barghouti, who is a Palestinian human rights activist and one of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS, which is designed to put non-violent international pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories, establish equal rights for Palestinians and accept the right to return of Palestinian refugees who fled during and after the establishment of Israel.

BDS has gained considerable international support over the last few years as the West has watched Israel expand its occupation of the West Bank, while its army kills thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And as a result of that success, BDS has come under a multi-pronged attack from Israel and its supporters around the world.

As part of that attack, this week news broke that Israel denied Barghouti an international travel permit. As a resident of Israel he is required to apply for this permit every two years to travel internationally. Human Rights Watch condemned the act “as something that appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful political activism”.

Before welcoming you I just want to say that I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last several years who are probably subject to electronic surveillance on their telephones but I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to someone who’s subject to as much surveillance as you are.

So with that, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it.

Before I ask you to just talk a little bit about what happened with this travel restriction, I just want to give a little bit context and background for listeners. This didn’t really come out of nowhere; in late March Israel’s interior minister was quoted as telling a conference that he was considering revoking you residency.

He said: “I was given information that his life is in Ramallah and he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner.” He continued: “he was given rights similar to those of a citizen and he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”

Amnesty has said that they’re actually “concerned for your safety and liberty” and they cited a quote from the Israeli Minister of Transport and Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Yisrael Katz, who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence.

So, with that context in mind, obviously the Israeli government has become obsessed with restricting and punishing BDS leaders. Tell us about this new travel restriction that Israel has imposed on you. How did you learn about it? What is it?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Every couple of years I have to renew my Israeli travel document and without that I cannot leave or re-enter the country. Because I’m a permanent resident in Israel, I cannot leave on any other passport except the Israeli travel document.

GREENWALD: Do you have another passport?

BARGHOUTI: Yes, I have Jordanian citizenship.

GREENWALD: But in order to leave Israel, you need their permission every two years.

BARGHOUTI: Yes. On April 19th the Ministry of Interior in Acre where I live officially informed us that they will not renew my travel document therefore effectively banning me from travel. This comes as you rightly noted in the context of very heightened repression against the BDS movement, which seeks freedom, justice and equality for Palestinian citizens. So it seeks Palestinian rights under international law. But because it has become so effective of late, because support has been rising tremendously in the last couple of years, we are in a way paying the price for the success of the movement.

Many people are realizing that Israel is a regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid and are therefore taking action to hold it to account to international law. Israel is realizing that companies are abandoning their projects in Israel that violate international law, pension funds are doing the same, major artists are refusing to play Tel Aviv, as Sun City was boycotted during apartheid South Africa.

So they’re seeing this isolation growing, they can see the South Africa moment if you will. And because of that, they’ve heightened their pression, including espionage on BDS human rights defenders, whether Palestinian, Israeli or international, surveillance of course, plus those latest threats of targeted civil elimination and banning us from travel, and so on.

So we are really unnerved, I am personally quite unnerved by those threats. We take them very seriously, especially in this context. We live in a country where racism and racial incitement against indigenous Palestinians has grown tremendously into the Israeli mainstream. It has really become mainstream today to be very openly racist against Palestinians. Many settlers and hard-right wing Israelis are taking matters into their own hands – completely supported by the state – and attacking Palestinians.

So in that context I am unnerved, but I’m certainly undeterred. I shall continue my non-violent struggle for Palestinian rights under international law and nothing they can do will stop me.

GREENWALD: About the travel restrictions themselves, how long have you been receiving this travel permission? Did they give you any reason as to why in this case it was being denied? And did you have any problems in the past – from their perspective – that would justify this denial? . . .

Continue reading.

Interesting point later in the interview:

BARGHOUTI: When it comes to non-Jews – as we’re called in Israel – no-one knows what applies and what doesn’t apply. As you know there are more than 50 laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state, let alone Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza, who are non-citizens.

So, a Palestinian citizen of Israel does not get the full set of rights that a Jewish citizen gets because simply the Palestinian is not a Jewish national and only if you’re a Jewish national – whatever that means – do you get the full set of rights. This is an extra-territorial definition of nationality so Israel does not have Israeli nationality – there is no such thing.

The Supreme Court rejected that notion, the Knesset did, there is no Israeli nationality. There is Israeli citizenship but that does not entitle you to the full set of rights. So yes, my wife is an Israeli citizen and I got my permanent residency through that but what rights I’m entitled to and am not entitled to depends on the mood of the politicians and how much the courts are ready to go along with that.

A society with discrimination built into its laws, much like in the US until a century after the Civil War (with respect to African-Americans), when the Civil Rights Act started the dismantling of the Jim Crow system, and still to this day (with respect to Native Americans).

There’s a lot more in the interview, and much of it is disturbing—and Hillary Clinton does not look good in this, seeming to take a position that advocating BDS should be made illegal, regardless of what the US Constitution says about free speech.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2016 at 8:48 am

Washington’s Military Addiction And The Ruins Still to Come

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Tom Englehardt of writes:

There are the news stories that genuinely surprise you, and then there are the ones that you could write in your sleep before they happen. Let me concoct an example for you:

Top American and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Mideast, including possibly sending more U.S. forces into Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just as Washington confirmed the second American combat casualty in Iraq in as many months.

Oh wait, that was actually the lead sentence in a May 3rd Washington Times piece by Carlo Muñoz.  Honestly, though, it could have been written anytime in the last few months by just about anyone paying any attention whatsoever, and it surely will prove reusable in the months to come (with casualty figures altered, of course).  The sad truth is that across the Greater Middle East and expanding parts of Africa, a similar set of lines could be written ahead of time about the use of Special Operations forces, drones, advisers, whatever, as could the sorry results of making such moves in [add the name of your country of choice here].

Put another way, in a Washington that seems incapable of doing anything but worshiping at the temple of the U.S. military, global policymaking has become a remarkably mindless military-first process of repetition.  It’s as if, as problems built up in your life, you looked in the closet marked “solutions” and the only thing you could ever see was one hulking, over-armed soldier, whom you obsessively let loose, causing yet more damage.

How Much, How Many, How Often, and How Destructively

In Iraq and Syria, it’s been mission creep all the way.  The B-52s barely made it to the battle zone for the first time and were almost instantaneously in the air, attacking Islamic State militants.  U.S. firebases are built ever closer to the front lines.  The number of special ops forces continues to edge up.  American weapons flow in (ending up in god knows whosehands).  American trainers and advisers follow in ever increasing numbers, and those numbers are repeatedly fiddled with to deemphasize how many of them are actually there.  The private contractors begin to arrive in numbers never to be counted.  The local forces being trained or retrained have their usual problems in battle.  American troops and advisers who were never, never going to be “in combat” or “boots on the ground” themselves now have their boots distinctly on the ground in combat situations.  The first American casualties are dribbling in.  Meanwhile, conditions in tottering Iraq and the former nation of Syria grow ever murkier, more chaotic, and less amenable by the week to any solution American officials might care for.

And the response to all this in present-day Washington?

You know perfectly well what the sole imaginable response can be: sending in yet more weapons, boots, air power, special ops types, trainers, advisers, private contractors, drones, and funds to increasingly chaotic conflict zones across significant swaths of the planet.  Above all, there can be no serious thought, discussion, or debate about how such a militarized approach to our world might have contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the very problems it was meant to solve. Not in our nation’s capital, anyway.

The only questions to be argued about are how much, how many, how often, and how destructively.  In other words, the only “antiwar” position imaginable in Washington, where accusations of weakness or wimpishness are a dime a dozen and considered lethal to a political career, is how much less of more we can afford, militarily speaking, or how much more of somewhat less we can settle for when it comes to militarized death and destruction.  Never, of course, is a genuine version of less or a none-at-all option really on that “table” where, it’s said, all policy options are kept.

Think of this as Washington’s military addiction in action.  We’ve been watching it foralmost 15 years without drawing any of the obvious conclusions.  And lest you imagine that “addiction” is just a figure of speech, it isn’t.  Washington’s attachment — financial, tactical, and strategic — to the U.S. military and its supposed solutions to more or less all problems in what used to be called “foreign policy” should by now be categorized as addictive.  Otherwise, how can you explain the last decade and a half in which no military action from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Libya worked out half-well in the long run (or even, often enough, in the short run), and yet the U.S. military remains the option of first, not last, resort in just about any imaginable situation?  All this in a vast region in which failed states are piling up, nations are disintegrating, terror insurgencies are spreading, humongous population upheavals are becoming the norm, and there are refugee flows of a sort not seen since significant parts of the planet were destroyed during World War II.

Either we’re talking addictive behavior or failure is the new success.

Keep in mind, for instance, that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2016 at 12:30 pm

Is America’s War on ISIS Illegal?

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I was desperately searching for this the other day, and for some reason could not find it. It’s by Bruce Ackerman, and it appeared in the NY Times:

IN May 2010, Nathan Michael Smith joined the Army, swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” He took up this mission on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and is now serving as a captain in Kuwait at the command headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against the Islamic State that President Obama initiated in 2014.

The president claims that Congress’s authorizations in 2001 and 2002 for the wars against Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein can be stretched to cover his current campaign. But many legal experts question his unilateral assertion of power. Captain Smith became increasingly troubled as he saw the president failing to persuade the House and Senate to stand up and be counted. Does the captain’s participation in this undeclared war involve him in a mission to destroy, not “defend,” the Constitution?

Captain Smith, 28, has now brought suit in federal court to request an independent judgment on whether he is betraying his oath.

He did not make this decision lightly. He comes from a long line of military officers. His father, mother and sister have all served with distinction; his grandfather flew 30 missions as a fighter pilot during World War II. Captain Smith continues to believe that the American military is a force for good in the world — but, he began to believe, not if it engages in wars that have failed to win the approval of Congress and the American people.

Enter the Internet. In August I published an essay in The Atlantic explaining that soldiers during the Vietnam War faced a similar predicament — and that two federal courts of appeal had considered their challenges to the war’s legality on the merits. The war ended before the issue could be decisively resolved by the Supreme Court, but I argued that these decisions would serve as precedents for a comparable lawsuit today.

Months passed before my article flitted across Captain Smith’s screen, but in the meantime he was reflecting on a different legal precedent from a distant era. In 1802, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, first confronted the question of whether a military officer had a duty to disobey illegal orders from his commander in chief. The court’s answer: “A commander of a ship of war of the United States, in obeying his instructions from the president of the United States, acts at his peril. If those instructions are not strictly warranted by law he is answerable in damages to any person injured by their execution.”

As Captain Smith reflected on that decision, he first thought that only one path was open to him: As an officer devoted to the Constitution, he had an overriding obligation to disobey orders issued as part of the Inherent Resolve operation — despite the threat of immediate detention and serious punishment if his view of the law was ultimately rejected by military tribunals and civilian courts.

My essay suggested that modern law provided him with a better way of dealing with his problem. After all, Captain Smith is not a trained jurist. Perhaps his view was mistaken, and President Obama was indeed acting within his powers as commander in chief. If this turned out to be the case, his heroic defense of the Constitution would have been utterly counterproductive, leading only to punishment and the humiliating destruction of his military career.

This is precisely why he has now filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia requesting the court issue a declaratory judgment on his constitutional responsibilities — pledging to continue his dedicated service while the judges resolve the decisive legal issues raised by the undeclared war (he is represented by David H. Remes; I am acting as a consultant).

The Vietnam War-era precedents . . .

Continue reading.

And see also: “The Dangers of the Ever-More-Powerful Presidency,” by Lincoln Caplan.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2016 at 4:36 pm


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