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Saturday, October 4, 2014

America’s Secret War in 134 Countries

The Nation

America’s Secret War in 134 Countries


A US Special Forces trainer supervises a military assault drill for a unit within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. (Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific. They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia. All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed—until now.

Since September 11, 2001, US Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget. Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally. This presence—now, in nearly 70 percent of the world’s nations—provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.

In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about sixty countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to seventy-five, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post. In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120. Today, that figure has risen higher still.

In 2013, elite US forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs. This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
Growth Industry

Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era. SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001. Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding). Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.

A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that US Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012–13. For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators—Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams and civil affairs personnel—were deployed. “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed. “We have to go searching through stuff. It takes a long time to do that.” Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year. “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.
Globalized Special Ops

Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said, “USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate…”

While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter. The 12 percent jump in national deployments—from 120 to 134—during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth. SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.

Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. In June, US Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan. The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces. In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors. In September, according to media reports, US Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia—as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded counterterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java.

In October, elite US troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before being driven off under fire. In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan. Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.

Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.” These would join an existing global network of ten propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi which targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com.

SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway. “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, DC—from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center last year. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM is now entrenched at thirty-eight.
134 Chances for Blowback

Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback. While the Obama administration oversaw a US withdrawal from Iraq (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the US military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia” (even if it has amounted to little as of yet).
The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched fifty-one such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the US also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of US electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.

In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of US military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame. More than ten years after America’s “mission accomplished” moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge, the Iraq that America helped make is in flames. A country with no Al Qaeda presence before the US invasion and a government opposed to America’s enemies in Tehran now has a central government aligned with Iran and two cities flying Al Qaeda flags.

A more recent US military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a US-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a US-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region.

And today South Sudan—a nation the US shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces—is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.

The Obama presidency has seen the US military’s elite tactical forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals. But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps, Americans have little understanding of where their troops are deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences might be down the road. As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces during the Obama years has decreased military accountability, strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war without end. “In short,” he wrote at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake.”

Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences. New Yorkers will remember well the end result of clandestine US support for Islamic militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11. Strangely enough, those at the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon, seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal blowback. Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than twelve years after the US invaded the former and almost ten years after it began conducting covert attacks in the latter, the US is still dealing with that Cold War–era fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes against an organization (the Haqqani network) that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles.

Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as they wash over the world. But if history is any guide, they will be felt—from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to Central Africa and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well.

In his blueprint for the future, SOCOM 2020, Admiral McRaven has touted the globalization of US special ops as a means to “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.” Last year, SOCOM may have done just the opposite in 134 places.

Read Next: Nick Turse’s investigation of SOCOM’s global network.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

American Leadership or Hegemonic Global Empire Continued

The Guardian home

The Observer home

Obama's great dilemma: to be or not to be the world's policeman

The president's willingness to lead the fight against Isis doesn't tally with his talk of curbing America's role on the world stage

Obama, Michael Cohen
'American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world': Barack Obama addresses America last week. Photograph: Rex
Iraq… America just can't quit you. For 23 years and across four presidencies, American planes have been waging war either against or on behalf of Iraqis. And if President Obama's prediction of a long-term struggle against Isis is correct, it might soon be five presidents and a quarter of a century.
How does that keep happening? How did a candidate who won the nation's highest office on a platform of ending the war in Iraq find himself six years later announcing yet another military engagement in Iraq? How has a president who has seemingly made it his priority to pivot to Asia, rely less on the military and put forward a more restrained foreign policy been thwarted once again?
A good part of the reason is that while Americans might talk about imposing limits on American power and defining our global interests more narrowly, we rarely follow through – and here Obama, who has sought to step back from using American power to solve every international problem, must shoulder some of the blame.
The fact is, the same president who has tried to offer something of a more modest and realistic vision for American foreign policy can't seem to keep himself out of the swampy environs of American exceptionalism. Don't take my word for it – look at his speech on Wednesday announcing America's strategy for "degrading and defeating" Isis.
On the one hand, Obama played down the threat from Isis by noting "we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland" (even though he warned that Isis could attack in the future). His strategy was eminently reasonable and relatively restrained. America would be one of many acting in Iraq; would rely on air power and no boots on the ground; would work with regional allies and utilise a few tools in the national security toolbox other than aerial bombardment.
This looks a lot different from the wars in Iraq or the ill-fated 2009 surge in Afghanistan. It's outsourced counter-terrorism, reliance on proxy militaries in Syria and Iraq and American air power. So far so good, right?
It's the rest of Obama's speech that is more problematic, because to sell his strategy for destroying Isis he laid it on pretty thick. According to Obama, the reason for America to act in Iraq is not just because Isis might one day be a threat or because it challenges key US interests in the region or because the group is a deeply nihilistic and malignant force that merits a militarised response to its hateful actions, but rather, well, because we're America.
"American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world," said Obama. "It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilise the world against terrorists."
It is America that "rallied the world against Russian aggression"; "that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola"; "that helped remove and destroy Syria's declared chemical weapons" and "is helping Muslim communities, not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity and tolerance and a more hopeful future". That's a lot of responsibilities.
And in case you thought those recent public opinion polls that showed the American people were a bit tired of playing the role of global cop, think again. "As Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead," said the president. "Our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden."
Moreover, America's "own safety" and its "own security" depends on its "willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for". Except if upholding those values is really difficult, like in Syria over the past three years.
Pointing out this rhetorical inconsistency isn't necessarily a policy criticism. Obama's strategy for dealing with Isis and his approach to the bloody civil war in Syria have demonstrated modesty and restraint. These are underrated and underappreciated attributes; as, too, are Obama's deliberation and caution, which you'd want any American president who commands the world's largest military, several times over, to exhibit.
But if you really want the US to play a less active role in global affairs or even "lead from behind", making the claim that only America has the capacity and will to mobilise the world … well, guess who is going to get asked to organise a posse when there's trouble? By describing America as the indispensable nation, Obama and his Oval Office predecessors have created a self-fulfilling outcome in which it's basically impossible for the US to share the responsibilities of maintaining global peace and security with anyone else. Of course, doing so also leaves the rest of the world, and in particular our close allies, off the hook. Why should they take the lead when they know the United States always will?
Perhaps there is no way around this dilemma. Every group needs a leader and why not America? After all, we certainly do benefit from a world that is more stable and peaceful; that is more democratic and prosperous and that abides by global rules and norms. In a very real sense that's the postwar world we were trying to create at the end of the second world war and, nearly 70 years later, one can say that we've largely succeeded. But in an era when the threats to America are few and far between and when, current events notwithstanding, the world is unusually safe, this would be the perfect moment for America to fob off some of its global responsibilities to others and, as Obama has often said in the past, conduct some nation-building at home.
But the practically unquestioned notion of US global responsibility and leadership makes that nearly impossible. The contradictions in Obama's approach are ones that are evident among the American people who on the one hand want the US to remain the most powerful country in the world but also want other countries to share more of our international burdens.
So perhaps Obama has little choice but to appeal to American's sense of national pride when asking them to support yet another military engagement in a nation where so much American blood has already been spilled. And that's perhaps why a less ideologically tinged, more interest-based argument won't do. After all, dropping bombs seems a bit more legitimate when it's done on behalf of values rather than interests. But to be clear, all this chest puffing comes with a price.
In 2008, when Obama was running for president he said his goal wasn't simply to end the Iraq war but to end the mind-set that got America involved in that terrible conflict in the first place. Six years later, there's a lot more work to do and it begins with Obama's bully pulpit.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The God of War is on the Verge of Another Victory


Published on

The God of War is on the Verge of Another Victory

Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it

"What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat." (Photo: Johan Viirok)

Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.

Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

Hurray! God bless drones and “mission accomplished” and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

“Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

So it’s bombs away again, boys—another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East—and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

God bless another war?

Tom Engelhardt, writing a few days ago at TomDispatch, called it “Iraq 3.0,” noting: “Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. . . . And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

“In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be
further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.”

Obama’s speech is addressed to a nation with a dead imagination. Doing “something” about the Islamic State means dropping bombs on it. Bombing runs don’t inconvenience a politician’s constituents and always seem like stalwart action: a squirt of Raid on an infestation of bugs. They never kill innocent people or result in unintended consequences; nor, apparently, do they provoke an instant sense of horror, the way a beheading does.

Indeed, declarations of war always seem to lift people up. This is because they separate us from the evil that our enemies are committing. Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it—which is asking far too much of any Beltway-entrenched U.S. politician. Obama hasn’t broken in any way from his inarticulate predecessor in attempting to exploit the simplistic emotional safe haven of war and militarism.

“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” George Bush asked during a press conference a month after the 9/11 attacks (quoted recently by William Blum in his latest Anti-Empire Report). “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am—like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”

Obama is trying to extract the same public acquiescence to military aggression from the IS beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker as Bush did from 9/11. Bush had the distinct advantage of not having himself—and the disastrous mess he created—as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Iraq 3.0 is going to become a reality, even though bombing Iraq will just strengthen IS and likely open the door to the next multi-year military quagmire.

As David Swanson laments on the website World Beyond War, speaking of the first journalist IS brutally murdered, “James Foley is not a war ad.”

“When 9/11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back,” Swanson writes. Linking to a video in which Foley talks about the hell and absurdity of war with filmmaker Haskell Wexler during the NATO protests in Chicago two years ago, he adds: “Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.”

He invites us to watch Foley talk about “the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage” and other toxic realities of war that usually don’t show up in presidential speeches.

“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world . . .”

I can’t believe I live in a country that still tolerates such simplistic, knife-edged rhetoric. Oh, so much evil out there! The U.S. government, in all its might and purity, has no choice but to go after it with every weapon in its arsenal. What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat. And the opponents, in their brutal aggression toward each other and everyone else, are always on the same side.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

America Caused the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL or IS)

America Caused the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL or IS)

America Caused the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL or IS)
Image Credits: ISIS via Twitter

by Michael S. Rozeff | LewRockwell.com | August 27, 2014


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The GOP has reasons for warmongering in Iraq


Project for New American Century

The GOP has reasons for warmongering in Iraq

The GOP chicken-hawks such as Cheney, in their Project for New American Century (PNAC) lusted for US hegemony. If there was a war they wanted it to reach this goal. They knew that attacking Iraq would be a very difficult undertaking, but they didn’t have their relatives in the frontlines so they didn’t care as long as Halliburton's interests were furthered. We all know about Cheney and Halliburton.They wanted a base a base in the Middle East and they knew that the World War 1 Sykes-Picot agreement didn’t stabilize Iraq. They knew that Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting for centuries. They knew that Iraq has always depended on violent dictators to maintain order, Hussein was just the latest. They knew that the US soldiers wouldn’t be greeted as liberators. They knew that the Sunnis had portions of the Ottoman Empire that are now Syria and Iraq. ISIS can be seen as only an attempt to get the area Sunnis had occupied.
Attacking Iraq would be difficult, but they could gain domestically as inciting fear in US’ citizens gains the GOP votes and the GOP has fat cat cronies in the military-industrial complex who benefit from wars. Cheney’s company, Halliburton, in particular made huge profits off of the war.

To gain these profits, Cheney, had to reverse his earlier held position of 1995 which was against going into Baghdad.

Iraq has always depended on violent dictators to maintain order, Hussein was just the latest.

The US knew it was opening a Pandora ’s Box when they attacked Iraq. The PNAC individuals knew that Hussein was an evil tyrant; they supplied him with weapons of mass destruction to use against Iran which they also used against Iraqi Kurds, and Rumsfeld is pictured above shaking hands with him. Doesn’t a picture tell a thousand words? They knew the consequences of deposing Hussein would be diametrically opposed to being greeted as liberators.

The article ”Does Iraq need a Saddam Hussein II?”states “What Iraq needs is a strong man, a man who can keep a violent, bloodthirsty argumentative Iraqi population all under total control. Iraq has always been violent, that’s how Iraqis are. You have to show an iron fist. They are not ready for democracy. Iraq must have a dictator to survive…. Perhaps the most atrocious date in Baghdad’s history is 1258 when the Mongol leader, Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, raised the once great city to the ground. Hulagu personally boasted in a letter to Louis IX of France that he had massacred 200,000 in Baghdad although other estimates reach as high as 800,000. Tamerlane, the leader of the Tatars, was hardly less brutal in 1401 as he ransacked the city. Ottomans and Persians fought over Iraq, and later Britain played out its rivalry with other powers such as Germany and France in Iraq.”

The Middle East was redrawn by Westerners as a result of the World War Sykes-Picot agreement

France and England didn’t care about the Middle East when they redrew it after World War 1. They wanted to further their interests.
The article “40 maps that explain the Middle East” states “You hear a lot today about this treaty, in which the UK and French (and Russian) Empires secretly agreed to divide up the Ottoman Empire's last MidEastern regions among themselves. Crucially, the borders between the French and British "zones" later became the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. Because those later-independent states had largely arbitrary borders that forced disparate ethnic and religious groups together, and because those groups are still in terrible conflict with one another, Sykes-Picot is often cited as a cause of warfare and violence and extremism in the Middle East.”
The article “Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East”states “For the period from the end of the Crusades up until the arrival of the European powers in the 19th Century, and despite the region's vibrant trading culture, the different sects effectively lived separately from each other.
But the thinking behind Sykes-Picot did not translate into practice. That meant the newly created borders did not correspond to the actual sectarian, tribal, or ethnic distinctions on the ground. “

The Sunnis had portions of the Ottoman Empire that are now Syria and Iraq

Now the Sunnis are only attempting to live together in as they have wanted for centuries.

The article “ISIS Declares Establishment of Caliphate in Iraq and Syria” states “In a chilling move over the weekend, the extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) declared the establishment of a caliphate or an Islamic state in large areas of Iraq and Syria…..Such restoration, which brings with it a measure of glory and pride connected to Islam’s 1400-year long golden age beginning in mid-7th century, has been the stated goal of Sunni Muslim activists for decades, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al Qaeda.” The article “Extremists in Iraq need a history lesson”. states “ISIS released a promotional video entitled "The End of Sykes-Picot." The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement is a flash-point for Arab resentment.”

Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have been fighting for centuries

The article “Conflict in Iraq Follows Centuries of Shiite-Sunni Mistrust” shows what is occurring in Iraq is nothing new.

The article states “The Iraq conflict plays out on several levels between Sunnis and Shiites. First and foremost, it's about how to share power in a 21st century state. The prime minister, a Shiite, has failed abysmally in creating a formula to share power with the Sunnis, the traditional political masters in Iraq," said Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, non-partisan institutions.
Tension between other countries in the region has also stoked the fighting, which revives suspicions that have existed between Shiites and Sunnis that date back 1,400 years, she said.”

Inciting fear in US’ citizens gains the GOP votes

The article “The Roots of Fear” illustrates that President Obama realized that the GOP was fearmongering.
It states “For the candidate whose slogans include "Got Hope?" the question was so perfect he might have dreamed it up himself. At an appearance this month at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, a foreign student asked Barack Obama about the fear that has gripped the American psyche since September 11, 2001, and which a number of politicians are hoping to ride to victory….So when the student asked about America's climate of fear, Obama pounced. "We have been operating under a politics of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants, fear of people of different religious beliefs, fears of gays that they might get married and that somehow that would affect us," he declared. "We have to break that fever of fear … Unfortunately what I've been seeing from the Republican debates is that they are going to perpetuate this fearmongering … Rudy gets up and says, 'They are trying to kill you' … It's absolutely true there are 30,000, 40,000 hard-core jihadists who would be happy to strap on a bomb right now, walk in here and blow us all up. You can't negotiate with those folks. All we can do is capture them, kill them, imprison them. And that is one of my pre-eminent jobs as president of the United States. Keep nuclear weapons out of their hands."

The article “Cheney to public: Be afraid; be very afraid” shows how the master of fearmongering operates.

It states “For Americans who’d forgotten what shameless fear mongering sounds like, a certain former vice president offered a timely reminder.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered an extremely morose prediction about the country’s future on Tuesday.

Asked on the Hugh Hewitt radio show whether he believes the United States could survive the decade without another attack on the homeland, Cheney said, “I doubt it.”
Cheney specifically told the conservative host, “I think there will be another attack and next time, I think it’s likely to be far deadlier than the last one. Imagine what would happen if somebody could smuggle a nuclear device, put it in a shipping container and drive it down the Beltway outside Washington, D.C.”
Why is Cheney like this? The article states “That this is practically the definition of demagoguery doesn’t seem to bother him because, well, he’s Dick Cheney.”

The GOP has fat cat cronies in the military-industrial complex including Cheney’s Halliburton

The article “Rand Paul Says Dick Cheney Pushed for the Iraq War So Halliburton Would Profit” shows Cheney’s ulterior motive for forcing a war with his Iraq intimate cohort Hussein.

The article states illustrates how Rand Paul is convinced Cheney led us into the Iraq War for his company’s profit.

Paul used recent history to illustrate this as the article states “There's a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He's being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it'd be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that's why the first Bush didn't go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he's back in government and it's a good idea to go into Iraq.”

GOP reasons for warmongering including Iraq

The GOP PNAC lusted for US hegemony via wars. They wanted a base a base in the Middle East and Iraq would do. Wars with and Syria and Iran, among other Middle Eastern countries have been promoted by the GOP also.

Attacking any Middle Eastern country will be difficult, but the GOP could gain domestically in two ways. Inciting fear in US’ citizens gains the GOP votes and the GOP has fat cat cronies in the military-industrial complex who benefit from wars. If it is not Cheney’s Halliburton another of their fat cronies in the military-industrial complexwill be in line to make huge profits off of another preemptive war. There are UN sanctions against preemptive wars, which Bush 43 ignored to attack Iraq, and which any other GOP president will happily shrug off for another disastrous Middle Eastern war.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Disaster militarism

Disaster militarism

The country’s military institutions must not be seen as deserving of special consideration. Once the ethos of public service has been smashed and discredited by neoliberal restructuring, the danger is that it will take more than an army to bring it back.
For some time now, Up in Arms has been drawing attention to the process of militarisation taking place in the UK. This has meant tracking the changing profile of the armed forces in civil society, ears pricked for anything that suggests that military norms and values are inherently superior and therefore worthy of unquestioning support. It can be hard to distinguish the long term shifts from the immediate gear changes, and to know how seriously to take some of the ‘information’ that makes it into the public domain – particularly if it emanates from unnamed ‘senior’ officials in defence departments or cranky media pundits with an interest in military welfare.

Take the use of soldiers in Britain’s recent flood disasters. Following their successful deployment as security guards for the London Olympics, the MoD could be more confident that the public would accept their role as a reserve body of odd-job men who by their physical strength and numbers alone could be put to work in a civil emergency. But after all those years in Iraq and Afghanistan, how does this latest form of unarmed yard work change public perceptions of the jobs that soldiers are actually trained to do, at great expense to the taxpayer?

The army in front of a flooded house in Surrey 
The army securing properties in Surrey following torrential rain in Feb 2014. Demotix/Maja Smiejkowska. All rights reserved.

We might have got used to seeing uniformed soldiers in public spaces. But it’s still slightly jarring to watch troops of marines wading through floodwaters on the Somerset Levels, or to read BBC headlines like: ‘Military on the streets in Berkshire’. It’s not just sandbags at dawn either either - the MoD has offered the expertise of army engineers to rebuild train track in the South West. And while people are starting to wonder what soldiers will actually do when they are not dispatched to far-off wars, a recent Guardian editorial asked the question: ‘do we need to start thinking about our military establishment less in terms of firepower and more in terms of a fire brigade, with war somewhere in the middle, rather than right at the top, of the list of duties?’

Blurring the lines

It is important to demystify the conditions under which military labour is performed and to be reminded that it belongs to the wider realm of public service, along with other tasks such as policing, fire-fighting, teaching and nursing. But there is also a danger in blurring the lines between what is military and what is civilian, a development that is becoming increasingly common in the UK.

The armed forces sit uneasily in the public sector, estranged from other public service organisations not least because their workers are trained to kill people and to smash things up. I’m not being funny – this is the basis of British Army doctrine as it has been defined in the late twentieth century. A key document issued by the army secretariat in 1996, entitled ‘The Extent to which the Army has a Right to be Different’, explains that:
‘The fundamental and perhaps only difference of significance between military service and other legitimate professions and occupations is that servicemen and women must be prepared, at any time and in the service of others rather than themselves, to participate in protracted and sometimes wholesale destruction and violence, to kill and be killed for benign and politically justifiable purposes.’
This unchanging characteristic of warfare and the ‘profession of arms’ can be distinguished from other professions, such as the police and fire services – who also face death and injury – because ‘none face the potentially devastating experience of taking life as a normal part of their roles’.

However, in the UK, as in many other countries they also occupy a disproportionate amount of space as a unique institution that symbolises the essence of the nation as a historical entity. As we are bound to be reminded in this World War 1 anniversary year, military service is often cast as a form of sacrifice that is drenched in the blood of those who have fallen in previous wars in defence of the nation.

But nowadays working in military organisations is also a job like many others, even though it might require a particular mindset and aptitude. It involves training, career development, promotion paths and other mundane issues such as pension schemes and work-related perks and benefits. Of course, this does not include the right to belong to a trade union. But for a lot of people, joining the army is regarded as an opportunity to gain qualifications, prestige, experience and physical prowess. For many officer types, a spell in the forces is a stepping stone to a lucrative career in the corporate world. However, the process of attracting new recruits can be a fraught process for military employers with their insatiable demand for mouldable minds and young, fit bodies.

Blocked pipelines

One of the biggest problems faced by the armed forces in almost any country that has abolished conscription is keeping the pipeline of suitable young entrants flowing. While recruitment provides a focal point for examining public attitudes to military work, there is surprisingly little discussion about the factors that might entice or deter young people from applying. These are issues that can become more intriguing by comparison between national contexts.

In Taiwan, for example, where conscription is being replaced by an all-volunteer army, problems of recruitment have arisen because of the army’s reputation for brutalising new recruits. As a result, the government has been forced to reduce numbers of military personnel from 215,000 to 170,000 over the next five years. Up in Arms has reported before how some European countries have opted to keep conscription and, in the case of Norway, even make it gender neutral, rather than follow the trend to an all-volunteer professional army.

Consider this list of reasons why Europe’s armed forces have struggled with recruitment over the last few decades. Kings War Studies professor Christopher Dandeker and his colleague David Mason recently summarised the problem of ‘how to secure an appropriate, consistent and sustained level of voluntary enlistment’:
profound cultural changes, such as the decline of deference and the rise of individualism; shifts in relationships between social classes arising from the decline of the traditional working class and the rise of an aspiring middle class; the emergence of new economic sectors in the second half of the twentieth century, such as those based on knowledge, marketing and service provision; increasing levels of participation in higher education among members of the military recruitment age group; and social changes relating to population profiles and acceptable gender roles.
Add to this the more immediate issue of mass redundancies after an extended period of wasteful, unpopular and exorbitant warfare, and the problems can only increase.

The army is now given space in job centres to set up their own recruitment ‘clinics’ in an attempt to attract potential employees, both full time and reserves. Although the mechanics of the recruitment process have been handed over to Capita, in line with teachers and many other professions, catastrophic IT failures have meant that soldiers have been pulled back into ‘front line’ roles, appearing at jobs fairs all over the country. The crisis in recruitment, appearing at a time of substantial redundancies and cutbacks to the armed forces – the army in particular – has received massive coverage, particularly from supporters in high places.

One of the most recent and widely reported was former US defence secretary Robert Gates who promoted his new book in the UK with the argument that Britain would no long be able to be a full partner to the US because of the drastic cuts to its defence budget.

What he didn’t say was that the Department of Defense in his own country was also being forced to make stringent cuts and that comparable arguments about the feasibility of a large standing military continue to make headlines over there too. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recently outlined plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since 1940. The new spending proposal was described by ‘officials’ as the first Pentagon budget aggressively to push the military off the war footing that was adopted after September 2001. This has been met by a predictably angry response, not just from certain Congress members who oppose substantial cuts to numbers as well as hardware but also from groups like the National Guard Association, an advocacy group for reservists, which fears that their members will be affected.

Flood fighters

Elsewhere the Telegraph has been waging a vociferous campaign against the MoD plan to supplement full time soldiers with part-time ones. A recent article highlighted the fact that Simon Weston, survivor of the Falklands War, explains why he wouldn’t join the army now if he was young. ‘Honestly, I wouldn’t sign up now. There have just been cuts after cuts after cuts, and the Army has been left a shadow of its former self.’

This coverage is in stark contrast with the fate of other public sector organizations undergoing cuts and restructuring. Firefighters, for example, perform a dangerous job which entails risking their own lives to protect and save members of the public. Yet their services are being cut back and their facilities sold off like there’s no tomorrow. January saw 10 fire stations closed in London, including the UK’s oldest station in Clerkenwell. A total of 552 jobs are also being slashed and the number of fire engines is being reduced by 14. In the north, the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority voted to close three fire stations, cut 131 firefighter jobs and axe six fire appliances (with two more being ‘stood down’ at night). Meanwhile members of the Fire Brigades Union have been staging strikes in protest at government proposals to increase pension contributions.

The absence of a public outcry over these cuts and closures reflects the relatively low profile of firefighters as a particular category of public servants. Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore was one of the few to spell out what these cuts mean, pouring scorn on ‘this brave new world where we can somehow have more health and safety with fewer people taking care of us.’ She pointed out that the ‘savings’ were all the more reckless since firefighters were also proving indispensible in current flooding emergencies. In such extreme and unpredictable weather it seemed utterly bizarre to reduce the services that are trained to respond.

The army securing a house in Surrey following the flooding 
The army outside a house in Surrey following the flooding. Demotix/Maja Smiejkowska. All rights reserved.

When the flood waters started to rise back in January, few expected that the regular emergency workers would be replaced or augmented by Marines and army engineers trained to build bridges in hostile environments. Perhaps the Guardian editorial was correct in predicting that soldiers would adopt the role of fire-fighters as their war duties appeared to diminish. That scenario is entirely in keeping with their extraordinary claim that Britain is about to enjoy ‘peace’ after 100 years of constant conflict. If only it was that simple. As Seumas Milne pointed out in response, ‘For the political and commercial elite, British warmaking under the wing of Washington is about state prestige, corporate profits and the protection of a system of global economic privilege’.

Defending public service

A few weeks ago, armed forces chief General Nick Houghton publicly voiced his unease about the organisation being severely affected in the interests of saving money. He warned that Britain’s military would become a ‘hollow force’ with state-of-the-art equipment but no one to operate it unless manpower budgets increased:
‘Unattended our current course leads to a strategically incoherent force structure: exquisite equipment, but insufficient resources to man that equipment or train on it.’ 
Yet there’s a version of this ‘hollowing out’ that has been gradually destroying all the UK’s national institutions, whether they deal with education, healthcare, public safety or even broadcasting. It’s part of the process of gradual privatization which entails replacing the ideal of public service with a string of corporate values and vacuous mission statements, and reinforcing the associations between public, cheap but inferior, and private, costly but invariably better.

One argument repeatedly used in connection with the armed forces is that, once an organization so steeped in tradition has been dismantled, it is impossible to grow it back. In the case of the army, the chipping away of the regimental system with its strong geographical and historical roots began decades ago. Countering Houghton’s lament, the same Guardian editorial asked: Is the twenty-first century, in general, so unpredictably dangerous that we need to maintain state of the art militaries on the basis that if we let the skills, traditions and supporting industries die it will be impossible to revive them?

One response to this line of reasoning is that the country’s military institutions must not be seen as exceptional or deserving of special consideration. This is a logic that must be applied to all public institutions, not least the ones that deal with health, education and social welfare. Once the ethos of public service has been smashed and discredited by neoliberal restructuring, the danger is that it will take more than an army to bring it back.

About the author


Vron Ware is a research fellow at the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG) and the ESRC Centre for research in socio-cultural change (CRESC) based at the Open University. Her book Military Migrants: Fighting for YOUR country was published in 2013. Her openDemocracy column is called Up in Arms.
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