Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama’s degradation at West Point

       Tonight Barack Obama will give a fateful speech at West Point, escalating the war in Afghanistan by some 34,000 troops.  The setting itself is clear.  If he had beaten the war complex, he would be speaking at some other site. See here and here; also, Glenn Greenwald here. Instead, he is going to be its voice, to send troops out to do the “manly” enterprise of policing a territory in which they do not speak the language, in which the best intelligence is often faulty, in which the Commander McChrystal recognizes the enormous danger of attacking civilians, and yet – it is war – they will wipe out civilians, in which Al-Qaida has left but the U.S. will make ever renewed enemies and more recruits for Al-Qaida there and internationally. In this decision, Obama’s intelligence and decency will be prostituted to the military-industrial-political complex; now comparatively little will be done to fight joblessness because the military-industrial complex and the banks must feed, the depression worsen; the United States is broke and yet goes for broke endlessly in a hopeless occupation.   Obama knows the danger – he has taken a long time, he is trying to make the best of a bad situation – though withdrawing American forces now would be a good thing for the occupation does nothing but help Al-Qaida,    It is graphic evidence of American imperialism, even in the throes of economic desparation – ordinary Americans don’t count for the ruling elite, only war, and really stupid war  does -  and some reports indicate that he will offer more of an exit plan.  This is putting rouge on a corpse.  There is a trenchant Brecht poem about World War I; a recruiter, a priest and a prostitute dig up a dead soldier. With blessings and sex as his guide, they get him to totter off once again to the front and die, a second time, a “hero’s death.” Has one not many lives to give to the Fatherland?  Brecht named it “The Ballad of the Dead Soldier.”

          All of Obama’s intelligence, his taking his time and Biden’s objections (see Must Obama find the right war? here) have come to this.  He has the possibility of greatness, of shifting course (he is going to Copenhagen because, he knows, the US cannot continue on the same path about global warming or the economy or even war); for what the Democrats consider political advantage, he has turned his back on it.  This is his and our tragedy.

          In Britain, Parliament is holding hearings about the causes of the Iraq War.  The New York Times could not be bothered to cover them, but the AP ran a story on the testimony of Jeremy Greenstock, "top diplomat" and former ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003.   It is a grim tale of American deceit and manipulation.  Britain wanted a figleaf of international approval.  Greenstock says (he is of course one of the principals in crimes and is trying to protect that international criminal Tony Blair) that he “threatened to resign” if such approval were not obtained.   The US said to Tony Blair “two weeks” and no more.  This rightly repelled the world, even before Abu Ghraib made the moral character of the U.S. – its “manliness” as a torturer, inscribed on the bodies of the victims, as my student John McMahon has brilliantly written in a recent thesis – naked to all.          

Greenstock recounts the secret 2002 agreement between Blair and Bush, in which Blair toadied to American imperialism. In Britain, Blair was widely called “Bush’s poodle” (this is unkind to poodles).  As a member of the apparatus, he offers the formula that the war was legal but not legitimate.  But Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to the United States, speaks, as the article below cites, of the desparate dark quality of what Blair did – he and Bush had “signed” their secret oath “in blood.”  Can one "sweeten this little hand"? One need only underline – as Obama recognizes but cannot free himself of – it was the blood of others.

Greenstock notes that in Britain, a majority of the people opposed the war (Britain is the same kind of oligarchy with parliamentary forms or pseudo-democracy we have here; a majority of our population opposes escalation in Iraq, but the anti-war candidate Obama is pressed, by the military-industiral-political (the corrupt and self-undermining Democratic Party) and the corrupt New York Times and Washington Post - see Steve Rendell for Fairness and Accuracy in Media here - to speak for war, war and more war.  Britain does not seek to be the unipower.  (Nearly) in Europe, Britain is diplomatically and politically more closely bound to the conventions banning war crimes than the US.   

The United States, not just under Bush’s aggravated assault but with bipartisanship, has set out to wreck international law.  Clinton, too,would not sign common good sustaining treaties.  Obama, despicably, has refused to sign the agreement on land

mines, fought for by Americans, which murder and mutilate thousands of innocents – often children playing – every year.  It is why Americans took the lead in fighting for the treaty (the Nobel Peace Prize winning Jodi Williams - see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 5) and why Senator Patrick Leahy spoke out against Obama’s decision.  But reflecting the American mainstream press (see Richard Falk and Howard Friel, The Record of the Paper, as well as here) the article evades the depth of American criminality.

      The United States fought for the United Nations, and wrote the UN charter, in particular Article 2 section 4 which outlaws aggression.  As Nuremburg prosecutor, later Supreme Court justice and American negotiatior Robert Jackson said, we must persuade the German people that their leaders are on trial not because they lost the war but because they started it.  Substitute the American people for the Germans – and add to aggression, torture - and one has the attitude of the world, emblemized by UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak, toward the Bush-Cheney administration.  Obama started out wanting to end torture.  But he has now moved, been moved by the ruling complex, away from allowing further information to come out, prosecutions to occur (there is still some hope that American or international prosecutors will find a way to bring the Bush-Cheney administration to justice).  There is a simple enough reason.  The crimes are extensive, many of the previous leaders of the American government would face jail, and need pardons or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  And despite the egregiousness of the crimes, there is no political force, no force for justice, strong enough so far to bring them account.

       But the tragedy not only in the brazenness of the acts themselves.  It is in their continuation, the dead motion of the lack of legal hearings, the fact that the criminals walk free (though of course their lives are shadowed by some realization of what they have done, continual protests, and people staring at them; John Yoo fled Berkeley for Chapman College, adverting to the hostility he had met). 

       Even in Britain, these hearings do not have a legal standing; they seek only to prevent Britain from again acting as “America’s poodle” to further American aggression.  But in America, the rule of law is no longer being restored, but is drifting further and further away.  Even as Obama courageously brings five likely 9/11 criminals to be tried in New York, he hides others away in shadowy military commissions.  In both cases, that the United States tortured these prisoners – that it did so wantonly (the nefarious Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who will be tried in New York,  was waterboarded 183 times in a month according to one of the U.S. government’s torture memos) – must be ignored in both “courts” to allow the hearings to proceed.  What petty desperation and fear, what undermining of American values, even Obama’s attempt to restore an appearance of justice indicates.  Perhaps one might speak of a Ballad of the  Dead Judges, unless people who serve in the American judiciary and military courts stand up.  

Yale constitutional lawyer Jack Balkin has

spoken, with sadness, about the bipartisan formation of a new legal, perhaps more accurately, ostensibly legal regime.  That is what Obama is doing.  Against the Magna Carta and habeas corpus, the basis of English and American law, he is consolidating torture. Torture may be renewed - double the size of Guantanamo, said Republican candidate Mitt Romney - because torture has been done by American leaders in broad daylight and with massive evidence; yet it is, Obama and the elite say, no longer a crime.  Homicide – the Pentagon’s term – against over a hundred prisoners in American custody is not a crime.  Against the noblest American efforts to fight the Nazis and sustain international law, aggression is not a crime. This is not being a smart politician; it is on this issue that a statesperson must stand up. Instead, the Obama administration seeks to avoid or destroy international law with great determination.

      We all should meditate on the words of Jeremy Greenstock and the others appearing daily before this commission (we will have to look at British papers, however, since “All the news that’s fit to print” sadly does not include these words).  These words show, as Obama’s once did, how the betrayal of the Bill of Rights and American values harms American security.  These words show why occupation in Afghanistan – Al-Qaida has aready left – strengthens Al-Qaida and weakens the forces of decency.  These words name what Obama, a decent person and constitutional lawyer, sought to move away from,  and what Obama, the American President catering to the military-industrial complex, is now taking on. 

Next week Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But the hopes of the Nobel Committee were rendered a travesty by this decision. Malalai
Joya, an Afghani leader, who was nominated for the Prize, speaks in the second column below, of the crimes against his people of the war. He speaks of American crimes as well as the Taliban's, He is a voice of Afghani democracy.

Published on Saturday, November 28, 2009 by the Associated Press

US Was 'Hell Bent' on Iraq War, UK Envoy Says

Bush administration didn't care about getting U.N. support, he tells inquiry

by David Stringer

LONDON - The United States was "hell bent" on a 2003 military invasion of Iraq and actively undermined efforts by Britain to win international authorization for the war, a former British diplomat told an inquiry Friday.

Then US President George W. Bush and then Prime Minister Tony Blair wave upon Blair's arrival to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. Blair may have swung behind US calls for regime change in Iraq after meeting president Bush at his Texas ranch, a former top diplomat told an inquiry into the 2003 war. (AFP/File/Stephen Jaffe)

Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, said that President George W. Bush had no real interest in attempts to agree on a U.N. resolution to provide explicit backing for the conflict.

The ex-diplomat, who served as Britain's envoy in Iraq after the invasion, said serious preparations for the war had begun in early 2002 and took on an unstoppable momentum.

As diplomats frantically attempted in early 2003 to agree upon a U.N. resolution approving a military offensive, Bush's key aides grew impatient - criticizing the process as an unnecessary distraction, he said.

Grumbling from Washington "included noises about 'this is a waste of time, what we need is regime change, why are we bothering with this, we must sweep this aside and do what's going to have to be done anyway - and deal with this with the use of force,'" Greenstock testified before the inquiry into the Iraq war.

Several nations had hoped to stall the invasion of Iraq to allow U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - the key justification for the war. No such weapons were ever found.

Yet Bush's inner circle cared little about what international allies thought and refused to halt plans to invade in March 2003, Greenstock said. He said even Blair was unable to persuade Bush, winning only a brief hiatus of two weeks.

"The momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter," Greenstock said in a written statement to the inquiry, provided alongside his live testimony.

Britain's inquiry is the most exhaustive study yet into the war and will seek evidence from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, military officials and spy agency chiefs. It won't apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability. But it will offer recommendations by late 2010 on how to prevent mistakes from being repeated in the future.

Greenstock told the five-person inquiry panel that the failure to win U.N. approval for the war had seriously undermined the legitimacy of the conflict.

He said, in his opinion, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was legal - a view rejected by critics who say it violated international law - but was of "questionable legitimacy."

"It did not have the democratically observable backing of the great majority of member states, or even perhaps of the majority of people inside the U.K.," he said.

In London, an anti-war rally in 2003 drew an estimated 2 million demonstrators - the largest street protest in a generation.

Greenstock told the panel he had his own doubts, and had threatened to resign if no international backing was agreed upon. His threat came before a Nov. 2002 resolution that offered Iraq a final opportunity to disarm and demanded access for weapons inspectors.

Efforts to agree on a sterner resolution authorizing military action foundered because the international community believed the U.S. was "hell bent on the use of force" regardless of world opinion, Greenstock said.

"The United States was not proactively supportive of the U.K.'s efforts and seemed to be preparing for conflict whatever the U.K. decided to do," Greenstock wrote in his statement.

Christopher Meyer, Britain's former ambassador to the U.S., told the inquiry Thursday that he believed Bush and Blair had used a meeting at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, to "sign in blood" an agreement to take military action on Iraq. That was a year before Parliament approved Britain's involvement.

Greenstock said following the Crawford meeting, he realized Britain "was being drawn into quite a different discussion." But, like Meyer, he said the talks were secretive and the conversation between the two leaders was not disclosed to officials

A troop surge can only magnify the crime against Afghanistan

If Barack Obama heralds an escalation of the war, he will betray his own message of hope and deepen my people's pain.

After months of waiting, President Obama is about to announce the new US strategy for Afghanistan. His speech may be long awaited, but few are expecting any surprise: it seems clear he will herald a major escalation of the war. In doing so he will be making something worse than a mistake. It is a continuation of a war crime against the suffering people of my country.

I have said before that by installing warlords and drug traffickers in power in Kabul, the US and Nato have pushed us from the frying pan to the fire. Now Obama is pouring fuel on these flames, and this week's announcement of upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will have tragic consequences.

Already this year we have seen the impact of an increase in troops occupying Afghanistan: more violence, and more civilian deaths. My people, the poor of Afghanistan who have known only war and the domination of fundamentalism, are today squashed between two enemies: the US/Nato occupation forces on one hand and warlords and the Taliban on the other.

While we want the withdrawal of one enemy, we don't believe it is a matter of choosing between two evils. There is an alternative: the democratic-minded parties and intellectuals are our hope for the future of Afghanistan.

It will not be easy, but if we have a little bit of peace we will be better able to fight our own internal enemies – Afghans know what to do with our destiny. We are not a backward people, and we are capable of fighting for democracy, human and women's rights in Afghanistan. In fact the only way these values will be achieved is if we struggle for them and win them ourselves.

After eight years of war, the situation is as bad as ever for ordinary Afghans, and women in particular. The reality is that only the drug traffickers and warlords have been helped under this corrupt and illegitimate Karzai government. Karzai's promises of reform are laughable. His own vice-president is the notorious warlord Fahim, whom Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch describes as "one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands".

Transparency International reports that this regime is the second most corrupt in the world. The UN Development Programme reports Afghanistan is second last – 181st out of 182 countries – in terms of human development. That is why we no longer want this kind of "help" from the west.

Like many around the world, I am wondering what kind of "peace" prize can be awarded to a leader who continues the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and starts a new war in Pakistan, all while supporting Israel?

Throughout my recent tour of the US, I had the chance to meet many military families and veterans who are working to put an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They understand that it is not a case of a "bad war" and a "good war" – there is no difference, war is war.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against War even accompanied me to meet members of Congress in Washington DC. Together we tried to explain the terrible human cost of this war, in terms of Afghan, US and Nato lives. Unfortunately, only a few representatives really offered their support to our struggle for peace.

While the government was not responsive, the people of the US did offer me their support. And polls confirm that the US public wants peace, not an escalated war. Many also want Obama to hold Bush and his administration to account for war crimes. Everywhere I spoke, people responded strongly when I said that if Obama really wanted peace he would first of all try to prosecute Bush and have him tried before the international criminal court. Replacing Bush's man in the Pentagon, Robert Gates, would have been a good start – but Obama chose not to.

Unfortunately, the UK government shamefully follows the path of the US in Afghanistan. Even though opinion polls show that more than 70% of the population is against the warGordon Brown has announced the deployment of more UK troops. It is sad that more taxpayers' money will be wasted on this war, while Britain's poor continue to suffer from a lack of basic services.

The UK government has also tried to silence dissent, for instance by arresting Joe Glenton, a British soldier who has refused to return to Afghanistan. I had a chance to meet Glenton when I was in London last summer, and together we spoke out against the war. My message to him is that, in times of great injustice, it is sometimes better to go to jail than be part of committing war crimes.

Facing a difficult choice, Glenton made a courageous decision, while Obama and Brown have chosen to follow the Bush administration. Instead of hope and change, in foreign policy Obama is delivering more of the same. But I still have hope because, as our history teaches, the people of Afghanistan will never accept occupation.

Correction: thee posts ago here, I said mistakenly that Obama himself had met with Iraq Veterans against the War at the convention.  My friend Doug Vaughan pointed out the error:

      "actually, no -- he refused: 'didn't have time' and no doubt didn't want the photo op,  but instead sent an aide (his liason to military and vets groups, a Capt. retired) to meet a rep of Iraq Vets Against War, thus defusing the protest march confronted by cops at the security perimeter of the convention site, that threatened to disrupt the mediated imagery of unanimity and near-universal acclaim of his supposed 'anti-[Iraq]- war' candidacy."


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