Thursday, January 27, 2011

Egypt, the State of the Union, ROTC, and a letter from Anne Norton, part 1

In Egypt following the example of Tunisia, ordinary people, led by the young and the unemployed (60% of Egyptians are under 30, 90% of the unemployed are) are demonstating in the streets, occupying the center of Cairo and Suez, to overturn the 30 year tyranny of Hosni Mubarak. The American government has poured military aid - $1.3 billion per year – into the dictatorship, second only to American aid to Israel. Every water cannon fired on the demonstrators, every canister of tear gas, every police tank is made in the United States of America. This fact may have eluded Obama’s State of the Union, the corporate press response and hence the sleepy American people, but it does not elude a single one of the 85 million Egyptians, infants excepted. It is like the Apache helicopters murdering civilians in Gaza. No one misses the connection. The Palestine Papers include the infamous American demand on the Abu Mazan (Abbas) government to oppose and delay the UN consideration of the Goldstone Report. Contrary to the mantra of Superman, truth and the American government are often opposites. In Yemen, too, people have risen up in the streets against the pro-American tyrant. An old song by Bertolt Brecht and Hans Eisler about the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I comes to mind:

“On the bed of the Moldau, the pebbles are stirring
In Prague, three emperors lie dead
The big do not stay big, the little don’t stay little
The black night has 12 hours, the red dawn is red,
The red dawn is red…”

How to institutionalize democracy – what it means for the little not to stay little rather than producing new tyrants and a renewed littleness – is of course a question. But overthrow of longstanding dictators is a powerful thing, and one should not view the current triumph of Wall Street, obscene profit taking, and presiding over decline, depression and militarism for most – Obama representing not very effectively some mitigation of these effects – will not perhaps last forever (of course, there is some danger in the United States, that the regime will move to the even more fantasized, tyrannical, destructive – and self-destructive – Right). Still the reports of democratic revolution from Egypt and Yemen today are intense and heartening. Listen to Democracy Now here and here.

Obama’s State of the Union did comparatively little harm. It did not dwell on the wars or play on fear. It opposed the looting of social security by Wall Street and thus, contrasted with the miserable plastic man from Wisconsin – Paul Ryan – who promised protection for those over 55 without quite naming his intent: Wall Street funded and motivated theft of social security. Ryan has a pleasant if empty surface, something to make the message palatable in the corporate media…

Obama said that the US government supports the democratic uprising in Tunisia (not all the weaponry for the Ben Ali tyranny came from the US; some was French...). This would of course be a decent thing to do, and the US might also reconsider what it is doing in Egypt (arming Mubarak as the enemy of democracy and decency). In Palestine, it might wisely join with the international community in pressuring Israel to stop the settlements, to forge a two state solution (and also, preserve itself as a quasi-decent regime, something in question with its fascist expansion and its imprisonment, brutalization and attempts to "transfer" the Palestinians from the occupied territories). But of Palestine, Obama did not speak...

But American wars of aggression and occupation continue, with no prospect of defeating Al-Qaida and many crimes against civilians which push people into broad and justified opposition to America. Obama’s good and just words about Tunisian democracy unfortunately contrast with the bipartisan deeds of America, including those of his own administration, in maintaining the tyrant and in arming Mubarak.

But American wars, include the preponderant use of mercenaries in Afghanistan continues (Obama’s actual escalation was not 30,000 troops as the corporate press reported, but 100,000 including 70,000 Xe corporation and other private operatives). In rightfully praising the abolition of don’t ask don’t tell, the removal of discrimination in the army, Barack also added: now at last ROTC can come back to American campuses (at Harvard it was barred for a long time; at Metro where I teach part-time, the military is always trolling for recruits, ROTC is present).

Obama is waging five aggressions and occupations. He does so as the anti-"dumb Iraq war" candidate, the one who wants to restrict, alone among elite politicians [I am not counting Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich as elite politicians], crazy wars. And he commendably made barely a mention of Iran; he is not going, at the behest of the Israeli leadership, to bomb Natanz. Yet the military is clearly in command of US policies, the war complex extending its influence. And ROTC is coming back to American campuses.

When I published the letter on the blog from those of us who had fought ROTC in the Harvard strike and achieved, often at great personal cost, a victory which has lasted for many years, here, Anne Norton wrote me a fine letter tracing her own changes on the issue from when she had gone to Chicago and opposed ROTC to when she taught at Notre Dame:

“Dear Alan, I think you should reconsider your opposition to ROTC. ROTC is invaluable to students who cannot otherwise afford the University of their choice. ROTC increases the ideological diversity of the military. A volunteer army (as Tocqueville brilliantly argues) tends to remove the decision to go to war (and the conduct of wars) from the citizenry at large. ROTC helps mitigate this effect, though insufficiently. ROTC was forbidden at my University (Chicago) long before it was elsewhere. When I taught at Notre Dame I was initially shocked to find students in uniform in my classes. I quickly learned that they were ideologically diverse and that they could not afford Notre Dame without ROTC. Anne."

I sent a brief response, and here elaborate on it:

Dear Anne. Good to hear from you, and thank you. These are all very good points that I will think about. I prefer a citizen army and perhaps ROTC is a step in this direction (it is certainly better than strictly military education for future officers, for example; and it does involve some people of ordinary working class experience in the military hierarchy). More precisely, ROTC students, and military students in general, tend to take war more seriously and are certainly open, if their education is not sufficiently curtailed by military instruction so that they occasionally take classes with people like us, to thinking more deeply about what they and others are asked to risk their lives for. To extend the argument you make, the value to poor, latino students of inclusive citizenship and the chance to enroll in colleges is a powerful argument even on behalf of the corrupt granting of citizenship through joining the military in the Dream Act (or far better, just allowing them to be admitted to college and participate innovatively as Americans – they have grown up here – in American life as Obama rightly pointed out in the State of the Union). There are certainly worse aspects of militarism.

One might go further on the unintended, good effects of militarism in American life, for instance, the introduction of the internet, or major experimention with non-fossil fuels (now attacked in an unusually reactionary study even for the Rand corporation – see here). Since the economy is dependent on militarism (that and the financial casino are much of what is left, after the failure to trade houses, unless the US moves to a green economy, and the military is now contributing importantly to the development of such an economy), one should remark the complexity of effects, not all of which are bad.

As you rightly note, the US does not have a citizen army. A democratic or citizen army is one in which ordinary people bear arms and the military is the first line of defense against aggression from abroad (when some other country attacks us, something that has not happened since Pearl Harbor). A citizen army is much harder to use as an instument of American aggression abroad, for instance, in Iraq. Internally, such an armed citizenry is a defense against tyrannical government as well. In the Federalist Papers, the authors feared the development of a standing army, one centralized over and above the citizenry. That was the instrument of monarchs and tyrants. But they could not even imagine today's mercenary army, better than half composed of overpaid “civilian” soldiers of fortune (often former army people) with no requirement of loyalty to the government except for profit, and above the law, escaping even prosecution for murder. Thus, 180 prisoners died, mainly of homicide in American custody during the Bush years see Greenwald here, but even at Abu Ghraib, individuals like Steve Stefanowicz of CACI were never investigated. Blackwater operatives murdered 17 civilians in Nissour Square and the Iraq government under pressure of popular outrage demanded Blackwater leave, Instead, none of the killers have ever been put on trial, Blackwater has been renamed Xe, and better than half the American occupiers of Iraq continue to be private mercenaries….

Conscription, at least if there aren’t student deferments, is more consistent with democracy than a privatized military with soldiers recruited from only a small segment of the urban and rural poor, perhaps from as little as 1% of the population. But a draft for acts of aggression based on lies seems much less possible or plausible after Vietnam (“Remember the Maine,” “the Alamo” and “The Gulf of Tonkin incidents” are three lies or distortions told on behalf of earlier American aggressions to accompany "wmds" and "Saddam-Al Qaida ties" more recently). It might provoke citizen revolt. So the military opposes conscription. And though it is, among regular soldiers, unusually integrated, the US army, especially its secret, privatized majority in Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer resembles a citizen or democratic army.

The war complex dominates American life, even forcing Obama to escalate in Afghanistan (he took an unheard of 5 weeks time out to try to work out an alternative; he put Biden up to observing the truth: that Al-Qaida is in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the US fighting in Afghanistan has lost whatever point it may seem to have had 10 years ago, and the like), why despite vast popular discontent (more than 60% in corporate, that is remarkably pro-war, opinion polls, want the troops out of Afghanistan). These occupations and wars, even under Obama, continue and as in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, multiply.

Still, as Anne says, ROTC training, in the context of serious academic education for students, might be a modest step toward the civilianization or at least broadening the diversity of the military leadership.

But the actual context makes every aspect of militarism more dangerous. For American militarism is wildly out of control (it controls the politicians of both parties; any sensible person who tries to downscale the military or recommend ending losing American wars is attacked from the Right, which includes Democratic think-tank “experts” like Leslie Gelb; Gelb criticized properly his own corrupt screaming for war in Iraq, and then promptly screamed at Obama for seeking some alternative in Afghanistan and not endorsing General McChrystal's public demand for 40,000 more troops immediately.

In fact, global warming coupled with endless American wars and occupations provides a major threat to the habitability of the world for humans over the next century or less, even without full scale nuclear war. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, testified before Congress that by the year 2050, California would be a desert, no longer sustain agriculture…The corporate news media did not think his testimony worthy of notice in their reporting…

Thus, the war complex in the United States exerts enormous, powerful influence on behalf of reaction and perhaps worse yet, of extinction. Led by the New York Times, no American newspaper will mention the crime of aggression in relation to American policies. In Iraq, 72,000 mercenaries (Xe Corporation/Blackwater, Dyncorps and the like) add to the 55,000 soldiers remaining. This is a formidable occupation: 127,000. But the New York Times does not mention this privatized war. As of last week, it prints yet again columns suggesting falsely that “only” 55,000 troops remain. See here.

Worse yet, in 2004, Bush escalated the war in Iraq with 70,000 mercenaries, as Deborah Avent recently told people at my school. This was the first and secret “surge.” That helped bring the ratio of American mercenaries to soldiers in Iraq to 1 to 1 (Obama has actual now made it 3 mercenaries for every 2 soldiers among the remaining occupiers). No one at the Korbel School of Internatonal Studies including me, let alone, citizens in the general population, had heard of this first, ineffectual “surge.” Is not war supposed to be discussed and debated in Congress and by the President and in the media? Isn’t it plain tyranny for Bush to have done this? Escalating secretly with mercenaries - so much for Rumsfeld's "lean" aggression - was a major, undemocratic initiative of the executive, something that gives the complex discussion I have offered on this blog of the authoritarianism (the Nazism) of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss and Martin Heidegger, here, here, here, here, here and here an immediate, up-to-date paradigm in how American imperialism and militarism proceeds.

The US has 1,180 military bases abroad now. The New York Times never mentions the number. I can ask any class of international studies students here or in Barcelona about this number, and almost no one ever knows. The Times and other newsapers never ask: do other powers have bases under the own control abroad (as distinct from soldiers serving in multinational United Nations forces)? France has 5 in former French colonies, England perhaps a similar number in similar places, Russia 1 in Krgyzstan, etc.

Under Obama, the US spent $704 billion officially on the Pentagon last year. The Times never compares this figure (which it mentioned once last year) to Cold War figures; America now spends 2 1/2 times as much as it did during the Cold War when the U.S. had a nuclear armed, great power rival (at its height, $250 billion). See here and Andrew Bacevich on TomDispatch today, here.

The US fires drone missiles into Pakistan from Creech Air force base in Nevada (Kathy Kelly and 13 others have held heroic exemplary activist, civil disobedience demonstrations against them and had a spirited trial about this matter.) Using drones, the CIA murders 5 innocent Pakistani civilians for every Taliban, accoding to neo- con estimates (that’s better than 80% murders of civilians through long distance – like the company in “Avatar” – aggression which makes America more and more enemies, ordinary Americans more insecure. John Mearsheimer suggests the number is 10 innocents to 1 – see here and here – the Pakistani government 600 innocents to 1. This is both aggression and massively counterproductive.*

Are we supposed to pretend that training officers for the military – very restricted and often false teaching of future officers – is now harmless, that it undergirds engagements which undermine terror rather than breeding widespread and justified enmity to the United States, and, as an outlier, augmenting recruits for terrorism, and thus, the insecurity of most Americans? In Yemen, the American government last year murdered a wedding party of over a hundred people, 50 women and children, with drones; I wonder if the Yemeni protestors against the dictator in the streets regard America – the sender of drones – as anything good?

Now the election of Obama made many people, particularly in Europe, give America a second chance, seemed a relief after Bush and a miraculous democratic renewal – the election of a black man as President in the land of slavery and segregation, 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King. But Obama’s wars, the use of drones, the arming of Mubarak with American tanks, tear gas and fire hoses, inter alia, day by day erases this advantage. In Spain, the hope continues – see here – but I doubt that many Arabs, even with Obama’s sometime initiative about stopping illegal and immoral Israeli “settlements,” see America as decent. These are the enormous costs of American militarism and the war complex. These things outweigh the undoubted good of helping poor people be at universities through ROTC or the integrating role – real enough – of the military in American society. Below commissioned officers, the military is the most integrated institution in America, the blender of black, latino, poor white, jew and arab, urban and rural. The catastrophe of American militarism and the war complex overwhelms this good feature.

Ann responded to my note:

“I was very much opposed to ROTC myself until I had those students and thought over Tocqueville's argument. I too want a citizen army.” On the underlyng conception, we and I think, many others agree. That American militarism threatens all of us is visible far into the establishment (see John Mearsheimer’s excellent new piece, the long lead article, “Imperial by Design” in the National Interest for January-February 2011 here). In the second part of this post, I will talk about what a Tunisia or Egypt-style democratic uprising from below, here in America, might demand of the elite.

*Perhaps drones might be turned into plowshares. The following story shows that among many bad things, including the American contribution to melting the polar ice-caps, some rare good is possible:

"Drone has Arctic seals in its sights

16 December 2010 by Joel Shurkin
the Weapons Technology Topic Guide

An ex-military drone that has Arctic seals in its sights could make tracking the marine mammals' fate far easier.

Tracking Arctic wildlife and monitoring the local climate is dangerous and difficult work, often requiring unusual approaches. For instance, instrument-bearing narwhals have recently improved ocean-temperature estimates. Now, military technology is providing biologists with their data.

An unmanned aircraft, the Scan Eagle, was adapted from military use by Elizabeth Weatherhead's team at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Launched from ships, it has a wingspan of 3 metres and uses image-recognition software to identify individual seals after first measuring the extent of the white ice against the black water.

It's already known that polar ice is receding. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, the area of sea ice is at historic lows. That's bad news for the region's seals, which use ice for breeding and nursing, and as a refuge from predators. One species, the ringed seal – which never goes ashore – is already listed under the US Endangered Species Act.

Cold skies

Scan Eagle is owned and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has produced 27,000 images in two years. Flights over the Bering Sea last from 2 to 8 hours, at altitudes of between 90 and 300 metres. As it flies over the icy waters, the drone sends data back to the researchers.

However, it doesn't solve all the problems of research in the Arctic. "It's probably not a silver bullet, because seals are in the water a large proportion of the time and that proportion varies with weather or ice conditions," says Lee Cooper, a high-latitude oceanographer at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons. "So the aircraft is primarily going to work for animals resting on ice.

"But it's an interesting piece of the emerging puzzle for how to improve observations in the Arctic and should provide new data of interest to Arctic researchers."

Weatherhead reported the research at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco this week."

No comments:

Post a Comment