Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monsters to destroy

War is a pleasure party for kings and tyrants, Immanuel Kant suggested in 1795.* He or she can waste the lives and wellbeing of subjects, frivolously, at whim. The hope of a republic (or a democracy) is that an informed citizenry can decide, after debate, whether to engage in war. The likelihood is that those faced with the loss of their own or of their loved ones’ lives and with paying the costs, would only engage in wars of evident self-defense against aggression. In accord with Kant and the enlightenment, the American Constitution vests in Congress the power to declare war. Even candidate Obama said the President must react swiftly only in cases of self-defense. But as John Quincy Adams warned,** and Steve Walt below underlines, Obama now flails out in search of monsters to destroy:

"When you have a big hammer the whole world looks like a nail; when you have thousand of cruise missiles and smart bombs and lots of B-2s and F-18s, the whole world looks like a target set. The United States doesn't get involved everywhere that despots crack down on rebels (as our limp reaction to the crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain demonstrate), but lately we always seems to doing this sort of thing somewhere. Even a smart guy like Barack Obama couldn't keep himself from going abroad in search of a monster to destroy."

Obama has abandoned this broad tradition of democratic thinking and his role as a Constitutional or democratic leader in deciding, all by himself, to "join in" or, in reality, lead the multilateral air attack on Libya.

There is a long tradition of disdain for ordinary people in the elite, revealed in imperial/Presidential going to war. Candidate Obama rightly feared “dumb wars” like the one in Iraq (humanitarian justifications there were not to the fore, mainly lies about "wmds" and Saddam’s supposed ties to Al-Qaida). In Between Two Ages: America's role in the Technotronic Era, written 40 years ago, before becoming President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski talked about keeping the people out of politics and identified the vast American empire of bases abroad:

"There are more than a million American troops stationed on some four hundred major and almost three thousand minor United States military bases scattered around the globe." (p 32; h/t Aaron Ferreira).

By this standard, the invisible empire of American militarism or the war complex – invisible to American citizens - has today shrunk to 1280 bases (see Nick Turse here, Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, ch. 6 and here). But this is huge and once again, growing. Further, the US government has a long history of backing tyranny in the Middle East, arming Mubarak in Egypt with $1.3 billion per year of American military equipment for 29 years, for example, or the murderous dictatorship in Bahrain exercised over a Shia majority. Bahrain is home to the American 5th fleet and American-armed Saudi proxies just marched in...

That fleet along with the 6th (stationed in Rota in Spain here) just moved into position to fire off tomahawk missiles at Libya (at 3/4 of a million dollars per missile and 81 missiles the first day, $86 million for this alone – see below). Supposedly, the US is taking a secondary role to France – first air strikes in to stop Ghadhafi’s forces from reaching Benghazi – and Britain. Admiral Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the US and Britain had jointly launched missiles, but it turned out, under questions from the press, that Britain had only one submarine…

This strike is more multilateral than “the Coalition of the Willing” - more like Bush the first, whom campaigner Obama identified with - but not much, especially with no active Arab input and immediate Arab chafing (Amr Moussa, head of the compliant Arab League of tyrants, waffled the first day...).

I used to suggest satirically that W. should send a couple of thousand troops to Darfur. It would be perceived, to some extent. as an imperial exercise by Africans, but also a) it would save innocent lives from mass murder, and b) there was no obvious imperial interest like oil. Such an intervention would at least confuse the rest of the world about the belligerent (unilateralist), oil-hungry, and feckless (didn’t even control the oil, bankrupted the country and threw millions into joblessness, foreclosure and poverty) policies of the American government But imperial authoritarians, Bush and Cheney, unwisely had little care in how they were perceived: do what we say for the next 20 years or we will blow you up right now; Bolton, the UN ambassador, added that it might be good to “blow ten stories off the UN” as well…

In his campaign and Presidency, Obama sought to correct this by returning to negotiations and moving with a genuine coalition and, in this case, some respect for international law (American murders by drone missile in Pakistan, by way of contrast, have none…). Security Council approval, though with five abstentions out of 15 including Germany (one of the leading opponents of the Iraq war), seemed to give this air invasion an aura of legitimacy. In addition, Obama chose Samantha Power as an advisor because she urged a new moral bent to American wars. The US government must intervene to protect the innocent, as it failed to do, under Clinton, in Rwanda. Her book, A Problem from Hell, bizarrely leaves out vast American military aid to Saddam Hussein, treating his genocide toward the Kurds as a local problem. The poison gas with which Saddam murdered ome 1,500 people at Halabja was provided to him, in exchange for cash, by the United States; much American foreign “aid” and diplomacy – including some 6,500 people employed by embassies abroad according to Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback, is part of furthering the war complex’s arms sales around the globe.

Power describes Romeo Dallaire, the heroic General in charge of UN troops in Rwanda who defied Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali's obscene order to withdraw, calling a Clinton official about aid to prevent genocide toward the Tutsi (as well as Hutu moderates), and getting the following, abhorrent comment: “One American casualty is worth 85,000 Rwandan lives.” See here on Dallaire. This remark reflected Clinton-covering himself politically after the debacle in Somalia. But note how much like Bush and Rumsfeld – the Pentagon did not keep track of Iraqis murdered or displaced - this Clintonian statement is. 1 American life is worth an unknown but vast number of Iraqi lives. Bush and my student Condi did not claim at the time that it was a humanitarian intervention; such ratios make such claims farcical…

Like Obama, Power opposed the Iraq aggression (it was one step too far, built simply on lies). But she and Obama agree that America should not value the lives of its soldiers in terms of a multitude of other - one might say nonwhite, though many Americans who serve are also nonwhite – lives.*** The international community has increasingly recognized a “responsibility to protect.” As a friend of mine who writes on US foreign policy recently note about my last post (here):

"Dear Alan,

A small note re your post on the Goldhagen debate: the phrase is 'the responsibility to protect' (referred to in shorthand as R2P or RtoP), not 'the right to protect'. R2P is contained in the 'Outcome Document' of the 2005 UN World Summit, paras. 138 and 139. As Michael Doyle notes (in "International Ethics and the Responsibility to Protect," International Studies Review 13:1, March 2011), the Outcome Document is a General Assembly resolution and thus is a recommendation rather than a "binding international law obligation on the Security Council." Hence R2P does not revolutionize international law, but the fact that Ban Ki-Moon cited it in connection with the Libya resolution is nonetheless significant, I think.


Obama was no anti-imperialist. He did not intend to wean, and does not see the necessity, even in the midst of a depression, of weaning America from militarism. But he did aim to give a new and genuine moral component to American war policy.

In the Libya decision, Obama was initially – for sound reasons probably, not wanting America to co-opt, pervert and make an enemy of the cause of Arab democracy – against attacking. But several advisors, notably Power and UN ambassador Susan Rice, joined by Hillary Clinton, urged military action to save lives. And Obama did in Benghazi. That was, taken by itself, a good thing. Ghadhafi is a murderous tyrant (the rebels are for him “outsider Al-Qaida” forces as Jon Lee Anderson discovers here.

But curiously, Obama slipped into an alliance with the neocons (for whom no American aggression or slaughter is ever unjustified, even the murderous debacle in Iraq no reason to think that the US is not a “benevolent” hegemon, and in official Washington and the corporate media, they continue, no matter how many times wrong, to be welcomed as “experts”). Obama here did something good (as Bob Kagan, close to a war criminal on Iraq, nonetheless did in his early support for a very limited Egyptian democracy). But Steve Walt aptly emphasizes below the close kinship of the neocons and the liberal think-tankers and advisors – the neo-neo-cons. They are two sides of the same thuggish, militarist and self-destructive coin…

In the larger context internationally, the US could intervene in Libya as opposed to Bahrain where the decadent tyranny is slaughtering protestors or Yemen because its military aid and ties to Khadhafy are recent and slight. The partial or somewhat good impression Obama hopes to create in the Middle East, comes from the fact that the US isn’t just seeking oil as in Iraq, is not just expanding its military bases, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has not just sunk 1.3 billion per year in military aid for 29 years, into the military as in Egypt. Here is America, and the international community exercising the responsibility to protect. It is not as good for this purpose as my satirical suggestion about Darfur and Bush once was - Libya, and in fact, Benghazi have oil - but it saves lives. In this respect, Obama decided to make a new precedent: to use American power, in a multilateral intervention, to do something good.

Now the African union had opposed any military strike against Ghadhafi. But the Arab League had called for it. So seemingly the coalition was broad enough to sustain this invasion as something other than a Western imperial exercise. Seemingly – the Arab League dropped out after the first missile strikes and reports of civilian casualties (see Andrew Sullivan’s comment on Hilary Clinton’s warmongering two days ago: dumb, dumb dumb dumb - though unlike her role in Egypt here, this was, if deeply misguided, at least a gesture at decency...). Of course, Arab tyrants and their lackeys are not the people making Arab spring...

In addition, the Sunni tyrant in Bahrain is viciously suppressing the majority Shia population, even tearing down the monument in Pearl Square because it symbolizes the demonstrations. He is joined by 1000 troops and arms from Saudi Arabia, where the center of the world’s oil supply and the biggest tyrant, is quivering. Those troops are American armed (see Obama's "success." the recent $65 billion in arms sales, subsidized by American tax payers, to King Abdullah). In Egypt, Obama had finally turned against Clinton (the last supporter of Mubarak) to support the “power of nonviolence” in an eloquent speech about Mubarak's fall. See here.

He perhaps sees that praise of nonviolence and democracy, his warnings against tyrants shooting civilians, the right of people to assemble freely, and the Tomahawks sent against Libya as simply of a piece. Out of context, they are. He can say to himself – I am a decent President, better than the alternatives (not hard when the competition is Bush or Cheney or Hilary or Palin or Romney or Pawlenty…). But he is not a wise or transformational President (he could have been) who provides the leadership, even from an American elite standpoint, that this dangerous situation requires.

In context, Obama goes against Ghadhafi, whom America had not armed to the teeth or tolerated until 2003. Ghadhafi, unlike Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, is thus not a major American client as every person in the Middle East knows. The United States still arms to the teeth corrupt dictators like the Saudi rulers or the tyrant in Bahrain or in Yemen or the generals in Egypt (it remains to be seen what they will do, although the referendum two days ago was a heartening step toward parliamentary democracy) all over the region. It has escalated a hopeless war in Afghanistan, murdering 9 little boys while “General” Petraeus blames their mothers for putting them – gathering wood for their families – in the US army’s way (that Petraeus has not been forced swiftly to resign for this bit of grostesque racism by Obama is perhaps the ultimate testimony to American militarism and decadence****). But the bombing of Ghadhafy’s forces will not confuse most Arabs who are fighting for democracy. Only firm action toward stopping Israeli harms toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories could really change some minds about America in the Middle East (see here and here). The impression American imperial militarism – one has but to look at the fifth fleet off Bahrain, the sixth fleet off Spain – creates in Arabs, and for that matter Europeans, is strong, justifiably frightening and angering, and will not easily be altered.

Now a danger in this multilateral Western attack is to curtail or even reverse Arab uprisings for democracy. Fortunately, the Tunisian and Egyptian people, who overturned two American/French supported dictatorships, are not easily turned around (Sarkozy’s "leading" of war in Libya is linked to his government’s disgraceful support, until the very end, for the Tunisian tyrant Ben Ali). But Arab spring is continuing in Yemen. There the dictator Saleh had 59 protestors murdered in Sana'a last Friday. As a result, the military chief Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar came over to support the people as did many soldiers (see below):

"Anti-government protesters based at Sana'a University were ecstatic to hear of the general's defection. Soldiers moved freely in and out of the protest camp, drinking tea, posing for photographs and receiving kisses from demonstrators who have camped there for more than a month demanding a change in regime."

Yesterday, according to the BBC, Saleh announced he would resign and have parliamentary elections. This is like Mubarak’s attempt to hang on in Egypt. Class struggle and democracy from below are having their way with tyrants despite the interests and efforts of the “world’s greatest” military belligerent. Martin Luther King was right in his speech April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church to speak of" my government, the most violent in the world." He said that of Lyndon Johnson who had been a leading proponent of civil rights (someone King had mistakenly supported in 1964 against the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, but here broke with) and he might well say it of Obama now. But ordinary people, and democracy, today in Yemen, are changing the face of the Middle East.

In addition, as I emphasize in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, there is a profound anti-democratic feedback at home from American wars. Obama has now strengthened the American tyranny created by Bush and Cheney: trashing the Constitution and the rule of law. As Glenn Greenwald here and Andrew Sullivan both emphasize, the debate about going to war was of Obama’s advisors and Obama. No effort was made to persuade the American public that another war in the Middle East was a good thing. Obama just promised to be out in days (perhaps this is a self-delusion; such attacks are never short). Some may respond to the decency of saving lives, given the short time frame, if there is no long aftermath. But Obama’s utter inattention politically or as a democratic or constitutional leader is shocking. Among liberals like Kucinich who called for his impeachment as well as serious conservatives, he is isolated. Few support the way he did the war, except the neocons who arrogantly chortle that he is now a hesitant supporter of their imperial dementia. In the US, this new war,unless the US presence ends swiftly, gives signs of being a political disaster for Obama (that he is a thoughtful Sarah Palin or John McCain or Hillary Clinton will not help him in the next election…).

One might add: there is already a depression. Americans cannot afford the $81 million of tomahawk missiles sent up Saturday, let alone the billions in getting them there, basing, and the already two losing occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the aggression in Pakistan...The Republicans stand for extreme authoritarianism for a tiny capitalist elite – the union busting of the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and Scott Walker, a sort of unreconstructed Scrooge on steroids. The latter now alone make Obama promising for reelection, though one might add: why does Obama fire missiles and do nothing except cautious statements about the firing of teachers?

As in Cairo, the people have protested in Wisconsin, and are now demonstrating in Michigan and Ohio and Denver (big labor demonstrations on the theme "We are One" are called for April 4, and I will speak at one at Metro at noon joining janitors from the SEIU, AFSCME, immigrants rights groups advocating for the right of young people born and/or schooled in America to go to college, other AFL-CIO unions, and students and teachers…It will honor and recall Martin Luther King).

But now Obama has launched yet another war. Yes, there are some people saved (if America can get out quickly, the no fly zone may prove a decent, though politically unviable thing). But if the war goes on as is likely, the issue of the pain – and widespread opposition to all the wars – will come to the fore against Obama. The imperial President acted, listening to his advisors, and ignoring the American public. Catering to militarism is a tight rope, and Obama seems in this respect, to have, unacrobatically, flopped off (Obama is not arrogant or lordly, but the hubris of being President has gone, in this respect, to his head, too).

More deeply, in England, Prime Minister David Cameron took his decision to go to war two days ago to Parliament. Obama is in Brazil. Democracy, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are now things America urges on others, having increasingly, even under Obama, abandoned them (Note collective bargaining is sanctioned under UN agreements as a leading example of freedom of association, the highest law of the land (the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Article 6 section 2, also makes treaties signed by the United States, the highest American law). Collective bargaining has long rightly been urged on others as in Reagan's support of Lech Walesa and the Polish solidarity; yet American "Governors" can operate against the law and decency and US foreign policy in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and survive for at least a time in the corporate media.

Bradley Manning is now being tortured by Obama. See here and Jack Balkin on the National Surveillance State here. Sadly, Obama's moves are a degeneration or further emergence of the American police state, even compared to the corrupt doctrine of “state secrets” put forward previously by the administration. Fortunately, in a triumph of civil rights, a three judge appellate court ruled unanimously that a suit to go forward against the FISA amendments' vast expansion of warrantless government investigation of emails and telephone calls of Americans. That court is playing its role in checks and balances, moving, to an extent. to restore the rule of law. But in contrast to his campaign, Obama is now no friend of the rule of law; he is actively subverting the separation of powers. See Greenwald here.

Bill Mckibben wrote a powerful article in the Guardian this weekend on the fragility of our technology and the dangers, as we continue in the same path, to the planet (below). Ian jared Miller, who taught in Japan, emphasized in "Bitter Legacy, Injured Coast" in Sunday's New York Times the weakness of all of Japan’s sophisticated technological preparation against earthquakes and tsunamis here. He describes the beaches named for the Pure Land of Buddhism because of their beauty. He describes reaching with his young students the marker, high in the mountains over the coast, where the 1896 tsunami reached. In 1986, he points out, technology protected against a tsunami. This month it did not, and the nuclear plant managers, to preseve them, did not act swiftly to prevent the fuel rods from being exposed, burning off the sea, releasing radiation into the atmosphere. All the comments from Japan in the Times, though some indicate the great resoluteness and creativity of the Japanese people, also underline this arrogance. See James Carroll's "Silent Spring" here.

Obama once promised to do something about global warming. Now he does little except position himself (against horrifying opponents) to be reelected. But can the world survive endless American militarism even if, once in a while, it is used, in part, for humanitarian purposes? The oil flooding the Gulf from BP was last year’s news. Today it is radiation from Japan. In this context, even if multilateral military efforts to protect lives succeed, will this make American militarism, stumbling blindly toward collapse, survivable?

Tunisia and Egypt and Madion, and the demonstrations in Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan are all – whether reported or not in the corporate press – harbingers of a renewed international democratic movement. But the dangers of imperial arrogance – the increasing police state mode – of “the world’s greatest democracy,” even headed by Obama (I would still emphasize what his promise meant) coupled with the increasing destructiveness of technology – the sorcerer’s apprentice fairy tale, or in Heidegger’s idiom, the “standing reserve,” which is now increasingly out of control – are frightening.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by The Independent/UK
Yemen's President on Brink as Army Switches Sides to Join Rebels
After Friday's massacre of 52 protesters, military is now lining up tanks to protect crowds calling for end of 32-year reign
by Jeb Boone in Sana'a

Yemen's embattled President was hit by a wave of defections among his generals yesterday as tanks from rival factions took to the streets of the capital in a setback to his attempts to stay in power.

The regime vowed to counter any attempts at a coup after the country's top military commander switched sides and joined the protesters calling for end to the 32-year rule of Ali Saleh.

President Saleh appeared increasingly isolated after some ambassadors, religious and tribal leaders and sections of the military all turned on him. The military defections put more than 50 per cent of the military on the side of the rebellion.

Anti-government protesters based at Sana'a University were ecstatic to hear of the general's defection. Soldiers moved freely in and out of the protest camp, drinking tea, posing for photographs and receiving kisses from demonstrators who have camped there for more than a month demanding a change in regime.

The defections appeared to be in response to the regime's decision to use increased violence to fight protests against President Saleh's rule. Rooftop-based snipers loyal to the regime killed 52 protesters on Friday, prompting the President to sack his cabinet and declare a state of emergency.

The top commander, Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a former close ally of the President, yesterday condemned the Saleh regime and declared his support for the revolution on behalf of the military. "Repressing peaceful demonstrators in public areas around the country has led to a cycle of crises which is getting more complicated each day and pushing the country towards civil war," he said.

The general's forces on Sunday took up positions around a protest camp at Sana'a University. Once in position, he declared that his men would now protect the anti-government protesters from further attack. The general also sent tanks to the central bank and other strategic centres.

Following the defection, the Defence Minister, Mohammad Nasser Ali, claimed that the army still backed the President. "We will not allow an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy, or violation of the security of the nation and citizens," he said.

An elite military force of Republican Guards led by the President's son and one-time heir apparent deployed tanks and armoured vehicles outside the presidential palace.

However, many feel that General Ali Muhsin's defection means the end of the Saleh regime. "There is a 60 per cent chance that this will become a bloodless coup," said one Yemeni government official.

Protesters were jubilant. "The army is with us. Praise God," said one, speaking on a stage at the university camp.

One soldier loyal to General Ali Muhsin guarding the protest camp wore a sash over his uniform that read: "For a better democratic society." Another rallied thousands of protesters, chanting: "Long live Yemen and long live the people's revolution."

Muhammad Qa'id, a 32-year-old unemployed teacher, said: "We welcome Ali Muhsin and his men to the revolution. They are not joining us as the army but simply as Yemenis joining hands with their brothers in revolution."

The defection forced a hasty reappraisal of General Ali Muhsin's role. The general's portrait had hung alongside photos and cartoons of President Saleh and other ruling party officials on the side of a tent and labelled: "criminals". Protesters yesterday scrambled to remove his picture from the line-up.

"If he wants to play a major part in a new Yemen, he can," said Adel al-Sarabi, one of the student organisers of the Sana'a University sit in.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, yesterday became the first Western leader to call publicly for the President to stand down.

"We say this to Yemen, where the situation is worsening. We estimate today that the departure of President Saleh is unavoidable," he said.

David Cameron told Parliament yesterday that he was "extremely disturbed" by what was happening in Yemen. Western countries are concerned about the unrest in Yemen given the absence of a clear alternative leader and their view of the President as a bulwark against al-Qa'ida in the Arabian peninsula.

What intervention in Libya tells us about the neocon-liberal alliance
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, March 21, 2011 - 11:16 AM

Last Wednesday I spoke at an event at Hofstra University, on the subject of "Barack Obama's Foreign Policy." The other panelists were former DNC chair and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean and longtime Republican campaign guru Ed Rollins. The organizers at Hofstra were efficient and friendly, the audience asked good questions, and I thought both Dean and Rollins were gracious and insightful in their comments. All in all, it was a very successful session.

During the Q & A, I talked about the narrowness of foreign policy debate in Washington and the close political kinship between the liberal interventionists of the Democratic Party and the neoconservatives that dominate the GOP. At one point, I said that "liberal inteventionists are just ‘kinder, gentler' neocons, and neocons are just liberal interventionsts on steroids."

Dean challenged me rather forcefully on this point, declaring that there was simply no similarity whatsoever between a smart and sensible person like U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and a "crazy guy" like Paul Wolfowitz. (I didn't write down Dean's exact words, but I am certain that he portrayed Wolfowitz in more-or-less those terms). I responded by listing all the similarites between the two schools of thought, and the discussion went on from there.

I mention this anecdote because I wonder what Dean would say now. In case you hadn't noticed, over the weekend President Obama took the nation to war against Libya, largely on the advice of liberal interventionists like Ambassador Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and NSC aides Samantha Power and Michael McFaul. According to several news reports I've read, he did this despite objections from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy, both groups believe that U.S. power -- and especially its military power -- can be a highly effective tool of statecraft. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America's right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world. Both groups consistently over-estimate how easy it will be to do this, however, which is why each has a propensity to get us involved in conflicts where our vital interests are not engaged and that end up costing a lot more than they initially expect.

So if you're baffled by how Mr. "Change You Can Believe In" morphed into Mr. "More of the Same," you shouldn't really be surprised. George Bush left in disgrace and Barack Obama took his place, but he brought with him a group of foreign policy advisors whose basic world views were not that different from the people they were replacing. I'm not saying their attitudes were identical, but the similarities are probably more important than the areas of disagreement. Most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has become addicted to empire, it seems, and it doesn't really matter which party happens to be occupying Pennsylvania Avenue.

So where does this leave us? For starters, Barack Obama now owns not one but two wars. He inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and he chose to escalate instead of withdrawing. Instead of being George Bush's mismanaged blunder, Afghanistan became "Obama's War." And now he's taken on a second, potentially open-ended military commitment, after no public debate, scant consultation with Congress, without a clear articulation of national interest, and in the face of great public skepticism. Talk about going with a gut instinct.

When the Security Council passed Resolution 1973 last week and it was clear we were going to war, I credited the administration with letting Europe and the Arab League take the lead in the operation. My fear back then, however, was that the Europeans and Arab states would not be up to the job and that Uncle Sucker would end up holding the bag. But even there I gave them too much credit, insofar as U.S. forces have been extensively involved from the very start, and the Arab League has already gone wobbly on us. Can anyone really doubt that this affair will be perceived by people around the world as a United States-led operation, no matter what we say about it?

More importantly, despite Obama's declaration that he would not send ground troops into Libya -- a statement made to assuage an overcommitted military, reassure a skeptical public, or both -- what is he going to do if the air assault doesn't work? What if Qaddafi hangs tough, which would hardly be surprising given the dearth of attractive alternatives that he's facing? What if his supporters see this as another case of illegitimate Western interferences, and continue to back him? What if he moves forces back into the cities he controls, blends them in with the local population, and dares us to bomb civilians? Will the United States and its allies continue to pummel Libya until he says uncle? Or will Obama and Sarkozy and Cameron then decide that now it's time for special forces, or even ground troops?

And even if we are successful, what then? As in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, over forty years of Qaddafi's erratic and despotic rule have left Libya in very poor shape despite its oil wealth. Apart from some potentially fractious tribes, the country is almost completely lacking in effective national institutions. If Qaddafi goes we will own the place, and we will probably have to do something substantial to rebuild it lest it turn into an exporter of refugees, a breeding ground for criminals, or the sort of terrorist "safe haven" we're supposedly trying to prevent in Afghanistan.

But the real lesson is what it tells us about America's inability to resist the temptation to meddle with military power. Because the United States seems so much stronger than a country like Libya, well-intentioned liberal hawks can easily convince themselves that they can use the mailed fist at low cost and without onerous unintended consequences. When you have a big hammer the whole world looks like a nail; when you have thousand of cruise missiles and smart bombs and lots of B-2s and F-18s, the whole world looks like a target set. The United States doesn't get involved everywhere that despots crack down on rebels (as our limp reaction to the crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain demonstrate), but lately we always seems to doing this sort of thing somewhere. Even a smart guy like Barack Obama couldn't keep himself from going abroad in search of a monster to destroy.

And even if this little adventure goes better than I expect, it's likely to come back to haunt us later. One reason that the Bush administration could stampede the country to war in Iraq was the apparent ease with which the United States had toppled the Taliban back in 2001. After a string of seeming successes dating back to the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. leaders and the American public had become convinced that the Pentagon had a magic formula for remaking whole countries without breaking a sweat. It took the debacle in Iraq and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan to remind us of the limits of military power, and it seems to have taken Obama less than two years on the job to forget that lesson. We may get reminded again in Libya, but if we don't, the neocon/liberal alliance will be emboldened and we'll be more likely to stumble into a quagmire somewhere else.

And who's the big winner here? Back in Beijing, China's leaders must be smiling as they watch Washington walk open-eyed into another potential quagmire.

Wars: Not Cheap
Andrew Sullivan 21 MAR 2011 09:02 AM

Exum does some math:

A Tomahawk Missile cost $569,000 in FY99, so if my calculations are correct, they cost a little over $736,000 today assuming they are the same make and model. The United States fired 110 missiles [Saturday], which adds up to a cost of around $81 million.

Sunday, March 20, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
Japan's Horror Reveals How Thin is the Edge We Live On
Climate change may not be responsible for the tsunami, but it is shrinking our margin of safety. It is time to shrink back ourselves
by Bill McKibben

It's scary to watch the video from Japan, and not just because of the frightening explosions at the Fukushima plant or the unstoppable surge of tsunami-wash through the streets. It's almost as unnerving to see the aftermath – the square miles of rubble, with boats piled on cars; the completely bare supermarket shelves. Because the one thing we've never really imagined is going to the supermarket and finding it empty.

What the events reveal is the thinness of the margin on which modernity lives. There's not a country in the world more modern and civilised than Japan; its building codes and engineering prowess kept its great buildings from collapsing when the much milder quake in Haiti last year flattened everything. But clearly it's not enough. That thin edge on which we live, and which at most moments we barely notice, provided nowhere near enough buffer against the power of the natural world.

We're steadily narrowing the margin. Global warming didn't cause the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Miyagi coast, but global warming daily is shrinking the leeway on which civilisation everywhere depends. Consider: sea levels have begun to rise. We're seeing record temperatures that depress harvests – the amount of grain per capita on the planet has been falling for years. Because warm air holds more water vapour than cold, the chance of severe flooding keeps going up and in the last year countries from Pakistan to Australia have recently ended up on the wrong side of those odds.

Those changes steadily eat away at that safety margin. With less food stored in our warehouses, each harvest becomes critical. With each massive flood, we have to spend more money rebuilding what was there before: there are still as many as 4 million homeless from Pakistan's floods, which means "development" has given way to "getting a tarp over your head". Even rich countries face this trouble: Australia cut much of its budget for renewable energy to help pay the recovery bill for soggy Queensland. Warmer temperatures are helping dengue fever spread; treating one case can use up the annual health budget for a dozen people in some Asian nation, meaning that much less for immunisations or nutrition. Just the increasing cost of insurance can be a big drag on economies: a study by Harvard and Swiss Re found that even in rich nations such as the US, larger and more frequent storms could "overwhelm adaptive capacities", rendering "large areas and sectors uninsurable". The bottom line was that, "in effect, parts of developed countries would experience developing nation conditions for prolonged periods".

There have always been natural disasters, and there always will be. For 10,000 years the planet has been by and large benign; you could tell where the safe margin for civilisation was because that's, by definition, where civilisation was built. But if the sea level rises a metre, that margin shrinks considerably: on a beach that slopes in at 1 degree, the sea is now nearly 90 metres nearer. And it's not just a literal shrinkage – the insecurity that comes with smaller food stocks or more frequent floods also takes a psychological toll: the world seems more cramped because it is more cramped.

We can try to deal with this in two ways. One is to attempt to widen it with more technology. If the Earth's temperature is rising, maybe we could "geoengineer" the planet, tossing sulphur into the atmosphere in an effort to block incoming sunlight. It's theoretically possible. But researchers warn it could do more harm than good, and maybe this isn't the week to trust the grandest promises of engineers, not when they've all but lost control of the highest technology we've ever built, there on the bluff at Fukushima. The other possibility is to try to build down a little: to focus on resilience, on safety. And to do that – here's the controversial part – instead of focusing on growth. We might decide that the human enterprise (at least in the west) has got big enough, that our appetites need not to grow, but to shrink a little, in order to provide us more margin. What would that mean? Buses and bikes and trains, not SUVs. Local food, with more people on the farm so that muscles replace some of the oil. Having learned that banks are "too big to fail", we might guess that our food and energy systems fall into that same category.

Imagine, for instance, a nation that got most of its power from rooftop solar panels knitted together in a vast distributed grid. It would take investment to get there – we'd have to divert money from other tasks, slowing some kinds of growth, because solar power is currently more expensive than coal power. We might not have constant access to unlimited power at every second of every day. In the end, though, you'd have not only less carbon in the atmosphere, but also a country far less failure-prone. The solar panels on my roof could break tonight – and I'd have a problem if they did – but it wouldn't ramify into rolling blackouts across the continent (and no one would need to stand in my driveway with a Geiger counter). Such changes wouldn't make the world safe: climatologists promise us we've already put enough carbon out there to raise our planet's temperature two degrees in the decades to come, which will make for a miserably difficult century. But they also promise that if we don't stop burning coal and oil, that number will double, and miserable will become impossible.

With Japan's horror still unfolding, there's nothing to do for the moment except watch, pray, and try to find some small ways to help people caught up in forces beyond their control. But the lesson we should learn, perhaps, is that it's time to back off a little. Suddenly squat and plain words – "durable", "stable", "robust" – sound sweeter to the ear.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, co-founder of, and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book is Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

*“The republican constitution, besides the purity of its origin (having sprung from the pure source of the concept of law), also gives a favorable prospect for the desired consequence, i.e., perpetual peace. The reason is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future. But, on the other hand, in a constitution which is not republican, and under which the subjects are not citizens, a declaration of war is the easiest thing in the world to decide upon, because war does not require of the ruler, who is the proprietor and not a member of the state, the least sacrifice of the pleasures of his table, the chase, his country houses, his court functions, and the like. He may, therefore, resolve on war as on a pleasure party for the most trivial reasons, and with perfect indifference leave the justification which decency requires to the diplomatic corps who are ever ready to provide it.” – Kant, “Perpetual Peace,” 1795

** In 1821, John Quincy Adams gave this remarkable warning:

"And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama [the potter's field in which Judas was buried] the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice."

Or consider John Jay writing in Federalist, 4:

"But the safety of the people of America against dangers from foreign force depends not only on their forbearing to give just causes of war to other nations, but also on their placing and continuing themselves in such a situation as not to invite hostility or insult; for it need not be observed that there are pretended as well as just causes of war."

"It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people."

***The American government forces blacks, through poverty, disproportionately, into the military and onto the front lines as in Nam. The observation is a case of US elite racism toward Americans and greater racism, toward Rwandans.

****It is of a piece with General Westmoreland's infamous statement that the Vietnamese "do not value human life." Only a genocidal American general, I guess, knows the value of a human life...

Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - the aggression is as nakedly murderous and racist now as then. Petraeus is a competitor for becoming a war criminal many times over. See here. He will be lucky, if historically speaking, he and his statement are forgotten.


Anonymous said...

Rats! This is my 4th time trying to post a comment. It keeps being erased.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,

I had a long comment. I will try to rewrite it later - in Word first. - Matt Bates

Alan Gilbert said...


I apologize for the program, which apparently does some difficult things. I will be very grateful to see the comments. Or send it to me separately and I will try to post it.

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