Remember This on Memorial Day: They Didn’t Fall, They Were Pushed

Of all the world’s holidays commemorating wars, Memorial Day should be one of sober reflection on war’s horrible costs, surely not a moment to glorify warfare or lust for more wars.

By Ray McGovern

How best to show respect for the U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for their families on Memorial Day? Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.

First, let’s be clear on at least this much: the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq – so far – and the 2,350 killed in Afghanistan – so far – did not “fall.” They were wasted on no-win battlefields by politicians and generals – cheered on by neocon pundits and mainstream “journalists” – almost none of whom gave a rat’s patootie about the real-life-and-death troops. They were throwaway soldiers.

And, as for the “successful surges,” they were just P.R. devices to buy some “decent intervals” for the architects of these wars and their boosters to get space between themselves and the disastrous endings while pretending that those defeats were really “victories squandered” – all at the “acceptable” price of about 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers each and many times that in dead Iraqis and Afghans.

Memorial Day should be a time for honesty about what enabled the killing and maiming of so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the senior military brass simply took full advantage of a poverty draft that gives upper-class sons and daughters the equivalent of exemptions, vaccinating them against the disease of war.

What drives me up the wall is the oft-heard, dismissive comment about troop casualties from well-heeled Americans: “Well, they volunteered, didn’t they?” Under the universal draft in effect during Vietnam, far fewer were immune from service, even though the well-connected could still game the system to avoid serving. Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, for example, each managed to pile up five exemptions. This means, of course, that they brought zero military experience to the job; and this, in turn, may explain a whole lot — particularly given their bosses’ own lack of military experience.

The grim truth is that many of the crème de la crème of today’s Official Washington don’t know many military grunts, at least not intimately as close family or friends. They may bump into some on the campaign trail or in an airport and mumble something like, “thank you for your service.” But these sons and daughters of working-class communities from America’s cities and heartland are mostly abstractions to the powerful, exclamation points at the end of some ideological debate demonstrating which speaker is “tougher,” who’s more ready to use military force, who will come out on top during a talk show appearance or at a think-tank conference or on the floor of Congress.

Sharing the Burden? (more…)

The West and ISIS

By Jim Wight

Far from the boasts made by the US, British, and French governments that IS would be destroyed, they have been unable to even contain the extremist jihadi group as it marches from city to city and town to town in Syria and Iraq, seemingly without constraint, sowing chaos and carnage in the process.

There are a number of reasons why the West has made a virtue of failure and disaster in the region. The first, of course, is the determination to prosecute a hegemonic strategy regardless of the consequences. We can trace the modern incarnation of this strategy to the 2003 war in Iraq, which only succeeded in destabilizing the country preparatory to it descending into the abyss of sectarian violence and schism, where it exists today, 12 years later.

The short-lived Arab Spring of 2011/12, which after decades spent living under corrupt dictatorships gave millions of people across the region reason to hope for a better future, gave way to an Arab Winter in the form of a counter-revolutionary process driven by Western intervention – first in Libya with the air war unleashed against the Gaddafi regime, and then in Syria with its support for the opposition against Assad. The resulting chaos laid the ground for the emergence of various al-Qaeda affiliated groups, followed by ISIL/ISIS, later morphing into IS (or Daesh in Arabic).

Despite carrying out airstrikes against the organization both in Syria and Iraq, it has taken Ramadi in western Iraq and the ancient city of Palmyra in the district of Homs in central Syria with alarming ease. After failing to take the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria, next to the Turkish border, and losing Tikrit to Iraq government forces earlier this year, its butchery and barbarism is once again resurgent.

The loss of Ramadi in particular, a mere 80 miles from Baghdad, is a major embarrassment for Washington, despite Obama’s incredulous statement that it merely constitutes a “setback.” The billions of dollars funnelled into Iraq by the US to finance the reconstitution of the Iraqi Army has proved akin to pouring money down a drain. The elite Golden Division, for example, stationed in Ramadi, tucked tail and fled almost on first contact with IS forces, leaving in its wake a significant amount of US-supplied hardware and equipment.

What’s clear by now is that a full-blown Sunni-Shia conflict is underway across the region, pitting Sunni-supported IS against an Iranian-supported Shia militia that has already proved its mettle with the taking back of Tikrit. The context of this struggle is the deep enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia, informing a series of proxy local conflicts in Yemen and most prominently in Iraq and Syria.

Further, when it comes to this conflict, the West is on the wrong side – friendly with those it has no business being friends with, and enemies of those it has no business being enemies with. The Saudis, Qataris, and Turkey have been guilty of fomenting the chaos and carnage with both the active or passive support for IS, without which it could not sustain its existence and enjoyed the success it has.

In particular the Saudi gang of corrupt potentates, sitting in gilded palaces in Riyadh, have long been dredging a deep well of hypocrisy as part of the US-led grand coalition against IS and its medieval barbarism. A state that beheads almost as many people in public as IS, the oil-rich kingdom’s status as a close Western ally is beyond reprehensible. Money talks, but in Riyadh it flows alongside a river of blood spilled in the name of Wahhabism, the perverse and extreme Sunni ideology that underpins the obscene luxury and ostentation of the nation’s ruling clan.

Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, supported by Russia, are currently leading the ‘real’ struggle against the savagery of IS. Yet each of them is regarded as a threat to regional stability and Western interests, and scorned as such.

The need for a major reorientation of the West’s entire Middle East policy is glaringly obvious. Instead of lurching from one disaster to another – all in the name of ‘democratism’, which is not to be confused with democracy – a coherent strategy to defeat IS and its butchery rather than make it stronger would entail the formation of a coalition of the willing, comprising Iran and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s survival as a secular state, in which the rights of minorities are upheld, is from guaranteed as the conflict that has ripped the country apart enters its fourth year. Its people have suffered immeasurable harm over the course of this brutal conflict, suffering that evinces no sign of letting up soon.

The Assad government and the Syrian army, which has bled like no other army has in recent times, have proved unbelievably resolute in resisting both Syria’s invasion by thousands of foreign jihadis, and the enormous pressure levelled against the regime by US and its allies, both within and without the region.

As for Iraq, the damage wrought by the sectarianism of the Maliki government, prior to it being ousted in August 2014, is even worse than most thought. The Iraqi Army is unfit for purpose, riven with corruption and a lack of morale. The fact that 200 IS militants were able to rout the 2000 Iraqi troops defending Ramadi tells its own story. It is also evident that IS has been able to exploit the disaffection of the Sunni population throughout Anbar Province – otherwise known as the Sunni Triangle – without whose either active or passive support they would not have been able to take first Fallujah and now Ramadi.

Iraq’s permanent schism along sectarian lines is closer now than it has ever been. This rather than a Western-style democracy is the end result of Bush and Blair’s war of 2003.

The spreading destabilization of the Middle East is a threat to stability and security everywhere. With every gain made by IS more disaffected young Muslims throughout the West are attracted to its ideology. As Malcolm X said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.”

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Copyright © CounterPunch

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

Why Islamic State Is Winning

The Saudi-Israeli alliance and U.S. neocons have pressured President Obama into continuing U.S. hostility toward the secular Syrian government despite major military gains by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, leading to an emerging catastrophe in the Mideast.

By Daniel Lazare

President Barack Obama and his foreign policy staff are not having a very merry month of May. The Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, Iraq, on May 15 was one of the greatest U.S. military embarrassments since Vietnam, but the fall of Palmyra, Syria, just five days later made it even worse. This is an administration that, until recently, claimed to have turned the corner on Islamic State.

In March, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, assured the House Armed Services Committee that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) was in a “defensive crouch” and unable to conduct major operations, while Vice President Joe Biden declared in early April that “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed.”

A couple of weeks later, the President proved equally upbeat following a meeting with Iraqi leader Haider al-Abadi: “We are making serious progress in pushing back ISIL out of Iraqi territory. About a quarter of the territory fallen under Daesh control has been recovered. Thousands of strikes have not only taken ISIL fighters off the war theater, but their infrastructure has been deteriorated and decayed. And under Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership, the Iraqi security forces have been rebuilt and are getting re-equipped, retrained, and strategically deployed across the country.”

But that was so last month. Post-Ramadi, conservatives like Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have lost no time in labeling such views out of touch and “delusional.” And, indeed, Obama sounded strangely detached on Tuesday when he told The Atlantic that ISIS’s advance was not a defeat.

“No, I don’t think we’re losing,” he said, adding: “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.” It was rather like the captain of the Titanic telling passengers that the gash below the waterline was a minor opening that would soon be repaired.

Not that the rightwing view is any less hallucinatory. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, faults Obama for not doing more to topple the Assad regime in Damascus, as if removing the one effective force against ISIS would be greeted with anything less than glee by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his hordes.

“We don’t have a strategy,” House Speaker John Boehner complained on Tuesday. “For over two years now, I’ve been calling on the President to develop an overarching strategy to deal with this growing terrorist threat. We don’t have one, and the fact is that the threat is growing than what we and our allies can do to stop it.” But when asked what a winning strategy might be, the House Speaker could only reply, “It’s the President’s responsibility.” In other words, Boehner is as clueless as anyone else.

In fact, the entire foreign-policy establishment is clueless, just as it was in 2003 when it all but unanimously backed President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Both Republicans and Democrats are caught in a disastrous feedback loop in which journalists and aides tell them what they want to hear and resolutely screen out everything to the contrary. But facts have a way of asserting themselves whether Washington wants them to or not.

The Whys of Failure (more…)

US Sending Weapons To Iraq To Use Against Weapons US Previously Sent To Iraq

It’s almost like war is a business. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the United States would be sending 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq. While the Department of Defense emphasized that the rockets were being sent to help combat suicide car bombs, there is another target anti-tank rockets might be needed for in Iraq these days – US tanks and other vehicles in the hands of ISIS.

That’s right, while ISIS is mostly made up by local reactionaries living out a fantasy from the 7th century the weapons they now have in their possession are cutting edge tech. After the Iraqi army first collapsed ISIS gained control of numerous US weapons and vehicles sent to the Iraqi army including modern US tanks. The kind you might need anti-tank rockets for.

Now with the recent fall of Ramadi to ISIS forces the militants have a new cache of US weapons:

The ISIS fleet of captured U.S. military vehicles, including M1A1 tanks, grew by more than 100 when Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled the provincial capital of Ramadi 60 miles west of Baghdad and abandoned their equipment , Pentagon officials said Tuesday.In addition, “there were some artillery pieces left behind,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, but he could not say how many.

About 100 wheeled vehicles and “in the neighborhood of dozens of tracked vehicles” were lost to ISIS when the last remaining Iraqi defenders abandoned the city of about 500,000, Warren said. The tracked vehicles were mostly armored personnel carriers but “maybe half a dozen tanks” were in the mix, Warren said. He did not say what type of tanks they were. Photos posted by ISIS on social media purported to show about 10 M1A1 Abrams tanks in their possession and large amounts of captured ammunition.

Well this is an interesting game – send weapons to Iraqi army which loses US weapons retreating from ISIS, then send more weapons to Iraqi army to fight now better-armed ISIS only to retreat again and lose more US weapons to ISIS. Rinse, repeat, and consider buying defense stocks.

But don’t worry, the US military will also be attacking some of the US military equipment – ISIS won’t get it all right away. But look on the bright side, now we have somewhere to send all those tanks that the Pentagon did not want but Congress demanded be produced.

And you thought Washington didn’t have a jobs program.

Government Seeks ‘Emergency Stay’ of Decision Ordering Release of Thousands of Torture Photos

The United States government requested an “emergency stay” of a federal court decision, which ordered thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan to be released.

In March, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York was no longer willing to tolerate the government’s secrecy arguments or the government’s refusal to individually review each photo and explain why each photo would pose a national security risk if made public.

The judge immediately issued a temporary stay and gave the government 60 days to file an appeal.

With that 60-day period about to elapse, the government abruptly announced it would appeal on May 15 and filed a motion requesting a stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pursued the release of records related to detainee treatment and “the death of prisoners in United States custody and abroad after September 11, 2001,” since October 2003, objected in a letter to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF].

“The government simply does not explain why it could not have made its decision long before the eve of the expiration of the stay granted by the district court,” the ACLU declares. “Its last minute decision to do so is abusive of both the court and counsel and should not be rewarded by the routine grant of this kind of motion which the government expressly seeks.”

Back in August, when Hellerstein ruled that the Secretary of Defense’s certification for keeping the photos secret was “inadequate,” the government was instructed to individually review the photographs and inform the court of why each photograph could not be released. Government attorneys rebuffed his request.

In October and February, the court reminded the government that the Secretary of Defense had to certify each picture “in terms of its likelihood or not to endanger American lives.” It explained again afterward that the government could not certify a mass of photographs as a risk to national security. The government never complied, which led to the judge’s decision in March.

The Protected National Security Documents Act (PNSDA) was passed in October 2009 to amend the Freedom of Information Act. It was the prime measure supported by President Barack Obama to ensure torture photographs remained secret.

The law established that “photographs could be made exempt from disclosure for a three-year certification by the Secretary of Defense to the effect that publication would endanger American lives.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked President Barack Obama not to release photographs of detainees abuse, for “fear of the consequences.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates filed a certification to prevent the release of photographs and the court upheld that certification.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta renewed the certification, even though US troops had withdrawn and the war in Iraq had been declared over. (Military operations against ISIS were not ongoing at the time.)

The ACLU points out in the letter to the judge, “PNSDA did not strip courts of the power to review the basis for the secretary’s suppression of otherwise public documents.” The Secretary of Defense “must provided some basis to believe that he reviewed each photograph and evaluated its individual risk in advance of certification.”

Only a “sample of photographs” were ever reviewed by the government for this lawsuit, and the ACLU argues an “emergency stay” should not be granted because the government is not likely to succeed in its appeal.

The government maintains in its motion that an “emergency stay” will cause minimal harm to the ACLU. On the other hand, no stay will mean the photographs are released and the “status quo” is destroyed. It will harm the ability of the government to appeal.

“The absence of a stay will cause the disclosure of records that the Secretary of Defense has certified to be exempt from disclosure under the PNSDA, a statute that was enacted by Congress in order to protect U.S. citizens, members of the US Armed Services, and US government employees from harm while overseas,” the government argues. (more…)

Rand Paul Says Iraq Surge ‘Worked’

Something strange is happening to Senator Rand Paul. Since the beginning of his presidential campaign Paul has started to change his positions on a number of issues related to foreign policy and defense spending – issues that previously helped define his political identity.

First, in a surprise to many, Senator Paul signed on to a public letter to Iran that attempted to sabotage a nuclear weapons deal and start a war between the US and Iran. Then Paul argued – in complete contradiction to his history and purported libertarian beliefs – for increasing the defense budget.

Now Senator Paul is claiming the surge in Iraq “worked” despite the overwhelming evidence that the program merely emboldened a corrupt government in Baghdad to pursue unrestrained Shiite domination of Iraq – a dynamic that ultimately paved the way for ISIS to enter the country with Sunni support.

“Whether or not the surge worked–obviously, it worked,” said Paul, responding to a question from Bloomberg. “It was a military tactic and it worked. In fact, some of the ideas from the surge could be used again. In fact, the main problem we have with ISIS is that the Sunni population is either indifferent, supportive, or hates the Shiite government more than it hates ISIS.”

It is hard to figure out which part of this statement is worse – the complete abandonment of previously held principles or the idiotic analysis that claims something “worked” while acknowledging it did not fix the underlying problem. In any case, neither aspect of Paul’s statement is very confidence inspiring for a would-be president.

Senator Rand Paul may have never been a serious candidate for president, but he is proving to be more of a joke with each lame split-the-baby pandering attempt. He seems to have forgot that the reason people were interested in him was his breaking with Republican establishment orthodoxy, not the embracing of it.

The Media Misses the Point on ‘Proxy War’

Yemen is a Saudi war of aggression, while Syria and Libya are the result of a dangerous Gulf-led strategy of backing groups of sectarian fighters

By Gareth Porter

The term “proxy war” has experienced a new popularity in stories on the Middle East. Various news sources began using the term to describe the conflict in Yemen immediately, as if on cue, after Saudi Arabia launched its bombing campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen on 25 March. “The Yemen Conflict Devolves into Proxy War,” The Wall Street Journal headlined the following day. “Who’s fighting whom in Yemen’s proxy war?” a blogger for Reuters asked on 27 March.

And on the same day the Journal pronounced Yemen a proxy war, NBC News declared that the entire Middle East was now engulfed in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It is certainly time to discuss the problem of proxy war in the Middle East, because a series of such wars are the heart of the destabilisation and chaos engulfing the region. The problem with the recent stories featuring the term is that it is being used in a way that obscures some basic realities that some news media are apparently not comfortable acknowledging.

The real problem of proxy war must begin with the fact that the United States and its NATO allies opened the floodgates for regional proxy wars by the two major wars for regime change in Iraq and Libya. Those two profoundly destabilising wars provided obvious opportunities and motives for Sunni states across the Middle East to pursue their own sectarian and political power objectives through proxy war.

Is Yemen really a proxy war?

Prominent 20th century political scientist Karl Deutsch defined “proxy war” as “an international conflict between two foreign powers, fought out on the soil of a third country, disguised as a conflict over an internal issue of the country and using some of that country’s manpower, resources and territory as a means of achieving preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies”.

Deutsch’s definition makes it clear that proxy war involves the use of another country’s fighters rather than the direct use of force by the foreign power or powers. So it obvious that the Saudi bombing in Yemen, which has killed mostly civilians and used cluster bombs that have been outlawed by much of the world, is no proxy war but a straightforward external military aggression.

The fact that the news media began labelling Yemen a proxy war in response to the Saudi bombing strongly suggests that the term was a way of softening the harsh reality of Saudi aggression.

The assumption underlying that application of “proxy war” is, of course, that Iran had already turned Yemen into such a war by its support for the Houthis. But it ignores the crucial question of whether the Houthis had been carrying out “preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies”. Although Iran has certainly had ties with the Houthis, the Saudi propaganda line that the Houthis have long been Iranian proxies is not supported by the evidence. (more…)