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Obama Has Plans for ISIS; Now Congress Must Vote

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

obama-strategy-isis-videoSixteenByNine1050 2

The Guns of August, September, October . . .

Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. Statement by the President on ISIL, Sept. 10, 2014

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Happy 9/11, everyone.

We listened closely to President Obama’s speech last night, we have read the transcript, and, like many around the world, we are profoundly uneasy. It is clear that this president is seriously reluctant to get the United States re-involved in Iraq and to start anything with Syria. He and his national security team have drawn up a four-part plan “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”

(Was somebody saying something about the centenary of the outbreak of the war to end all wars?)

We are nervous, with a sense of dread, at the prospect of more war in the Middle East. We support the president’s preference for diplomatic solutions, for involving as many neighboring countries as possible, and assembling a coalition at the recent NATO summit meeting. It is right to push the Iraqi government to be more inclusive of Sunnis and Kurds (as the previous, U.S.-backed prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, was not). It is right to involve neighboring countries in the counterterrorism fight against ISIS; this cannot be the U.S. against ISIS. (That is what they want.)

. . . this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. 

But when the president says “we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” we have no confidence that the situation is controllable (see “dogs of war” below). With the new deployment of 475 more service members to Iraq, there will be 1,500 soldiers in Iraq (there were none in early June). As we wrote in mid-June, it’s beginning to smell like early Vietnam. Drone strikes and aerial assaults alone will not suffice, and the troops we’re supposedly partnering with, even the Kurdish pesh merga, are less than reliable. ISIS has captured serious military hardware from the Iraqi army that dropped its arms and fled. Anti-aircraft weaponry could be part of their arsenal. If one of our planes is shot down, and if the crew are taken prisoner, what happens then? The U.S. won’t abandon them on the battlefield.

BBC-mapISIS’s videos of beheading American journalists have (predictably) made the public revolted and angry—even individuals who a month earlier were not inclined to support any more U.S. military involvement anywhere. Now, most Americans say “We’ve got to do something”—and we agree—but it is important not to respond emotionally. We must not go into war angry. ISIS wants to provoke the U.S. into a fight—so did al Qaeda—and this is where the president’s patient assembling of a coalition of neighbors of Iraq and Syria is essential; this must not be a U.S. vs. ISIS (or Muslim) fight. It was good that President Obama made clear, early in his speech, that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ . . . It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq. . . . ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

And, let’s not forget, contrary to the neocons’ assertions, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. (Al Qaeda hated Saddam, a secularist too cozy with the West.) ISIS’s commanders include former generals from Iraq’s army that was disbanded, along with Saddam’s Baath Party, in 2003 by Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer, with disastrous results. These are among the reasons why we feel the U.S. is obligated to try to help clean up the mess—very carefully. (Click here for more background, and see links below.)

Congress Must Vote on This

Congress must step up and vote on whether to authorize additional force against ISIS. We want to see some “profiles in courage.” (Click here to contact your members of Congress; let’s bug hell out of ’em.) There is not a single member of Congress—Democrat, Independent, or Republican—about whose reelection hopes and job security we frankly give a damn; we want to see them do their jobs and fulfill their constitutionally required responsibility to declare war (or authorize the use of force). Per Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution:

[The Congress shall have Power . . .] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Further, the congressional Republicans who have blocked votes on more than 40 ambassador nominations—to Turkey, among other nations—should end their dangerous games and vote already. The diplomatic angle of the anti-ISIS struggle will not work without Turkey’s cooperation; we must have an ambassador now. (For much of this year—this year of all years—the U.S. did not have an ambassador to Russia because of GOP stonewalling. Country first.)

Senator Bernie Sanders makes an excellent point: that ISIS must be resisted, but we have severe problems here in the U.S. that must be tended to—a collapsing middle class, veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are not being taken care of by an underfunded Veterans Administration, and much more. National security begins at home.

Iraq War Is Already Costing $3 to $5 Trillion

Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes estimated the Iraq war would ultimately cost the United States some $3 trillion when all health care costs over the soldiers’ lifetimes are factored in. In 2008 they raised their estimate to $4 or $5 billion.

As noted by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, Jason Fields of Reuters has reported that the American airstrikes against ISIS (150 and counting) are destroying millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment the U.S. gave to the Iraqi army—the army we trained for years (“As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” said George W. Bush), the one that melted before the ISIS onslaught this year. Worse, Fields writes,

Now, U.S. warplanes are flying sorties, at a cost somewhere between $22,000 to $30,000 per hour for the F-16s, to drop bombs that cost at least $20,000 each, to destroy this captured equipment. That means if an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment. 

So here is what we want: For every dollar spent on new munitions fired at ISIS, fuel for jet fighters, etc., we want three dollars spent on veterans’ health care (including psychiatric counseling), three dollars on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and five to ten dollars spent on education, housing, and social services.

Because the escalated, re-upped war is being waged in part to make business and shipping conditions safe for the oil industry in and around the Persian Gulf, we want ExxonMobil and all the other U.S.-based oil companies doing business in the Middle East to pay higher corporate taxes—at least, say, 25 to 50 percent higher—and for the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department to enforce timely payment to the U.S. Treasury. The five largest oil firms doing business in Iraq are BP, Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Chevron.

On paper, statutorily, corporations are supposed to pay a tax rate of 35 percent. A 2011 study by Citizens for Tax Justice found that, over 2008–2010,

Exxon Mobil paid an effective three-year tax rate of only 14.2 percent. That’s 60 percent below the 35 percent rate that companies are supposed to pay. And over the past two years, Exxon Mobil’s net tax on its $9.9 billion in U.S. pretax profits was a minuscule $39 million, an effective tax rate of only 0.4 percent.

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There is very much we do not know, but, as far as we can see, the Obama administration has been careful and methodical about using diplomacy, preferring to withdraw troops (not precipitously), not rushing into conflict, and judicious and cautious regarding the super-complicated, internecine snake pit of the Syrian civil war. Just because the president is not exaggerating the threat ISIS poses to the Homeland; just because he is (apparently) not lying to us as some presidents have done (weapons of mass destruction 2003; Gulf of Tonkin 1964), does not mean that the renewal of war in Iraq won’t go badly out of control. They cannot tell us how this will end.

We worry, as does David Corn at Mother Jones, whether the dogs of war can be controlled once they are unleashed. This new escalation of the counterterrorism fight against ISIS is likely to last years, into the next administration. We worry when we consider that the U.S. not always have a president with the patience for deliberation that the current president has. Just look at the attention span and patience exhibited by Obama’s predecessor, and the consequences thereof.

Now, tell us again about the guns of August . . .

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Further Reading

What Obama Didn’t Say  (Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker)

Five Questions About the War Against ISIS That No One Should Be Embarrassed to Ask  (Think Progress)

The Twenty-Eight Pages: A Void in the History of September 11 (Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker)

Levees Not War on ISIS, Iraq, and Syria

Must We? For Now, But for How Long? A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq  (8/10/14)

Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad  (6/17/14)

Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”  (9/4/13)

Here We Go Again  (6/14/13)

Syria Seen as a Backdoor to War with Iran  (5/2/13)

How Many Wars? After Libya . . . ?  (3/26/11)

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

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Natl Security Team

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Top photo from The New York Times: pool photo by Saul Loeb; map in middle by BBC.

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Must We? For Now, But for How Long?

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq

“As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. . . . American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”President Obama, Aug. 7, 2014

ISIS areasOn Aug. 7 President Obama announced on live TV that he had authorized U.S. military strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and humanitarian airlifts of food and water to some 5,000 to 12,000 Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority, who have fled into the hills of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq to avoid being slaughtered by ISIS. On Aug. 9 he made a follow-up statement to prepare the public for what will be an extended operation. (President’s remarks here.)

Using Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets, the U.S. has launched airstrikes against ISIS forces around Erbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq where U.S. advisers are stationed. (The Kurds, long persecuted by Saddam Hussein, have been friendly to the U.S. since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

The American objectives at this time are primarily humanitarian and strategic: to prevent more deaths among the starving and dehydrated Yazidis, and to halt the already unnerving incursion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) into northern Iraq. ISIS is a militant Sunni group  founded in 2006 with ties to Al Qaeda—in fact they called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq—but Al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme. (Indeed, it is difficult to say whether “Iraq” as we have known it still exists, as ISIS has declared a “caliphate,” an Islamic state, that includes both Syria and Iraq; they have effectively erased the border between the two nations.) ISIS’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq in early June alarmed the Pentagon and White House enough that Obama ordered some 300 armed forces personnel to Baghdad to protect the U.S. embassy, then about 500 more personnel later. (See “Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad” 6/17/14.)

Sometimes It’s Not Easy Saying No

Yazidi children in IraqWe want very much to oppose this new use of U.S. military force in Iraq, but it’s complicated, and it’s hard to say Absolutely No. For one thing, we trust the judgment of this president who is so reluctant to send U.S. forces into action—in Iraq of all places, from which he worked hard to extricate our too-long-entrenched troops. This is partly a humanitarian mission—we agree with humanitarian missions in principle—and also, whether we like it or not, the United States is obligated to help clean up a mess that Obama’s neocon predecessors started by the mad, obsessive rush to war against Iraq in 2003.

“Complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the current predicament, but if the U.S. can help ease Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, out of office and help coordinate Iraqis’ organizing in a more representative government in Iraq, one that comprises Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish representatives, then the fury of ISIS may abate somewhat. For now, however, Maliki refuses to relinquish or even to consider sharing power. To a great extent, Maliki is the problem, but he’s not the only problem.

We feel strongly that the U.S. must not get involved (any more than we are already secretly, covertly involved) in the Syrian civil war. ISIS’s commanders apparently are based in Syria. We think President Obama was right to pull back from firing on Syria last year around Labor Day when he gave signals that the U.S. was about to fire on Syria for having used chemical weapons against their people. (See “Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote ‘Hell No’ ” 9/4/13) Obama had unwisely said that such would be a “red line” that Bashar al Assad could not be allowed to cross. Just because the president misspoke, however, did not obligate him to go ahead and make further mistakes by escalating a highly complicated conflict. America’s involvement would just blow the whole thing up, and we think Obama was right to step back, however embarrassing it was for the administration, and even though it added more ammunition to the conservative hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who criticize Obama’s foreign policy no matter what he does.

We Kind of Owe It to Them, After All

The United States has been involved in Iraq since at least the mid twentieth century, well before Saddam Hussein. In 1960 the CIA was making plans to incapacitate the communist-inclined dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim, who in 1958 had deposed the Iraqi monarchy that had been friendly to the West. (Oil, remember.) See “Plan to Oust Qasim” in Wikipedia’s entry here. (The CIA and the U.K. had engineered a coup in Iran in 1953 to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh; why stop there?)

As with Iran next door, U.S. relations with Iraq have long been complicated and murky, to say the least, but our nation has interfered with Iraq’s internal affairs in order to have access to oil—the primary reason for the 2003 invasion, after all—and it seems to us only fair that the United States try to help restore some order in a nation where we have wrought untold damage. Now, whatever is done will naturally be tilted primarily in what is perceived as the United States’s best interests, but if it must be done, we would sooner trust a Democratic administration to handle the cleanup than the other party; we saw how well Republicans handled matters when George W. Bush was in office.

We kind of owe it to the Iraqis to give some protection and assistance in cleaning up a mess largely of our making, but for how long, and at what cost? We don’t pretend to know, and we remain profoundly uneasy about the whole affair.

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ISIS’s Real “Shock and Awe”

Addendum: At Talking Points Memo, a reader who has worked as a U.S. military intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist in Iraq since the late 1980s writes in to explain who ISIS (or ISIL) are and why they have been so successful in sweeping bloodily through Iraq. He also makes clear why the Kurdish Peshmerga, who have a reputation as fierce fighters (and were allies of the U.S. against Saddam Hussein and Islamic insurgents), need help against ISIS:

As for ISIS, they are just a resurgent and re-named al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have the same combat capability they have always had. They fight with suicide bombers, AK-47s and RPG-7 rocket launchers, single vehicle long range battlefield rocket launchers and are mobile in what we call TTFs – Toyota Task Forces. They use extremely simple Taliban inspired “complex attack’ tactics. First they collect intelligence, covertly move into position, launch a wave of suicide bombers to breach gates and soften the objective up, then they bombard with battlefield rockets and launch a multiprong “Allahu Akhbar” infantry attack supported by heavy machineguns on Toyotas. . . . 

Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. . . . 

Keep reading at Talking Points Memo . . .

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Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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Dianne Feinstein Calls Out CIA for Spying on Congress

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

DF.Photo.by Tom Williams-CQ Roll Call-Getty.

California Senator, Long a CIA Defender, Charges Obstruction of Congressional Oversight

Please join us in calling Senator Dianne Feinstein (202-224-3841 or 415-393-0707) to say thanks and, as we said to her staffer, “keep up the courage” for having spoken out yesterday on the floor of the Senate against the CIA’s spying on Congress and trying to sabotage the oversight efforts of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The particular investigation at issue concerns a report on the “enhanced interrogations” conducted by the CIA in secret prisons from shortly after September 11, 2001, until January 2009.

Here we’ll hand it over to The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, who posted “Diane Feinstein Calls Out the CIA” online March 11:

This all goes back to the first years after September 11th. The C.I.A. tortured detainees in secret prisons. It also videotaped many of those sessions. Those records should have been handed over, or at least preserved, under the terms of certain court orders. Instead, in November, 2005, a C.I.A. official named Jose Rodriguez had ninety-two videotapes physically destroyed. “Nobody wanted to make a decision that needed to be made,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2012. (He also said, “I really resent you using the word ‘torture’ time and time again.”)

Feinstein, in her speech, said that the C.I.A.’s “troubling” destruction of the tapes put the current story in motion. Michael Hayden, then director of the C.I.A., had offered the committee cables that he said were just as descriptive as the tapes. “The resulting staff report was chilling,” Feinstein said. The committee voted to begin a broader review. The terms were worked out in 2009, and staff members were given an off-site facility with electronic files, on computers supposedly segregated from the C.I.A.’s network, that added up to 6.2 million pages—“without any index, without any organizational structure. It was a true document dump,” Feinstein said. In the years that followed, staff members turned that jumble into a six-thousand-page report, still classified, on the C.I.A.’s detention practices. By all accounts, it is damning.

But, Feinstein said, odd things happened during the course of the committee members’ work. Documents that had been released to them would suddenly disappear from the main electronic database, as though someone had had second thoughts—and they knew they weren’t imagining it, “Gaslight”-style, because, in some cases, they’d printed out hard copies or saved the digital version locally. When they first noticed this, in 2010, Feinstein objected and was apologized to, “and that, as far as I was concerned, put the incidents aside.” Then, after the report was completed, the staff members noticed that at some point hundreds of pages of documents known as the “Panetta review” had also, Feinstein said, been “removed by the C.I.A.”

The Panetta review was the C.I.A’s note to itself on what might be found in all those millions of documents. Apparently, it is damning, too. The six-thousand-page report didn’t rely on it; the report didn’t have to, because it had the documents themselves. The Panetta review became important only after the C.I.A. saw the draft of the committee’s report and fought back. The agency offered a classified rebuttal (again, the report is still classified); publicly, without being specific, it said that the Senate had gotten a lot wrong, that its facts were off, its judgments mistaken. Then, in December, Senator Mark Udall, in an open hearing, said that this was a funny thing for the C.I.A. to say, given that its internal review (the Panetta review) sounded a whole lot like the Senate report. Or, as Feinstein put it this morning,

To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the C.I.A.’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?

This is where the C.I.A. seems to have lost its bearings and its prudence. As Feinstein noted, there have been comments to the press suggesting that the only way the committee staff members could have had the Panetta review is if they’d stolen it. The pretense for the search of the committee’s computers—where the staff kept its own work, too—was that there had been some kind of security breach. Feinstein says that this is simply false: maybe the C.I.A. hadn’t meant for the Panetta review to be among the six million pieces of paper they’d swamped the Senate with, but it was there. (Maybe a leaker had even tucked it in.) And she made a crucial, larger point about classification:

The Panetta-review documents were no more highly classified than other information we had received for our investigation. In fact, the documents appeared based on the same information already provided to the committee. What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant C.I.A. wrongdoing.

In other words, there were no particular secrets, in the sense of sources and methods and things that keep us safe. Instead, there was the eternal category confusion of the classifier: that avoiding political embarrassment, and basic accountability, is the same thing as safeguarding national security.

Whose embarrassment? John Brennan was at the C.I.A. when it used torture. During President Obama’s first term, he was in the White House, and got the President’s trust. In his confirmation hearings, he suggested that he had learned something from the Senate report; as director, he has tried to discredit it. Obama had made a decision early on not to pursue prosecutions of C.I.A. officials for torture and other crimes. He gave them a bye. Feinstein herself has been a prominent defender of the intelligence community, notably with regard to the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance and collection of telephone records. It is bafflingly clumsy of the Agency to have so alienated her.

Feinstein suggested that this was why it particularly enraged her that the acting general counsel of the C.I.A., who had been, she noted, the lawyer for “the unit within which the C.I.A. managed and carried out this program,” had referred her committee’s possession of the Panetta review to the Department of Justice as a possible criminal act. (There is also an investigation of the C.I.A.’s own role.) “He is mentioned by name more than sixteen hundred times in our study,” Feinstein said. (That name is Robert Eatinger.) “And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff”; the people working for her were “now being threatened with legal jeopardy just as final revisions to the report are being made.”

There were crimes, after September 11th, that took place in hidden rooms with video cameras running. And then there were coverups, a whole series of them, escalating from the destruction of the videotapes to the deleting of documents to what Feinstein now calls “a defining moment” in the constitutional balance between the legislature and the executive branch, and between privacy and surveillance. Senator Patrick Leahy said afterward that he could not remember a speech he considered so important. Congress hasn’t minded quite enough that the rest of us have been spied on. Now Feinstein and her colleagues have their moment; what are they going to make of it?

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See also:

•  The New York Times, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry” by Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman (3/12/14): “A festering conflict between the Central Intelligence Agency and its congressional overseers broke into the open Tuesday when Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee and one of the C.I.A.’s staunchest defenders, delivered an extraordinary denunciation of the agency, accusing it of withholding information about its treatment of prisoners and trying to intimidate committee staff members investigating the detention program.”

•  The New York Times, “C.I.A. Employees Face New Inquiry Amid Clashes on Detention Program” by Mark Mazzetti (3/4/14): “The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.”

•  And see Rachel Maddow’s March 11 coverage here.

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Photo credit: Detail of photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty in The New Yorker online.

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Pete Seeger, 1919–2014: A Life of “Defiant Optimism”

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

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“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. . . . there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.”Pete Seeger, on Democracy Now

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Let Us Now Praise Him and Thank Him

There is so much to admire about Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, that one hardly knows where to begin. “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—there are so many great songs he wrote, or refreshed and arranged for popular use, always inviting the audience to sing along, that it is difficult, and not at all cheering, to imagine what a different and poorer world this would have been without Pete Seeger and his music (the two are indistinguishable). Think of all the protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, and celebrations those songs and others have accompanied.

We admire Pete Seeger for his activism, generosity, his indomitable optimism, his ever-open mind, and sheer energy. For many of us, he was an old man (and a very accomplished, legendary one) for so many years that we could be forgiven for asking, upon hearing of his death, Oh, was he still alive?

ToshiSeege-obit-popupHe was indeed, and he performed as recently as 2009 at Barack Obama’s first inaugural celebrations, singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo below), and at an Occupy Wall Street concert in 2011 when he was a young man of 92. His wife, Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. (The picture at right shows the Seegers in 1992.)

Pete Seeger knew everyone and played with everyone, from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to Paul Robeson, and Bob Dylan, to Emmylou Harris and David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1930s he collected folk songs with Alan Lomax and traveled and sang with Woody Guthrie. He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 50s (including for Eleanor Roosevelt and others at a racially integrated party at a CIO hall in Washington in 1944), and sang for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1950s and 60s, and for environmental causes from the 1970s to the 2010s. He sang with the Almanac Singers (including Woody Guthrie) in the 1940s and the Weavers in the 50s. In the late 1950s he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and narrowly avoided being sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” —Pete Seeger, testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on Aug. 18, 1955

He was picketed by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, which boosted ticket sales, and for many years he was blacklisted from performing on TV because in the 1930s he had been a member of the Young Communist League. He did, however, eventually manage to perform his antiwar song “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, after it was initially censored by CBS. As the New York Times obituary explains:

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

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Dave Van Ronk, the Brooklyn-born folk and blues singer on whom the Coen brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis is (loosely) based, wrote of his admiration for Seeger in the late 1950s:

I think that the man is really great, in almost every sense of the word. . . . Artists of Seeger’s genre are hard to come by in this day and age. He is, in my opinion, taste and honesty personified, and a Seeger concert is a lesson which no singer of folksongs can afford to miss. When he speaks on the stage, his voice rarely rises above a conversational level, and yet he is heard. There is no phony upstaging at all. As a matter of fact, “stage presence” of the Broadway variety is entirely absent. Seeger does not act; he is.

I think that this is the key to his entire greatness. The man has no need to act in order to establish contact with his audience. He genuinely respects the people who are listening to him and refuses to insult their sensibilities with insincere theatrics. . . .

He is not “preserving” folklore but living it, and so are we, and he knows it. He neither sings up nor down to his material but with it. And there is no dichotomy between the performer and the content of his songs. . . . When he sings, all of him is involved. Which is another lesson that many singers of folksongs could profit by.

—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (pp. 67–68)

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For more about Pete Seeger’s exemplary life of “defiant optimism” in music and activism, we recommend the following • New York Times obituary, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” and “Pete Seeger, a Folk Revivalist Who Used His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s” • Democracy Now’s special report • Amy Goodman’s “Pete Seeger: Troubadour of Truth and Justice” • John Nichols’s obituary in The Nation, “Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced It to Surrender” • and this affectionate appreciation by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

The photograph below shows Seeger performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (left) and Bruce Springsteen in January 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Below that, Pete Seeger, 92, in 2011 joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle (photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times).

This Land

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Occupy

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Honoring Mandela

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Greg Bartley:Camera Press:Redux*

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela, statement from the dock at opening of his trial [aka the Rivonia trial] on charges of sabotage, Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20, 1964

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We wish to join with the thousands, indeed millions of admirers around the world who are paying tribute to the wise and dignified world leader who died yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the age of 95. When one considers that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the apartheid government of South Africa, subjected to a life sentence of hard labor and often solitary confinement, it is a wonder he even survived to be released in 1990, much less that he lived another 23 years.

We admire Mandela not only for his courage to risk his life in opposing a cruel, oppressive regime, not only for his will to survive through a potentially never-ending imprisonment, but also for his insistence on making peace and building a “rainbow” country where many ethnicities coexist. One of Mandela’s greatest achievements, besides being the first black president of South Africa (1994–99), was his establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation commission to investigate human rights abuses carried out by the apartheid regime of the Afrikaner National Party that ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994. (The white Afrikaners, mostly descendants of Dutch colonialists, comprised only about 20 percent of the population.)

Wikipedia summarizes his early life:

A Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the [African National Congress] and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

Rachel Maddow opened her show last night with a concise but comprehensive overview of the apartheid (Afrikaans = “apartness”) system that Mandela and other South African activists risked their lives to oppose, including a brief account of the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which the South African police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing 69. Rachel spoke with Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who described how inspiring the South African struggle was to young American civil rights activists were inspired by the courage of the South African resistance movement, and later spoke with former congressman and Oakland mayor Ron Dellums about the push for divestment from South African corporations that finally cracked the De Klerk regime.

FreeMandelaIn “Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About,” Think Progress reminds us:

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists, even Osama Bin Laden, without due process.

4. Mandela called out racism in America.

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies [he is shown embracing Fidel Castro].

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

All of these stands make us admire him even more. Read the whole piece for important details.

And, demonstrating how this principled activist was an annoyance and a threat to the views of the right in the U.S. as well as in Johannesburg and London, Think Progress also details “The Right Wing’s Campaign to Discredit and Undermine Mandela, in One Timeline.”

Anti-Apartheid Activism at LSU and South Africa House in London

On a personal note, we recall attending a lecture at LSU in the mid 1980s by South African journalist Donald Woods, a close friend of Steve Biko, leader of the anti-apartheid Black Consciousness Movement who had died from beatings while in police custody. Woods was banned from editorship of his newspaper and harassed by the South African government; he fled South Africa and became a traveling spokesman against apartheid. (Peter Gabriel recorded the popular song “Biko” [1980], and director Richard Attenborough made a popular film of the story of Woods and Biko’s friendship, starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, titled Cry Freedom [1987].)

We were in London in the summer of 1986 and witnessed the large anti-apartheid protests outside South Africa House, the embassy, in Trafalgar Square, where demonstrators were holding up Divest Now posters and chanting against the whites-only regime in that former British colony. Some years later, the anti-apartheid protests were going strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well—and that is one reason why, when Mandela toured the United States a half year after his release from prison, he came to Oakland to thank the citizens of the Bay Area for their strong push for institutions there, including the University of California, to divest from South African companies. The financial pressure took a toll, and at length the regime buckled and released Mandela and took steps to dismantle the apartheid system.

2013: Passing of African Lions

We note with sadness but enduring respect that this year has seen the death of two great men of Africa who are admired around the world. In March the renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (b. 1930), author of Things Fall Apart, died at the age of 82. Things Fall Apart (1958) has been translated into about 50 languages and has sold some 8 to 10 million copies. Guardian (U.K.) obituary of Achebe here.

VirGebruikDeurBlankesMandela Obituaries, etc.

The Guardian (U.K.)

The New York Times

BBC

The Times (Johannesburg)

Statement by President Barack Obama on the Death of Nelson Mandela

Audio recording of Mandela’s statement at the Rivonia trial, April 20, 1964 (from National Archives of South Africa)

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Photo credit: Greg Bartley / Camera Press / Redux. Free Mandela poster found at The Man in the Green Shirt (Tumblr blog).

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“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”:
A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

JFK 1952 by Philippe Halsman

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” commencement address at American University, Washington, June 10, 1963

“And death shall have no dominion” —Dylan Thomas

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Rarely has a November passed by that this blog has not paused to pay respects to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. We keep an “eternal flame” of our own lighted not only because of a feeling of personal connection to him—from an Irish Catholic family kinship, and having been taken as a toddler to a 1960 campaign stop at an airport in the South, and being just old enough to watch the post-assassination and funeral coverage on a black-and-white TV—though these would be reasons enough. We repeatedly bring President Kennedy to our readers, or vice versa, because of what he stood for, what he accomplished, and what he symbolizes.

What Does ‘John F. Kennedy’ Mean?

It may be that, despite the limitations of what he was able to accomplish during his too-brief presidency, because of the ideals he represents, because of the hope and activism he still inspires, President Kennedy is more influential postmortem than during his lifetime. And it’s possible that the murky, still nebulous circumstances of his death (by whom, really, and why?) add to the mystique of the Dead King, the Slain Prince, and all that might have been possible, and might still be possible, if we summon his spirit. He dwells now on the mythological level, in the realm of ideas and legend. (This may explain the success of Jacqueline Kennedy’s posthumous establishing of a “Camelot” myth. At least in the public mind, there was no Camelot connection with the Kennedy White House before Nov. 22, 1963: Mrs. Kennedy’s myth-making began with an interview with Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President 1960, a week after the assassination.)

kennedy-for-president-buttonjpgNow, on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination in Dallas (November 22, 1963, was also a Friday), many other, more learned voices are commenting on the accomplishments and significance of President Kennedy’s “Thousand Days” in office—what he did and what he failed to do. We only wish to honor his long-standing commitment to peace; his refusal to be cowed or bullied by the military chiefs or the CIA during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (especially after he was burned by the CIA’s brilliant idea for an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961); his reluctance to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and his intention to withdraw troops; his establishment of the Peace Corps, etc.

He supported, though cautiously at first, civil rights and desegregation of public facilities, especially in the South. He had a plan for expansion of medical coverage for the poor and elderly that became what we know as Medicaid and Medicare, and he supported strengthening voting rights. Much of his desired or proposed legislation was left to his able successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, to push through Congress—thus the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 through expansion of Social Security.

Because of the historical circumstances of his time, the national priorities, and his own proclivities, Kennedy was more focused on foreign affairs than on domestic policy (the Soviet Union’s building of a wall through Berlin, supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba, and beginning to build ballistic missile silos in Cuba, etc.). But he also called the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (this too had national security components), and his vision was realized by the successful mission of Apollo 11 in 1969.

About the Assassination, and the “Conspiracy” Controversy

And, of course, on this fiftieth anniversary, many media pundits and  establishment historians are busy pouring concrete over the hardened conventional wisdom about the lone gunman, the “case closed,” the truths proved by the Warren Commission Report, etc. This is not the occasion—and perhaps not the place—to expound our views on the assassination, but we have read enough books and articles, seen enough documentaries, and attended enough panel discussions to be thoroughly convinced that the president was shot at by multiple shooters, and we doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them. (As for the plausibility of a “conspiracy theory,” remember that the attacks of 9/11, too, resulted from a conspiracy.) The most convincing explanation we have found of why Kennedy was killed is in the sober and methodical JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass, excerpted below.

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About the presidency of John F. Kennedy, among many other excellent sources, we recommend:

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), by the former special assistant to the president

Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (1965), by the former special counsel to the president

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

Robert Dallek and Terry Golway, Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words (2006), book and CD. “Perhaps the best of all the books on JFK.” —Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For more about the assassination:

James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008)

Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy (1988), by the former district attorney of New Orleans who brought the only case relating to the assassination to trial (1967)

Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President: The Complete Photographic Record of the JFK Assassination, the Conspiracy, and the Cover-Up (1993). Groden served as a photographic consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966, 1992)

Films:

Thirteen Days (2000, on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), directed by Roger Donaldson

JFK, directed by Oliver Stone (1991)

The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1988), a comprehensive, multi-part British production, refreshingly independent of biases of mainstream U.S. media

Other sources about John F. Kennedy:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Warren Commission Report (digitized)

And more here . . .

Unspeakable1-199x3001JFK and the Unspeakable

“John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.”

—James W. Douglass, from the Preface to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

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Related Topics at Levees Not War:

We Cannot Fail to Try

So Let Us Persevere . . .

Marching on Washington for Economic and Social Justice

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica

Tom Hayden, SDS and SNCC Alums: Happy 50th, Port Huron Statement!

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

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[ This post also appears at DailyKos ]

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Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 1952, by Philippe Halsman; official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler (1970). Photograph on book cover by Jacques Lowe, Coos Bay, Oregon, 1959.

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Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

NoWar

Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Not out of indifference to the plight of the Syrian people, and not from an automatic rejection of any and all military action, but rather out of grave concern about the uncontrollable consequences that a U.S. missile strike upon Syria could trigger—such as, quite possibly, a war between Iran and Israel—we urge the members of Congress to vote No—even “Hell No,” if you like—on President Obama’s request to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime in Syria.

Although this blog has long supported Barack Obama for president, and we are pleased that John Kerry, whom we supported (and campaigned for) for president in 2004, is secretary of state; although we generally trust their judgment in both domestic and international affairs; and even though we’ve been thankful for the judicious restraint that Obama has shown until now during the Syrian civil war, and we’re grateful that this past weekend he averted what appeared a rush to arms and decided to seek congressional authorization—

Despite the foregoing, this is one vote we want Obama to lose.

See Where Senators Stand  |  Contact Congress  |  Contact White House

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They Can’t Tell Us How This Would End

US-SYRIA-CONFLICT-CONGRESSAfter a day of testimony by Secretary of State Kerry, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, on Tuesday night the Senate Foreign Relations committee worked out a resolution that would set a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with one 30-day extension possible. In the House, Democratic representatives introduced a resolution that would limit any military action to no more than 60 days. The Army Times reports that the House resolution “also specifically prohibits any American forces on the ground in Syria and restricts the president from repeating the use of force beyond the initial punitive strikes unless Obama certifies to Congress that the Syrian forces have repeated their use of chemical weapons.”

[ Update: On Weds., Sept. 4, the Senate Foreign Relations committee voted 10–7, with nay votes from both parties, to authorize the use of force against the Syrian regime. The full Senate is expected to vote next week. ]

The United States is seriously considering unilateral military strikes against a nation whose chief ally and arms supplier is Russia? Against a nation that says If you fire on us, we’ll fire on Israel? (Syria has already been in wars with Israel in 1967, 1973, and 1982.)

But let’s think about this a moment.

If the U.S. fires on Syria—a deliberate escalation of a highly complicated civil war—how could the U.S. keep the conflict from escalating further?

If the U.S. attacks Syria, can we be assured that Assad will not use chemical weapons again? The U.S. claims that he flouted international law once; why not again?

And if Assad were to use chemical weapons again, what would the U.S. do then? Escalate in order to not “lose face”?

And, just supposing the U.S. were to be opening confidential, “back-channel” talks with representatives of the newly elected moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, as perhaps we might be, what effect might American missiles on Damascus have on those talks?

The British parliament voted last week against participating in military action against Assad, sidelining our usual closest ally. If the U.S. Congress votes no, will Obama say, as Prime Minister David Cameron said, “I get it,” and desist from a military strike?

Does the Obama administration really think it is wise, or even sane, for the U.S. to “go it alone” if necessary and use cruise missiles against yet another Arab nation? We know that military force against Arab nations only validates anti-Western propaganda, fuels al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts, and increases the likelihood of terrorist retribution here in the U.S., in London, and elsewhere in the West.

If it is true that forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians—U.S. officials say that more than 1,400 were killed in an attack near Damascus on Aug. 21, and keep mentioning some 400 children among them—then that is indeed a sickening atrocity, but still, we do not agree that that requires unilateral action by the U.S. (The UN chemical weapons inspectors are expected to produce a report in late September.)

Syria is simply too dangerous, too interconnected with live wires and explosives—what’s called in international diplomacy a mare’s nest, a snake pit, or a death trap, among other technical terms. Look at the neighborhood: Syria borders Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and is very close to Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Too many things could go wrong. Let’s not, for God’s sake, go there.

And, as we have said over and over from the very first days of Levees Not War (in 2005), the U.S. simply cannot afford endless war and habitual reliance on military solutions to crises overseas, but instead must redirect its resources to rebuilding our own crumbling national infrastructure and to augmenting social services, including jobs programs, education, unemployment relief, and health care. National security begins at home.

 

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Work through the United Nations

A complex and dangerous situation like this, one that requires fact-finding and deliberation and negotiation by a council of nations, is what the United Nations was founded to handle. If would-be interventionists are frustrated that the UN Security Council’s member nations Russia and China would not go along with Washington’s view that “something must be done” and would use their veto in the Security Council, that does not give Washington the right to bypass the UN.

(Russian president Vladimir Putin has told the Associated Press that Russia might vote for a UN resolution on punitive force against Syria if it is proved that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. In the same interview, he warned that the West should not take “one-sided” action against Syria, that is, without the backing of the UN Security Council.)

The Arab League has called on the UN and the international community to take “necessary measures,” though the League did not specify what those measures might be. The secretary general of the Arab League did say, however, that there should be no military action without backing from the United Nations.

Some 100,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, which began with a pro-democracy uprising in March 2011. Some two million Syrians have been forced to flee to other countries. (Click here for a BBC News timeline of the Syrian civil war.)

Yale Law School professors Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro write in a New York Times op-ed that the choice of military force or nothing at all is “a false one.”

Most of international law relies not on force for its enforcement, but on the collective power of nations to deprive states of the benefits of membership in a system of states. Mr. Obama can cut off any remaining government contracts with foreign companies that do business with Mr. Assad’s regime. He can work with Congress to do much more for Syrian rebels and refugees—including providing antidotes to nerve agents, which are in short supply. He can use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China.

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“Real Men Go to Tehran”

It’s a matter of public record that this war with Iraq is largely the brainchild of a group of neoconservative intellectuals, who view it as a pilot project. In August a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” In February 2003, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would “deal with” Iran, Syria and North Korea. 

—Paul Krugman, “Things to Come” (New York Times, 3/18/03)

What concerns us is not only the concerns raised above or the prospect of yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East, but also the fact that neoconservatives and other hawks have been salivating for a war against Iran, and Syria could be an entry into just that. In early May, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, told Rachel Maddow that the same folks who brought us the Iraq war are pushing for a fight with Iran, and they see Syria as a backdoor entry into that war.

I think as Yogi Berra once said, it’s like déjà vu all over again. I see us walking down the same road with the same characters singing in the choir, the same people off the same sheet of music with a few changes trying to get us into war with Iran. The new momentum with respect to Syria is not just because of the brutal civil war there, it’s also because of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain from my party and Bob Menendez from the Democratic party would like to use Syria as a back door to get us in a war with Iran. It’s another catastrophe brewing . . .

See “Syria Seen as a Backdoor to War with Iran” (LNW 5/2/13).

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Recommended Reading:

belle-syria-008-450x270New York Times updates on Syria

BBC News: Syrian civil war timeline and Syria profile

Jeffrey Frank at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Eisenhower 1954, Obama 2013: Echoes of Vietnam in Syria

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Kerry and the Senators: Unanswered Questions

Steve Coll at The New Yorker (9/9/13): “Crossing the Line: How Should Obama Respond to Syria?

On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t OptionalNYT op-ed by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro

Natasha Lennard at Salon (9/4/13): RAND study finds that to destroy Syria chemical weapons, “boots on the ground” would be needed

New York Times editorial (9/3/13): “Debating the Case for Force

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (9/1/13): “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Syria Mess

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal (Washington Monthly): “The Road to War with Iran Runs Through Syria

Washington Post map of likely strike targets in Syria

Levees Not War (6/14/13): “Here We Go Again

Think Progress (4/29/13): “What You Need to Know About the Syrian Civil War

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note (8/20/12): “Syrian Conflict Not Just a Battle Against Assad

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