[  ]
Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘iraq war’

Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Thoughts on Two American Traumas

[ Cross-posted at Daily Kos. ]

Between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, which do you think gets most attention, and why?

What if the national focus on 9/11 is exaggerated and the nation should focus instead on 8/29—Hurricane Katrina—as the catastrophe that signifies the greatest threat to America? The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has received high-profile attention, marked by the release of feature films (Spike Lee, Harry Shearer), hour-long special reports (Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper), and a presidential address at Xavier University, so we’re not complaining that Katrina has been ignored.

We were in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and saw men and women in dust- and debris-covered clothing walking the streets in a daze and crossing the 59th Street Bridge into Queens as from an apocalypse. We heard distraught eyewitnesses on pay phones talking about seeing the burning, falling bodies (“Look, Mommy, the birds are on fire”); we have heard first-person accounts from survivors who were just 20 feet away when their coworkers fleeing the burning towers were crushed beneath chunks of falling metal the size of garbage trucks. We’ve heard accounts from neighbors who were trapped on the E train near the World Trade Center while frantic escapees pounded on the doors to get in. The haunting stories, the anguish go on and on. Many others have experienced far worse than we can ever imagine. So, the following thoughts are by no means intended to diminish the trauma of September 11 or the necessity of dealing with al Qaeda and other extremist threats.

Anorexia of the Homeland: Making War While “Starving the Beast”

And yet we think maybe the challenges this nation faces are more accurately represented by the natural and bureaucratic/political disaster suffered on August 29, 2005, and in the following days, weeks, months, years. The United States is falling apart from a lack of funding of every kind of infrastructure—resulting from neglect, indifference, and a mean-spirited conservative agenda that seeks to roll back the progressive reforms of the 20th century. Our nation is in a downward spiral because of political unwillingness to protect the environment and our fellow citizens who are poor, jobless, homeless, in need of medical care and decent education. Our coasts and cities are vulnerable because of long-term environmental neglect and denial of the effects of industry—global warming, rising sea levels, intensified storms resulting from warming seas—and because corporate-captive politicians of both parties have put industrial and political interests ahead of what’s best for the planet, humanity, and other life forms. Even if 9/11 had never happened, all these conditions would still threaten our way of life.

(more…)



As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Out of Iraq, on to Afghanistan

The last combat troops have left Iraq, as a convoy of the 4th Stryker Brigade rumbled in the wee hours of August 19, 2010, from Iraq toward U.S. bases in Kuwait. At the end of August, Operation Iraqi Freedom will end and 50,000 advisory and security troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 for a new phase to be known as Operation New Dawn. (May we have a new dawn in the United States, please?—or is it not “morning in America” anymore?)

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports here on how the U.S. State Department, with about 2,400 civilian employees protected by up to 7,000 private security guards, will continue the training of Iraqi police and assist with political stabilization and other functions—including counterterrorism—in an effort to help Iraq rebuild without the presence of U.S. combat troops. The 2,400 civilian State Department employees will work at the Baghdad embassy and regional outposts in Mosul, Kirkuk, and at consulates in Erbil and Basra. Gordon writes:

The startup cost of building and sustaining two embassy branch offices—one in Kirkuk and the other in Mosul—and of hiring security contractors, buying new equipment and setting up two consulates in Basra and Erbil is about $1 billion. It will cost another $500 million or so to make the two consulates permanent. And getting the police training program under way will cost about $800 million.

So, the combat forces are withdrawing, returning to the Homeland. Some soldiers will get to rejoin their families after a long time away—we wish them well—and others will have to redeploy in maybe six months to Afghanistan, where Obama’s surge continues.

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

It is surely a good thing that the combat forces are withdrawing from Iraq, but why don’t we feel any pleasure or pride? What has been accomplished, aside from doubling the price of a gallon of gas and making Iran the main power in the region? The soldiers themselves surely feel some pride and relief, and after all their hard work they deserve more than a good cigar. But what have we gained? Where is the security? The United States is immeasurably poorer, more weak and divided than when this war began—economically, socially, politically. As of this writing, 4,415 American soldiers are dead; tens of thousands are wounded, many critically, missing limbs, and some with unimaginable brain and neurological injuries, and alarming numbers have committed suicide: 27 in July alone, 32 in June. (In addition to all the Iraqi dead—estimates are around 100,000—there have been 179 British dead and 139 from other Coalition nations.) And then there’s the psychological, soul damage the soldiers suffer, and the broken marriages, the frayed family relationships, the children who have grown from infants to eight- and ten-year-olds hardly even knowing their fathers or mothers who have been away on multiple deployments and come home virtually strangers with scant job prospects here in the Homeland. But Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, so maybe it’s all worthwhile.

(more…)



Declare Independence from Endless War

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

While we’re enjoying good old-fashioned 4th of July cookouts, fireworks, and other traditional Independence Day pleasures, let’s also take some time to remember the soldiers far away in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not with their families, as well as those who are recovering (we hope) in military hospitals, and let’s begin mentally drafting letters and phone call messages to the White House and Congress to demand the nation’s independence from those unaffordable wars. Bring the troops home already. We can’t wait until July 2011, which Obama suggested as a potential beginning of a drawdown when he announced the 30,000-troop escalation at West Point last December when the Afghan war was already in its eighth year. (See our assessment of the president’s decision to escalate, “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation.”)

The explosive revelations in Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” were only superficially about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trash-talking Obama’s national security team. It may be that in the long term the most damaging consequences will be the revelations that the troops in Afghanistan do not support the vaunted counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for which the additional 30,000+ troops have been “surged” into the hell-hole, and even McChrystal himself has doubts that the COIN strategy can work there (see “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire” below). We expect no substantial changes under Gen. David Petraeus, whose 99–o approval by the Senate on June 30 can only be interpreted as a license to do as he will, for as long as he pleases, whatever it may cost.

Costs of War: Unaffordable, Unsustainable, Unconscionable

This past week, when Senate Republicans and Ben Nelson (D-NE) warmed up the nation for the 4th of July festivities by filibustering for a third straight time an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans—15 million are out of work, about the number who were unemployed when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933—the House approved $80 billion for Afghan war funding. Sounds just like the Bush years. The Center for American Progress reports that “as of July 3, an estimated 1.7 million workers will lose their benefits. If this drags on through July, a total of 3.2 million workers will lose their benefits.”

Think Progress reports that 17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates have repeatedly voted to filibuster unemployment benefits. Click the chart to read all about it.

(more…)



Tax Day: How Much Have You Paid for the War?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Most likely you’ve paid $7,334 of the $1.05 trillion that has gone to the Afghan and Iraq wars since 2001. Here is Tom Englehardt’s compelling introduction at TomDispatch.com to a piece (below the jump) by Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, with data supplied by the NPP’s CostofWar.com:

If you’re an average American taxpayer, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, since 2001, cost you personally $7,334, according to the “cost of war” counter created by the National Priorities Project (NPP). They have cost all Americans collectively more than $980,000,000,000. As a country, we’ll pass the trillion dollar mark soon. These are staggering figures and, despite the $72.3 billion that Congress has already ponied up for the Afghan War in 2010 ($136.8 billion if you add in Iraq), the administration is about to go back to Congress for more than $35 billion in outside-the-budget supplemental funds to cover the president’s military and civilian Afghan surges. When that passes, as it surely will, the cumulative cost of the Afghan War alone will hit $300 billion, and we’ll be heading for two trillion-dollar wars.

In the meantime, just so you know, that $300 billion, according to the NPP, could have paid for healthcare for 131,780,734 American children for a year, or for 53,872,201 students to receive Pell Grants of $5,550, or for the salaries and benefits of 4,911,552 elementary school teachers for that same year.

April 15th is almost upon us, and Jo Comerford, TomDispatch regular as well as the NPP’s executive director, decided to take a look at one restive American community under the gun (so to speak) as tax day rolls around again. Our wars seem—and are—so far away, so divorced from American lives. If someone you know well hasn’t been wounded or killed in one of them, it can be hard to grasp just how they are also wounding this society. Here’s one way. (Check out as well Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Comerford discusses military spending and the federal budget by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.) —Tom

[H/T to Dan Froomkin @ HuffPo ]

(more…)


“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

Has anyone besides us found it kind of odd that there’s been so much “fire and brimstone” about the health care reform bill compared to Bush’s Iraq War?

The first thing we’ll say about the violence and threats following Congress’s passage of health care reform—officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—is that right-wing politicians and radio/TV “hate-spewers” have stoked outrage among their followers and are still fueling the flames. They thrive on conflict; it boosts ratings and fund-raising. The second observation, which we find more intriguing, is that there is a shocking disparity between the opponents of Obama’s health care reform and the anti-war protesters who opposed Bush’s drive to invade Iraq. Both presidential “initiatives” have been controversial, but the temperament and character of the public protests of each are different in the extreme. It is more than a little disconcerting that a push to expand public access to health care is more violently opposed than a determined march to a war of choice. Look at the aims, the purposes underlying the two initiatives, and think about which warrants the more passionate support, and which the stronger opposition.

Maybe the different responses are not so surprising, though, when you consider the traditional American readiness to wage war (as long as we personally don’t have to fight it, or have our taxes raised to fund it), and our reluctance to spend money on (rather, to be taxed for) public health, education, or other social programs. The Pentagon has the credit card.

“Break Their Windows. Break Them Now.”

In recent weeks millions of Americans have been alarmed by the death threats and bricks through office windows of Democratic members of Congress, the spitting and ugly slurs at the Capitol when the House of Representatives was debating the health care bill. Americans have been troubled, too, by the silence of the Republican leadership, who have opened their mouths only to say that “the American people have a right to be angry”—then to claim the Democrats are to blame for the threats and violence against Democrats. (This is akin to Iowa Rep. Steve King’s combining a near-justification of Joseph Stack’s flying his plane into a Texas federal building in Austin in February with self-promotion of his own calls to abolish the IRS. If only we’d listened!)

(more…)



Video Shows U.S. Killing of Reuters Employees in Baghdad

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

WikiLeaks.org has released a formerly classified U.S. military video that shows the view from an Apache helicopter gunship as U.S. forces fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians, killing 12, including a Reuters news agency photographer and his driver, in Baghdad in July 2007. The footage shows civilians who are clearly unarmed, yet the pilots assert “we have five to six individuals with AK-47s. Request permission to engage.” Later in the video the U.S. forces fire on a van that has stopped to pick up the one wounded survivor of the assault (the Reuters driver, Saeed Chmagh). Two children are visible in the front seat of the van when U.S. pilots request, and receive, permission to fire on the van. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one pilot says.

The release of the video was announced by WikiLeaks at a news conference on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. Reuters had pressed for release of the video, which it obtained from whistle-blowers in the military, because the film showed the killing of two of its employees, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and the driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.

“Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” the other responds.

One hundred thirty-nine journalists have been killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

Click here for Elisabeth Bumiller’s report for the New York Times.



Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” —President Obama, Dec. 1, 2009

NYTWe wanted to take time to try to make sense of President Obama’s speech at West Point last week in which he announced his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 over the next six months. We pray he knows what he’s doing. We can only imagine the risks and variables he has been weighing. Because he is a peaceful man by nature (the Nobel may have been awarded at the wrong time but it was not given to the wrong man), we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, even though he knows more than we’re privy to, we are still skeptical. Our favorite lines in the address were those quoted above. Perhaps the most painful part of the speech is its overall contrast with and cancellation of those fine-sounding sentiments.

There are truly no good options—all are fraught with unacceptable consequences: 360 degrees of damnation—and yet we feel the president has made a tragically wrong decision. Even though we were impressed by his methodical and deliberative approach to a maddeningly complex issue, and even though it is theoretically possible that with unlimited time, money, and the blessings of fortune this new “Way Forward” can work, we do not believe it will. There is too much reliance on military force, too many moving parts that have to come together just so. (There is a saying that whenever you have two Afghans you have at least three factions.) Of course the generals say they can do it—give ’em enough troops  and they’ll promise you anything. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker that Obama would have faced “a probable Pentagon revolt” had he chosen to withdraw starting now, and if such a decision had been followed by a large-scale terrorist attack he would face “savage, politically lethal scapegoating.” Very likely. This is the situation we’re in. Nicholas Kristof observes in his New York Times column that amid all the president’s consultations of experts, one important set of players not consulted were the tribal elders of Afghanistan. Without their cooperation, nothing will work.

(more…)



Roll Up Sleeves, Pick Up Phone

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

“The situation could not be more serious. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act. . . . This is not some abstract debate. It is an urgent and growing crisis.”
President Obama, Feb. 6, 2009

LNW_USA.sleeveAll week we’ve been wondering Where are the f—ing Senate Democrats?! It’s as though the camera hogs have turned into groundhogs, frightened of their shadows, leaving Obama to do all the heavy lifting on the American Recovery and Investment Plan, better known as The Stimulus.

We’ve tried calling a half-dozen senators’ offices to find out why Reid, or Durbin, or Schumer—usually so eager for the spotlight—have been camera-shy, but for some reason the lines were busy. Why haven’t the Senate Democrats been pushing back against the GOP’s flood of distortions and exaggerations? They should be out there explaining—simply, directly, using the same honest and memorable phrases over and over—the need to invest in public transportation and other infrastructure, helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, extending unemployment benefits and food stamps, and helping states pay Medicaid and education expenses so they don’t have to cut vital programs. Many senators, we know, are busy hashing out the details of the stimulus package, but we want to see the Democrats compete for air time with the Republicans, who have at least been showing up for work on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, and everyplace else with a camera. (See “GOP Outnumbers Dems 2 to 1 in Cable News Stimulus Coverage” and “Dems Acknowledge They’re Being Outworked on TV, Vow to Fix.” And Daily Kos points out that, “adding insult to injury, a number of the Democrats who appeared are opposed to the stimulus bill.”)

(more…)