by Bill Onasch
I was not surprised the Nobel peace laureate in the White House chose the eve of the anniversary of a horrendous terrorist attack to rally support for his new war strategy. His predecessor, who managed to win the job once held by his dad while placing second in the 2000 election, skillfully exploited the understandable 9/11 rage that transcended party and class lines. Not only did he reverse his dismal approval rating in the polls; he also proclaimed a Bush Doctrine to wage a military War on Terror abroad according to rules he would make up as he went along. A newly created Department of Homeland Security was given carte blanche to undermine civil liberties at home. We were incessantly told “9/11 changed everything.”
But President Obama is not getting the same bump as the man he replaced as commander-in-chief. The experience of the last thirteen years has made Americans war weary and war wary. Especially for the benefit of younger readers a quick highlight review of post-9/11 is in order.
Within weeks, American-led NATO forces were on the ground turning Afghanistan upside down in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. Many troops are still there, with even a Major General recently killed, even though the master mind of the 9/11 attacks was finally captured and summarily executed after a decade long hunt–not in Afghanistan but living comfortably as a neighbor of the top army brass in America’s ally Pakistan.
Eighteen months after 9/11, a U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq to topple an evil dictator before he could use “weapons of mass destruction.” This action was not so popular. There were numerous mass demonstrations around the world–including every city and town in the USA–trying to stop this new war before it started. Even sections of the American labor movement came together to form US Labor Against the War. Many NATO countries yielded to this antiwar sentiment and stayed out of Iraq. The UN, Jimmy Carter, and the Pope publicly appealed to Bush not to invade. But still with largely bipartisan support Bush, and his loyal side kick British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sought to finish what the first President Bush didn’t by invading Iraq a second time.
Saddam Hussein fled his palace but was eventually captured and hanged. No evidence of WMDs has been uncovered to this day–because it was all a lie. In general, most people don’t like being ruled by foreign invaders and the American occupation that lasted for more than eight years faced continuos armed resistance. Iraqi death estimates vary widely among sources but certainly numbered in the hundreds of thousands–mostly noncombatants. 4,486 U.S. service members were killed and tens of thousands wounded. In the process civil society was virtually destroyed and, to divide opposition, the U.S. occupation stirred up long dormant sectarian hatred among the peoples of Iraq.
When Barrack Obama ran for President in 2008, against a former Navy Commander who had been shot down and captured while bombing Vietnam, he promised to get out of Iraq–and escalate the war in Afghanistan. The liberals heard only the first but the new President kept both pledges. Actually, by the time the new Peace President took the oath at what resembled a coronation Bush had already negotiated a phased withdrawal from Iraq that was implemented by the new Administration.
A “surge” in Afghanistan launched on Obama’s watch resulted mainly in a spike in NATO casualties. Drone attacks quickly gained favor over firefights on the ground–resulting in many civilian victims. The killing of bin Laden didn’t produce the expected pre-reelection “bump” but did embolden the President to reaffirm a promise all “combat troops” would be pulled out by the end of this year–though thousands would remain for specialized duties. But this can’t become a done deal until the dispute over who won the Afghan presidential election is resolved.
America’s longest war was not the only task in the Obama White House Situation Room. The U.S. gave crucial support to the overthrow of the government of Libya–creating yet another disintegrating failed state. Obama announced his intention to bomb Syria–but the damn Russians intervened and negotiated a deal to destroy chemical weapons. The USA essentially gave its blessing to the military coup in Egypt, dealing a blow to the Arab Spring. Recently the original failed state of Somalia was revisited with air strikes. And, of course, America was quartermaster for the Israeli destruction of Gaza.
But all the while Iraq continued to fester. Terrorist bombings were a virtual daily occurrence ignored by the mass media in this country. Then one day a sizeable, well armed sinister force emerged from the fringes of the civil war in Syria. Known variously as ISIS, ISIL, or simply IS, they were initially identified as “Sunni militants.” But this self-proclaimed “Islamic State” has nothing in common with traditional followers and values of that faith.
Blitzing across western Iraq the IS, through either bribery or force, subdued the corrupt, American trained and equipped Iraqi Army and captured many sizeable towns. Then, instead of a feared direct assault on Baghdad they turned north, briefly taking control of a dam supplying much of Iraq’s water and electricity, seizing a refinery, and menacing the rich oil fields in Iraq’s autonomous, secular Kurdish region. That’s when the former occupiers demanded–and with an assist from Iran–got a regime change in Baghdad and authority for U.S. air strikes.
Often, claims of atrocity during war are exaggerated. IS revels in their brutality, posting film on the Internet that would have embarrassed Hitler or Pol Pot. When they showed the beheading of two Americans they guaranteed a war of retribution from the USA.
But this White House follows the polls like none before. American outrage showed strong support for air attacks but not boots on the ground. After a brief pause, where it was acknowledged they didn’t yet have one, the President announced a strategy in an address to the nation Wednesday night. IS will be pursued–even in to its bases in Syria–and destroyed by American air power supporting troops on the ground furnished by a coalition being assembled.
IS has no redeeming values. The world would be a better place without them. But the fact is that allies being courted by Obama and Kerry to be part of a new coalition of the willing indulge in the same horrible practices as IS–they just don’t brag about it on the Internet.
Journalists have been executed in Egypt and many are presently serving draconian prison sentences simply for reporting what they saw. And, of course, so are political opponents, and trade unionists displeasing the dictatorship as well.
If you find beheadings abhorrent you might be interested to know that coalition hopeful Saudi Arabia prescribes this as a punishment for many violations of their version of Sharia law, as well as common criminal offences. Just so far this year, the Saudi justice system has carried out 46 decapitations.
And the government that speaks in our name doesn’t always follow the rules of the Geneva Conventions either. Numerous cases of torture have been identified in U.S. run prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.
It’s easy to spot the bad guys–they are in charge of those with guns. But the real good guys are mainly for now trying to stay out of sight. Eventually they will be able to pull themselves together and make short work of IS and foreign invaders alike.
The USA is the chief world cop protecting and advancing the interests of banks and corporations. The American ruling class is the problem not the problem solvers. They are responsible for the destruction of once viable countries–and provoking the resulting terrorist response. Nothing good comes from further U.S. intervention.
Don’t go back to Iraq–Bring all the GIs home now.
Time to Get a Rise Out of Us
A thorough article in the Tuesday Washington Post began,
“Levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record-shattering pace last year, a new report shows, a surge that surprised scientists and spurred fears of an accelerated warming of the planet in decades to come. Concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ever-rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks but also, scientists believe, a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans, according to data released early Tuesday by the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body.”
The average global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–now just a hair under 400 parts per million–is at its highest in at least 800,000 years. It would take centuries for this CO2 to dissipate to 350ppm–the maximum safe level for our species. Whatever we do now it’s going to get warmer–and that’s bad news. If we do nothing the mounting greenhouse effect will make civilization as we know it unsustainable.
The United Nations is convening an emergency summit of world leaders September 23 to discuss steps urgently needed to reduce emissions. Will this gathering do more than past fruitless ones? Rather than speculating we should be acting to put maximum pressure on the politicians to heed the warnings of science.
On the eve of this summit next Sunday there will be mass marches in London, Berlin, Bogota, Istanbul, Paris, Rio, Delhi, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Lagos–and New York City.
More than a thousand organizations have endorsed the New York March and hundreds of buses and trains have been chartered to transport those coming from other places. For multiple reasons I will be unable to make it to New York but if you can I hope you will.
A Victory–and a Prediction
A story in the Ft Worth Star-Telegram opened,
“ A tentative agreement to reduce train crews to one person at BNSF Railway has been turned down, according to the union whose members voted on it this week. The pact would have eliminated on-board conductors on 60 percent of the network of the Fort Worth-based railroad, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.”
The carrier proposal submitted by union officials would not only have eliminated lots of good union jobs. It would have compromised safety at a time when more hazardous cargo than ever is rolling by rail between and through cities. The workers in the United Transportation Union–absorbed not long ago in the Sheet Metal Workers in a mis-named merger known as SMART–were smart enough to shoot it down. Union officials did not disclose vote totals.
A friend who is a retired Union Pacific locomotive engineer and a long time UTU Local Chair in St Paul sent me this observation of the workers victory,
“As you are aware from numerous lamentable incidents (most recently Boeing IAM in Seattle), voting no against a contract the suits want doesn’t count unless it is the xxxth time and the rank and file is enraged and mobilized. In the larger sense, the object is to decouple rail labor agreements from any restrictions on management’s ‘prerogatives’ except a wage schedule, as long as labor agreements have to be tolerated at all. I predict the next move will have the participation of Numero Uno from the Sheet Metal bureaucracy.”
That’s all for this week.
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