Tag Archives: peace

7 wars

The Week counts and lists the number of wars the United States is currently involved in.

we’re currently at war in (at least) seven countries across the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan…

It would be shockingly easy for the White House and Department of Defense to do whatever they wanted with no meaningful democratic oversight at all. Our wars are fought thousands of miles from American shores with an all-volunteer force drawn from a tiny percentage of the population. Meanwhile, the country has spent the astonishing sum of $250 million a day on war-making for each of the nearly 6,000 days since the 9/11 attacks 16 years ago. Instead of raising taxes to pay for it, Congress has cut taxes, insulating the American people entirely from the cost and handing the bill to future generations of Americans in the form of debt.

Other people fight, other people suffer, other people pay — it’s a recipe for political ignorance and indifference. All the American people know is that there hasn’t been another 9/11. And that one must always, no matter what, “support the troops.” Together these sentiments translate into: “We dare not say anything critical about whatever the military is doing.” That holds for members of Congress no less than for average Americans. Rather than raise questions or concerns, we’re expected to defer. And for the most part we’re all too happy to comply with this debased and degraded form of civic duty.

I have a proposal – fund these wars through a sales tax levied very clearly on everything we buy. Every time you buy a bag of groceries, your receipt would tell you how much you contributed to the war effort. This way, those of us not fighting or sending other people to fight would at least think about it every day, and maybe be willing to speak out against it or at least make the politicians clearly explain to us why it has to be this way.

the decline and fall of the U.S. empire

Okay, it is not falling quite yet, but The Intercept has a review of two books that make a persuasive case we are witnessing its decline.

Wright sees the system under threat from a combination of newly emerging powers and recent American missteps. McCoy, for his part, sees the unraveling of the U.S. empire as analogous to the series of events that led to the decline of the British and French empires before it. The first step is the loss of support from local elites in territories under imperial influence, a process that McCoy says is clearly underway for the U.S. in many critical regions of the world. In recent years, America has seen its ties strained with military partners such as Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, while major U.S. allies like Germany and South Korea have increasingly come to question America’s capacity to continue leading the imperial system that it created.

It is the Arab Spring uprisings against mostly pro-U.S. dictators, however, that McCoy says marked the slow beginning of the end of American imperium. While the revolts are widely judged to have failed in bringing about liberal democracy, they did succeed in unseating longtime American allies in Tunisia and Egypt, while straining U.S. ties with Gulf Arab countries and even Iraq. As McCoy writes, “All modern empires have relied on dependable surrogates to translate their global power into local control.” He adds, “For most of them, the moment when those elites began to stir, talk back, and assert their own agendas was also the moment when you knew that imperial collapse was in the cards.” The British empire famously became a “self-liquidating concern” when local elites across the empire began demanding self-rule, as did France’s far-flung rule when it was forced to wage a grinding war of attrition to keep control over Algeria. The Arab Spring and the forces it unleashed, which have reduced U.S. influence while exhausting its resources to deal with terrorism and migration, “may well contribute, in the fullness of time, to the eclipse of American global power…”

Partly as a consequence of so many self-inflicted losses, China, Russia, and Iran have all mounted growing challenges to American hegemony in recent years, contesting the tenets of the U.S.-enforced order in the South China Sea, eastern Europe and the Middle East, respectively. Russia has successfully annexed territory and asserted its influence along its periphery, in places like Ukraine, while China has moved ahead with plans to put the economically-vital South China Sea region under its control. Instead of a world in which a hegemonic U.S. enforces the political and economic rules of engagement in these regions, its now possible to see a future in which the world is carved up into a “spheres of influence” system that gives regional powers wide latitude to set the agenda in their immediate neighborhood.

Love the republic, hate the empire. Or at least let the empire go and maybe breathe a sigh of relief to let some of the self-imposed responsibility go with it. But if we are going to do that, we need to support and strengthen international institutions that promote peace, trade, and human rights. Instead we seem to be abandoning those institutions at the same time we are abdicating responsibility.

Obama and Israel

This is not a blog about Israeli-Palestinian politics. But there is some speculation that Obama could take some last-minute action, or more specifically, not taking the usual action of vetoing resolutions introduced by other Security Council members. This would obviously be a big deal,

The most likely scenarios for Obama action in the [United Nations Security Council] are variations of the following three:

● First: unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state within specified or approximate borders following the 1948 armistice lines where no Palestinian state ever existed. In virtually all world forums, this would more juridically move the status of Israel’s administrative presence in Judea and Samaria from disputed to occupation.

● Second: abstain from vetoing a pending French resolution that would impose settlement lines and/or recognize a Palestinian state within 18 months absent agreement by the parties.

● Third: impose a territorial settlement within a two-year deadline if the parties do not craft one themselves.

civilians in Mosul

The United States and Iraq are planning a major offensive against ISIS in Mosul Iraq. This description in The Week about what is expected to happen to civilians is a bit shocking. If we are doing this to keep civilians from being oppressed, is it really worth it?

About 4,000 Kurdish peshmerga are fighting to retake a string of ISIS-held villages east of Mosul, with support from U.S. warplanes, artillery, and special operations commandos. The main attack is being launched from Qayyarah air base, some 40 miles south of Mosul, where 560 U.S. military advisers, 22,000 Iraqi government troops, and 6,000 mainly Sunni tribal fighters have gathered in recent months. Backed by coalition air support, liberation forces will advance along the Tigris River, clearing ISIS from towns and villages before reaching the city’s edge in early November. Experts say the main urban battle will probably last through December. Much of the battle could be fought street to street and house to house — the winding, narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City are inaccessible to tanks or artillery…

Its [ISIS’s] roughly 5,000 fighters in the city have spent months creating an elaborate network of defenses. IEDs have been hidden underneath roads and in buildings, and five bridges have been rigged with explosives. Residents told Reuters that a 6-foot-wide, 6-foot-deep moat has been dug around Mosul’s perimeter, which will be filled with oil and set on fire, creating plumes of smoke to make it difficult for warplanes to spot targets. To evade airstrikes, ISIS is funneling men and equipment through underground tunnels. Former Iraqi finance and foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari says militants are “shaving their beards to blend in with the population and constantly moving their headquarters around.” The jihadists are desperately trying to boost their numbers: Local men who refuse to take up arms have had their ears cut off, and locals say children as young as 8 have been handed pistols and knives and ordered to spy on citizens…

Relief agencies say the battle for Mosul will trigger a mass exodus: Many of the city’s remaining residents are expected to flee at once, leaving their possessions behind. “We’re facing this enormous tsunami coming at us,” says Lise Grande, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. Coalition forces will have to screen out jihadists from the refugees, and, with some 3.3 million Iraqis already displaced by violence, overstretched aid agencies will struggle to feed and house all of Mosul’s desperate civilians. Says Matthew Nowery of U.S. relief group Samaritan’s Purse, “This is going to be a very large-scale catastrophe.”

So is it worth it? This made my think of Obama’s Nobel speech, where he argues that there is such a thing as “just war”.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war.  The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met:  if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of “just war” was rarely observed.  The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God.  Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations — total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred.  In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent.  And while it’s hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished…

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations.  The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states — all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos.  In today’s wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

It also reminded me of Human Smoke, where Nicholson Baker puts forth the heretical view that the human cost of the fight against the Third Reich and the Axis powers itself may have exceeded its benefit.

regime change and refugees

Here’s an article that asks whether the Iraq War and calls for regime change in Syria are root causes of the current war and refugee crisis. This reminds me of something I have always struggled with – is it really ever possible for war to reduce suffering, or does it always hurt more people than it helps? Even in the case of a Saddam or the Taliban or possibly even a Hitler, it’s possible that intervening ultimately caused more pain and suffering than not intervening would have. It’s a difficult question.