March 13, 2014
"War-mongering is self-justifying. If you bungle a war in Iraq, it does not mean you need to sit back and reflect on the bungling. It means you should make more war, lest Iraq become a base for your enemies. If Vladimir Putin violates Ukrainian sovereignty, it is evidence for a more muscular approach. If he doesn’t, than it is evidence that he fears American power. If there are no terrorist attacks on American soil, than drones must be right and our security state must be effective. If there are attacks, then our security state must increase its surveillance, and more bombs should be dropped. Violence begets violence. Peace begets violence. The circle continues."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, on Condoleezza Rice’s short memory of the Iraq War and war-mongering as a whole. (via theatlantic)

(via cognitivedissonance)

March 4, 2014
American War Crimes & PTSD

One of the more frightening prospects about America’s wars overseas is how many war crimes are committed that we’ll never hear about.  Here’s a veteran recalling his experiences overseas, from HONY:

"It took me getting into a lot of fights before I was diagnosed with PTSD. I have something called ‘hypervigilance.’ I get really nervous around people. Especially people from the Middle East."

"What were some traumatic things that happened to you?"

"I was in a vehicle when a mortar round exploded in front of us, and we fell into the crater and got trapped. There was a burning oil rig near us, so it was like being in a microwave. And we couldn’t get out. And I also saw a lot of hanky shit. Mostly from our side. Everyone was really revved up from 9/11. We did a lot of bad things. I saw decapitations, and that was our guys doing it.”

"What happened?"

"We were supposed to bring POW’s back to the base. But instead we gave them a cigarette to calm them down, and told them to get on their knees. One of our guys was 240 lbs, and he’d taken this shovel we’d been issued, and he’d sharpened one of the sides until it was like an axe, and he could take off somebody’s head with two hits."

"How many times did you see that happen?"

"Three."

When people are placed in inhumanly stressful situations, they can succumb to their darker influences and do terrible things.  But whether you view the soldiers who commit these terrible acts as evil or victims of circumstance, it remains true that America’s political discourse sanitizes this reality with the language of patriotism.  There is a brand of hero worship associated with soldiers that plays a role in covering these stories up.  The idea that all soldiers are heroes makes it harder for us to acknowledge that some of our “heroes” are actually committing war crimes, and they should be held accountable, not praised for their service.

March 1, 2014
Palin Mocked in 2008 for Warning Putin May Invade Ukraine if Obama Elected

So this is pretty dumb.  Breitbart.com is pretty clearly trying to suggest here that Sarah Palin was saying some sort of foreign policy sooth when she suggested that Russia would invade the Ukraine if Obama was elected.  A few questions for the editorial staff:

  1. The U.S. Government has already denounced Russia’s invasion of Crimea.  What would a McCain-Palin administration have done differently?  Impose economic sanctions?  Go the U.N. Security Council?  U.S. trade with Russia only accounts for about $26 billion dollars in imports, with a trade deficit in Russia’s favor of about $15.8 billion.  That’s less than 1% of Russia’s GDP.  And neither the U.N. Security Council nor the General Assembly are ever going to approve sanctions against Russia.  So what’s the alternative?  Bomb Moscow?
  2. Russia is taking advantage of political instability in the Ukraine that occurred after the current President abused his authority. What policies could an American President realistically have enacted to prevent this situation from occurring?  Should we station American troops on the Ukrainian border and start another Cold War?  What if the Ukrainian public refused to allow U.S. troops in their borders?
  3. If the McCain-Palin ticket was elected, what would the administration have done differently to prevent this situation from occurring?  Threaten to invade Russia?

In reality, Palin’s comments are just an example of the old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Which is, of course, not due to any particular virtue of the clock, or the insight of the clockmaker.  Palin was rightfully mocked for saying this because the implied causes and effects of her statement don’t bear any relation to reality.  It would be like me predicting in 2000 that the financial markets would suffer a catastrophic crash if George W. Bush was elected—despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the markets wouldn’t have crashed under Al Gore or John Kerry.  It’s not genuine insight.  It’s coincidence parading as wisdom.

February 24, 2014
Pentagon Plans To Reduce the Size of the Army

From the article:

According to the Times, the new Pentagon spending proposals, which have been endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will ensure that the U.S. is capable of defending itself while being too small to engage in long-term foreign occupations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From theTimes:

The proposal, described by several Pentagon officials on the condition of anonymity in advance of its release on Monday, takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars. A result, the officials argue, will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupations.

Of course, one shouldn’t mistake this language for the idea that the U.S. will be withdrawing from foreign missions overseas.  We wouldn’t want Iran to think it was sovereign over its own borders or anything.  But it’s a good step in the right direction.

February 23, 2014
Is Foreign Aid To Palestine Prolonging The Occupation?

Menachem Klein raises an interesting argument:

Israelis do not acknowledge that foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority – mainly by the EU – helps Israel maintain its rule over the Palestinians, as well as to keep Israeli citizens’ high standards of living. Since 1994 the international community has donated more than $30 billion to the PA as humanitarian relief and emergency assistance, most of it after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. The huge sum helps the PA to survive the present, but due to Israeli restrictions it cannot use it for capacity and infrastructure buildings.[3] Without this aid Israel would have to take on the daily life needs of more than 4 million Palestinians. Donor assistance in maintaining basic services and meeting humanitarian needs of the occupied Palestinian population has freed Israel from these responsibilities, and allowed it to avoid making hard political decisions regarding its legal, moral and political responsibilities toward the Palestinians. In other words, donor countries indirectly facilitate Israel’s rule over all of historical Palestine. Israel can expand settlements, prevent any Palestinian economic recovery, seize Palestinian land, cut the Palestinian territories to disconnected areas, increase socio-economic fragmentation to avoid the foundation of a viable Palestinian state, and in 2000-2003 it was able to carry out destructive army operations inside Palestinian cities, all while donors foot the bill for reconstruction and emergency aid.

Klein’s argument raises the prospect of “benign neglect.”  Should foreign governments concerned with the plight of the Palestinians stop foreign aid to Palestine in order to force Israel to make difficult political decisions it has been able to put off for some time?  Is doing so worth the inevitable human cost in Palestine?  Or perhaps more importantly, would it be worth the human cost not to?  Perhaps there’s a third way.  But if foreign aid if actually enabling the Occupation, then foreign powers who claim to be serious about peace between Israel and Palestine have some hard choices to make in the future.

February 22, 2014
Ukraine parliament ousts president Yanukovich

Ukraine parliament has voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovich and set an early election for May 25, according to Reuters news agency.

The parliament declared Yanukovich constitutionally unable to carry out his duties on Saturday.

Deputies in the assembly stood, applauded and sang the national anthem.

This comes as Yanukovich accused the opposition of staging a coup and refused to give into demands to resign, according to AFP news agency.

February 21, 2014
What’s Happening In Ukraine Is Not A Fascist Revolution

I’ve seen some rumblings on Tumblr about Ultra-Right wing parties dominating the Ukrainian protests in Kiev.  It seems like this is an area that could use some sunlight.

Despite what a well-timed photograph might suggest, the majority of the protesters are not fascists, just like the majority of Occupy protesters were not violent Anarchists.   To wit, there have been numerous reports of scuffles between violent and non-violent protesters in Kiev, the latter of which are trying to keep the violence from getting out of control.  

What is happening in Kiev is not a Fascist Revolution.  The gravamen of the dispute concerns the President’s unilateral decision to reject an economic accord with the EU in favor of stronger ties with Russia:

The protests broke out after President Yanukovych’s government rejected a far-reaching accord with the European Union in November 2013 in favour of stronger ties with Russia. Thousands of people, outraged that a long-standing aspiration for integration with Europe had been ditched overnight, poured into central Kiev for peaceful protests. They have occupied Independence Square, known as Maidan, ever since.

The final straw was a package of laws rushed through the Ukrainian Parliament in January that limited the right to protest, and made slander a criminal offense—a move which potentially makes any negative journalistic coverage of the Ukrainian Government a crime.  The protesters (rightly) view the actions of the President as an unconscionable exercise of power that will lead to a less free society, both economically and socially.

In addition to all of this, the current President of the Ukraine has also essentially seized power as a dictator and refused to accept Constitutional reforms that would limit his power.  His Government’s response to the protests has been ruthless:

The protesters were losing hope in this protracted struggle where they saw no willingness on the side of President Yanukovych to really compromise. So far, none of their demands have been really met. The president has in fact done the opposite. He tried to install new laws, he put people in jail, his government tortured activists and it has harassed people. The protesters simply do not believe there can be any decent negotiation from the president’s side.

Doctors on the ground have reported that Government forces are not simply controlling crowds, but shooting to kill:

a doctor volunteering to treat protesters, Olga Bogomolets, accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by “professional snipers.”

"They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck," she said. "They didn’t give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives."

With all this being said, it is true that a Right-wing ultra-nationalist party known as Svoboda has taken a substantial role in opposition Ukrainian politics, and hence, the protests (alongside a couple smaller parties that have joined in, including a small fringe party known as Right Sector).  A good summary can be found here:

Among other things, Svoboda seeks to end all immigration and ensure that all civil service jobs are filled by ethnic Ukrainians. The Nation, a leftist American publication, reported that Svoboda also seeks to ban abortions, abolish gun control, “ban the Communist ideology,” and prohibit the adoption of Ukrainian children by foreigners. In addition, Svoboda reportedly supports nuclear power (in the homeland of Chernobyl) and reinstatement of the death penalty.

Svoboda has representation in the Ukrainian parliament—36 seats in a 450-member legislature.  But their politics are actually antithetical to the EU accord whose rejection triggered these protests:

The bitter irony of the current protests in Kiev is that while groups like Svoboda are adamantly opposed to the pro-Russian policies of Yanukovych, they also find the “pro-European,” pro-democracy stance of most other Euromaidan protesters anathema. Yury Noyevy, a member of Svoboda’s political council, even revealed that the party’s pro-EU stance is only temporary, a device to break off from Russia. “The participation of Ukrainian nationalism and Svoboda in the process of EU integration is a means to break our ties with Russia,” Noyevy said.

So like many political revolutions, the politics of the Ukrainian opposition are complicated.  But the groups who are more predisposed to violence are getting a disproportionate amount of media coverage.  This was true even of the American Revolution, when the majority of American colonists did not even participate in the war.  As the old saying goes in journalism, "if it bleeds, it leads."

Does any of this mean the United States get involved?  No.  The law of unintended consequences is nowhere more prevalent than in the geopolitics of old Soviet republics.  Official, materialsupport for the protesters invites another Cold War with Russia.  But that doesn’t mean the cause of the protesters isn’t a just one.  The fact that Right-wing Extremists see this as an opportunity to seize power doesn’t suddenly make the protests invalid.  If anything, it was the looming threat of Fascism from an overbearing government that ignited the protests to begin with.  It is absolutely concerning that hardcore Right-wing groups in Ukraine are trying to use the protest as a way to seize Government control and consolidate power.  But that doesn’t undermine the legitimate grievances which triggered these protests to begin with.

Update: opposition leaders have signed a deal to end the crisis, which has not sit well with the ultra-Right Wing parties that are supposedly dominating the protests.  Demonstrating further that Right-wing Extremists represent a violent, loud minority in Ukraine.

February 11, 2014
Iranian warships 'ordered to advance on US maritime borders'

This happened three days ago, in case you missed it:

An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships had been ordered to approach US maritime borders as a response to the stationing of US vessels in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday.

Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message,” the agency quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying.

Haddad, described as commander of the Iranian navy’s northern fleet, said the vessels had started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via “waters near South Africa”, Fars reported.

Fars said the plan was part of “Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf”.

The Fars report, which carried no details of the vessels, could not be confirmed independently.

In Washington, a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast doubt on any claims that the Iranian ships were approaching US maritime borders. But the official added that “ships are free to operate in international waters”.

The US and its allies regularly stage naval exercises in the Gulf, saying they want to ensure freedom of navigation in the waterway through which 40% of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass.

US military facilities in the region include a base for its Fifth Fleet inBahrain.

Iran sees the Gulf as its own backyard and believes it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.

Iranian officials have often said Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if it came under military attack over its disputed nuclear programme, and the western war games are seen in the region as an attempt to deter any such move.

Fars said the Iranian navy had been developing its presence in international waters since 2010, regularly launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates operating in the area.

January 7, 2014
"I drive an 18-wheeler and haul cars in the US and Canada. When entering Canada, I’m treated with professionalism, asked specific questions, and granted access. But when I return from Canada, I am treated as if I’m, at minimum, smuggling something illegal and asked numerous questions, sometimes the same question more than once. I can only imagine the way foreign nationals are treated if I am treated this way as an American citizen. And I’m a white guy in my 60s who doesn’t fit any kind of a profile that would warrant this level of scrutiny."

Sullivan Reader

December 17, 2013
India-US row escalates over diplomat's arrest

Today in things that could’ve been handled better.

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