News from the blood-stained plinth
The Airwars monitoring group has compiled reports of 1,280 to 1,744 civilians killed by at least 2,237 bombs and missiles that rained down from U.S. and allied warplanes in April (1,609 on Iraq and 628 on Syria). The heaviest casualties were in and around Old Mosul and West Mosul, where 784 to 1,074 civilians were reported killed, but the area around Tabqa in Syria also suffered heavy civilian casualties. -- Nicolas J.S. Davies, Consortiumnews.com, May 9, 2017
Casualties of the September 11 attacks - Wikipedia
During the September 11 attacks in 2001, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.
- Over 370,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and at least 800,000 more indirectly
- 200,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict
- 10.1 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
- The US federal price tag for the Iraq war is about 4.8 trillion dollars
- The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad
- The wars did not result in inclusive, transparent, and democratic governments in Iraq or Afghanistan
- -- Costs of War, Watson Institute, Brown University, Sept. 2016
Exhausted after the 110th chaotic day of the golden-haired autocrat, when yet another honorable public servant was publicly humiliated and stripped of his position and rank, we turned to what underlies the chaos, perpetual imperial war in three aspects: its slaughter, political corruption, and corporate profiteering. How typical is it of humanity, even exceptional American humanity, that our rulers would thoughtfully provide us circuses while they steal us blind, corrupt and destroy the institutions that distinguish us as Americans, and just keep on slaughtering women and children along with those who are, by and large, defending their own homelands, which we have invaded and occupied.
We deny all of it. The Russians understand that kind of denial and how to take advantage of it. They lived by the rule of denial of political reality for most of a century and show signs that they are still more comfortable with it than with the perils of Western democracy. And they appear to be delighted to play the role of our Bogey Man. And that is vengeance for sending in the Chicago Boys when the Soviet Union fell to hand their economy over to an oligarchy of kleptocrats in the name of the free market.
Then came the Invisible Middle Finger of the Free Market; and look now how it shines in the world, the Immortal Spire of which humanity is but the blood-stained plinth!
The Silent Slaughter of the US Air War
Exclusive: The U.S. mainstream media voiced moral outrage when Russian warplanes killed civilians in Aleppo but has gone silent as U.S. warplanes slaughter innocents in Mosul and Raqqa, notes Nicolas J S Davies.
By Nicolas J S Davies
April 2017 was another month of mass slaughter and unimaginable terror for the people of Mosul in Iraq and the areas around Raqqa and Tabqa in Syria, as the heaviest, most sustained U.S.-led bombing campaignsince the American War in Vietnam entered its 33rd mont
The Airwars monitoring group has compiled reports of 1,280 to 1,744 civilians killed by at least 2,237 bombs and missiles that rained down from U.S. and allied warplanes in April (1,609 on Iraq and 628 on Syria). The heaviest casualties were in and around Old Mosul and West Mosul, where 784 to 1,074 civilians were reported killed, but the area around Tabqa in Syria also suffered heavy civilian casualties.
In other war zones, as I have explained in previous articles (here and here), the kind of “passive” reports of civilian deaths compiled by Airwars have only ever captured between 5 percent and 20 percent of the actual civilian war deaths revealed by comprehensive mortality studies. Iraqbodycount, which used a similar methodology to Airwars, had only counted 8 percent of the deaths discovered by a mortality study in occupied Iraq in 2006.
Airwars appears to be collecting reports of civilian deaths more thoroughly than Iraqbodycount 11 years ago, but it classifies large numbers of them as “contested” or “weakly reported,” and is deliberately conservative in its counting. For instance, in some cases, it has counted local media reports of “many deaths” as a minimum of one death, with no maximum figure. This is not to fault Airwars’ methods, but to recognize its limitations in contributing to an actual estimate of civilian deaths.
Allowing for various interpretations of Airwars’ data, and assuming that, like such efforts in the past, it is capturing between 5 percent and 20 percent of actual deaths, a serious estimate of the number of civilians killed by the U.S.-led bombing campaign since 2014 would by now have to be somewhere between 25,000 and 190,000.
The Pentagon recently revised its own facetious estimate of the number of civilians it has killed in Iraq and Syria since 2014 to 352. That is less than a quarter of the 1,446 victims whom Airwars has positively identified by name.
Airwars has also collected reports of civilians killed by Russian bombing in Syria, which outnumbered its reports of civilians killed by U.S.-led bombing for most of 2016. However, since the U.S.-led bombing escalated to over 10,918 bombs and missiles dropped in the first three months of 2017, the heaviest bombardment since the campaign began in 2014, Airwars’ reports of civilians killed by U.S.-led bombing have surpassed reports of deaths from Russian bombing.
Because of the fragmentary nature of all Airwars’ reports, this pattern may or may not accurately reflect whether the U.S. or Russia has really killed more civilians in each of these periods. There are many factors that could affect that.
For example, Western governments and NGOs have funded and supported the White Helmets and other groups who report civilian casualties caused by Russian bombing, but there is no equivalent Western support for the reporting of civilian casualties from the Islamic State-held areas that the U.S. and its allies are bombing. If Airwars’ reporting is capturing a greater proportion of actual deaths in one area than another due to factors like this, it could lead to differences in the numbers of reported deaths that do not reflect differences in actual deaths.
Shock, Awe … and Silence
To put the 79,000 bombs and missiles with which the U.S. and its allies have bombarded Iraq and Syria since 2014 in perspective, it is worth reflecting back to the “more innocent” days of “Shock and Awe” in March 2003. As NPR reporter Sandy Tolan reported in 2003, one of the architects of that campaign predicted that dropping 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq would have, “the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan.”
At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”
When “Shock and Awe” was unleashed on Iraq in 2003, it dominated the news all over the world. But after eight years of “disguised, quiet, media-free” warunder President Obama, the U.S. mass media don’t even treat the daily slaughter from this heavier, more sustained bombardment of Iraq and Syria as news. They cover single mass casualty events for a few days, but quickly resume normal “Trump Show” programming.
As in George Orwell’s 1984, the public knows that our military forces are at war with somebody somewhere, but the details are sketchy. “Is that still a thing?” “Isn’t North Korea the big issue now?”
There is almost no political debate in the U.S. over the rights and wrongs of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Never mind that bombing Syria without authorization from its internationally recognized government is a crime of aggression and a violation of the U.N. Charter. The freedom of the United States to violate the U.N. Charter at will has already been politically (not legally!) normalized by 17 years of serial aggression, from the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
So who will enforce the Charter now to protect civilians in Syria, who already face violence and death from all sides in a bloody civil and proxy war, in which the U.S. was already deeply complicit well before it began bombing Syria in 2014?
In terms of U.S. law, three successive U.S. regimes have claimed that their unconstrained violence is legally justified by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001. But sweeping as it was, that bill said only,
“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
How many of the thousands of civilians the U.S. has killed in Mosul in the past few months played any such role in the September 11th terrorist attacks? Every person reading this knows the answer to that question: probably not one of them. If one of them was involved, it would be by sheer coincidence.
Any impartial judge would reject a claim that this legislation authorized 16 years of war in at least eight countries, the overthrow of governments that had nothing to do with 9/11, the killing of about 2 million people and the destabilization of country after country – just as surely as the judges at Nuremberg rejected the German defendants’ claims that they invaded Poland, Norway and the U.S.S.R. to prevent or “preempt” imminent attacks on Germany.
U.S. officials may claim that the 2002 Iraq AUMF legitimizes the bombardment of Mosul. That law at least refers to the same country. But while it is also still on the books, the whole world knew within months of its passage that it used false premises and outright lies to justify overthrowing a government that the U.S. has since destroyed.
The U.S. war in Iraq officially ended with the withdrawal of the last U.S. occupation forces in 2011. The AUMF did not and could not possibly have approved allying with a new regime in Iraq 14 years later to attack one of its cities and kill thousands of its people.
Caught in a Web of War Propaganda
Do we really not know what war is? Has it been too long since Americans experienced war on our own soil? Perhaps. But as thankfully distant as war may be from most of our daily lives, we cannot pretend that we do not know what it is or what horrors it brings.
This month, two friends and I visited our Congresswoman’s office representing our local Peace Action affiliate, Peace Justice Sustainability Florida, to ask her to cosponsor legislation to prohibit a U.S. nuclear first strike; to repeal the 2001 AUMF; to vote against the military budget; to cut off funding for the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Syria; and to support diplomacy, not war, with North Korea.
When one of my friends explained that he’d fought in Vietnam and started to talk about what he’d witnessed there, he had to stop to keep from crying. But the staffer didn’t need him to go on. She knew what he was talking about. We all do.
But if we all have to see dead and wounded children in the flesh before we can grasp the horror of war and take serious action to stop it and prevent it, then we face a bleak and bloody future. As my friend and too many like him have learned at incalculable cost, the best time to stop a war is before it starts, and the main lesson to learn from every war is: “Never again!”
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump won the presidency partly by presenting themselves as “peace” candidates. This was a carefully calculated and calibrated element in both their campaigns, given the pro-war records of their main opponents, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. The American public’s aversion to war is a factor that every U.S. president and politician has to deal with, and promising peace before spinning us into war is an American political tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.
As Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering admitted to American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert in his cell at Nuremberg, “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
“There is one difference,” Gilbert insisted, “In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”
Goering was unimpressed by Madison‘s and Hamilton’s cherished constitutional safeguards. “Oh, that is all well and good,” he replied, “but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
Our commitment to peace and our abhorrence of war are too easily undermined by the simple but timeless techniques Goering described. In the U.S. today, they are enhanced by several other factors, most of which also had parallels in World War Two Germany:
–Mass media that suppress public awareness of the human costs of war, especially when U.S. policy or U.S. forces are responsible.
–A media blackout on voices of reason who advocate alternative policies based on peace, diplomacy or the rule of international law.
–In the ensuing silence regarding rational alternatives, politicians and media present “doing something,”meaning war, as the only alternative to the perennial straw man of “doing nothing.”
–The normalization of war by stealth and deception, especially by public figures otherwise seen as trustworthy, like President Obama.
–The dependence of progressive politicians and organizations on funding from labor unions that have become junior partners in the military industrial complex.
–The political framing of U.S. disputes with other countries as entirely the result of actions by the other side, and the demonization of foreign leaders to dramatize and popularize these false narratives.
–The pretense that the U.S. role in overseas wars and global military occupation stems from a well-meaning desire to help people, not from U.S. strategic ambitions and business interests.
Taken altogether, this amounts to a system of war propaganda, in which the heads of TV networks bear a share of responsibility for the resulting atrocities along with political and military leaders. Trotting out retired generals to bombard the home front with euphemistic jargon, without disclosing the hefty directors’ and consultants’ fees they collect from weapons manufacturers, is only one side of this coin.
The equally important flip-side is the media’s failure to even cover wars or the U.S. role in them, and their systematic marginalization of anyone who suggests there is anything morally or legally wrong with America’s wars.
The Pope and Gorbachev
Pope Francis recently suggested that a third party could act as a mediator to help resolve our country’s nearly 70-year-old conflict with North Korea. The Pope suggested Norway. Even more importantly, the Pope framed the problem as a dispute between the United States and North Korea, not, as U.S. officials do, as North Korea posing a problem or a threat to the rest of the world.
This is how diplomacy works best, by correctly and honestly identifying the roles that different parties are playing in a dispute or a conflict, and then working to resolve their disagreements and conflicting interests in a way that both sides can live with or even benefit from. The JCPOA that resolved the U.S. dispute with Iran over its civilian nuclear program is a good example of how this can work.
This kind of real diplomacy is a far cry from the brinksmanship, threats and aggressive alliances that have masqueraded as diplomacy under a succession of U.S. presidents and secretaries of state since Truman and Acheson, with few exceptions. The persistent desire of much of the U.S. political class to undermine the JCPOA with Iran is a measure of how U.S. officials cling to the use of threats and brinksmanship and are offended that the “exceptional” United States should have to come down from its high horse and negotiate in good faith with other countries.
At the root of these dangerous policies, as historian William Appleman Williams wrote in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy in 1959, lies the mirage of supreme military power that seduced U.S. leaders after the allied victory in the Second World War and the invention of nuclear weapons. After running headlong into the reality of an unconquerable post-colonial world in Vietnam, this American Dream of ultimate power faded briefly, only to be reborn with a vengeance after the end of the Cold War.
Much as its defeat in the First World War was not decisive enough to convince Germany that its military ambitions were doomed, a new generation of U.S. leaders saw the end of the Cold War as their chance to “kick the Vietnam syndrome” and revive America’s tragic bid for “full spectrum dominance.”
As Mikhail Gorbachev lamented in a speech in Berlin on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2014, “the West, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War. Euphoria and triumphalism went to the heads of Western leaders. Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and the lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination of the world, refusing to heed words of caution from many of those present here.”
This post-Cold War triumphalism has predictably led us into an even more convoluted maze of delusions, disasters and dangers than the Cold War itself. The folly of our leaders’ insatiable ambitions and recurrent flirtations with mass extinction are best symbolized by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, whose hands once again stand at two and a half minutes to midnight.
The inability of the costliest war machine ever assembled to defeat lightly-armed resistance forces in country after country, or to restore stability to any of the countries it has destroyed, has barely dented the domestic power of the U.S. military-industrial complex over our political institutions and our national resources. Neither millions of deaths, trillions of dollars wasted, nor abject failure on its own terms has slowed the mindless spread and escalation of the “global war on terror.”
Futurists debate whether robotic technology and artificial intelligence will one day lead to a world in which autonomous robots could launch a war to enslave and destroy the human race, maybe even incorporating humans as components of the machines that will bring about our extinction. In the U.S. armed forces and military industrial complex, have we already created exactly such a semi-human, semi-technological organism that will not stop bombing, killing and destroying unless and until we stop it in its tracks and dismantle it?
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, What Obsessing About You-Know-Who Causes Us To Miss
Since the late eighteenth century, the United States has been involved in an almost ceaseless string of wars, interventions, punitive expeditions, and other types of military ventures abroad -- from fighting the British and Mexicans to the Filipinos and Koreans to the Vietnamese and Laotians to the Afghans and Iraqis. The country has formally declared war 11 times and has often engaged in undeclared conflicts with some form of congressional authorization, as with the post-9/11 “wars” that rage on today.
Recent presidents have conducted such wars without seemingly asking the hard questions -- whether about the validity of intelligence claims, the efficacy of military power, or the likely blowback from invasions, drone strikes, and the deposing of dictators. The consequences have been catastrophic for Afghans and Iraqis, Libyans and Yemenis, among others. At last, however, we finally have a president willing to raise some of the hard questions about war. Well, at least, about one war. Or, rather, questions about one war that are, at least, hard to decipher.
“People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?” President Donald Trump wondered in a recent interview, referring to America’s nineteenth century war over slavery. “Why could that one not have been worked out?"
Trump then suggested that, had President Andrew Jackson -- to whom he’s compared himself -- been in office, he would have avoided the conflict that claimed more American lives than any other: “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There's no reason for this.’” Of course, Andrew Jackson, who fought in his fair share of America’s ceaseless conflicts (including against the British during the War of 1812 and the Seminoles in Spanish Florida), died in 1845, more than a decade and a half before the Civil War began.
No matter. The important thing is that we finally have a president willing to ask some questions about some wars -- even if it’s the wrong questions about a war that ended more than 150 years ago.
Today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich offers a cheat sheet of sorts: the real questions about war and national security that should be asked but never are in these United States. Since it’s bound to take President Trump some time to work his way to the present -- what with all the questions about why we fought Japanese, Koreans, Spaniards, Filipinos, Chinese, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, Japanese (again), Germans, Koreans (again), Chinese (again), Vietnamese, and so many others -- it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to start asking Bacevich’s questions and demanding some answers. Nick Turse
24 Key Issues That Neither the Washington Elite Nor the Media Consider Worth Their Bother
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Donald Trump's election has elicited impassioned affirmations of a renewed commitment to unvarnished truth-telling from the prestige media. The common theme: you know you can’t trust him, but trust us to keep dogging him on your behalf. The New York Times has even unveiled a portentous new promotional slogan: “The truth is now more important than ever.” For its part, the Washington Post grimly warns that “democracy dies in darkness,” and is offering itself as a source of illumination now that the rotund figure of the 45th president has produced the political equivalent of a total eclipse of the sun. Meanwhile, National Public Radio fundraising campaigns are sounding an increasingly panicky note: give, listener, lest you be personally responsible for the demise of the Republic that we are bravely fighting to save from extinction.
If only it were so. How wonderful it would be if President Trump’s ascendancy had coincided with a revival of hard-hitting, deep-dive, no-holds-barred American journalism. Alas, that’s hardly the case. True, the big media outlets are demonstrating both energy and enterprise in exposing the ineptitude, inconsistency, and dubious ethical standards, as well as outright lies and fake news, that are already emerging as Trump era signatures. That said, pointing out that the president has (again) uttered a falsehood, claimed credit for a nonexistent achievement, or abandoned some position to which he had previously sworn fealty requires something less than the sleuthing talents of a Sherlock Holmes. As for beating up on poor Sean Spicer for his latest sequence of gaffes -- well, that’s more akin to sadism than reporting.
Apart from a commendable determination to discomfit Trump and members of his inner circle (select military figures excepted, at least for now), journalism remains pretty much what it was prior to November 8th of last year: personalities built up only to be torn down; fads and novelties discovered, celebrated, then mocked; “extraordinary” stories of ordinary people granted 15 seconds of fame only to once again be consigned to oblivion -- all served with a side dish of that day’s quota of suffering, devastation, and carnage. These remain journalism’s stock-in-trade. As practiced in the United States, with certain honorable (and hence unprofitable) exceptions, journalism remains superficial, voyeuristic, and governed by the attention span of a two year old.
As a result, all those editors, reporters, columnists, and talking heads who characterize their labors as “now more important than ever” ill-serve the public they profess to inform and enlighten. Rather than clearing the air, they befog it further. If anything, the media’s current obsession with Donald Trump -- his every utterance or tweet treated as “breaking news!” -- just provides one additional excuse for highlighting trivia, while slighting issues that deserve far more attention than they currently receive.
To illustrate the point, let me cite some examples of national security issues that presently receive short shrift or are ignored altogether by those parts of the Fourth Estate said to help set the nation’s political agenda. To put it another way: Hey, Big Media, here are two dozen matters to which you’re not giving faintly adequate thought and attention.
1. Accomplishing the “mission”: Since the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States has been committed to defending key allies in Europe and East Asia. Not long thereafter, U.S. security guarantees were extended to the Middle East as well. Under what circumstances can Americans expect nations in these regions to assume responsibility for managing their own affairs? To put it another way, when (if ever) might U.S. forces actually come home? And if it is incumbent upon the United States to police vast swaths of the planet in perpetuity, how should momentous changes in the international order -- the rise of China, for example, or accelerating climate change -- affect the U.S. approach to doing so?
2. American military supremacy: The United States military is undoubtedly the world’s finest. It’s also far and away the most generously funded, with policymakers offering U.S. troops no shortage of opportunities to practice their craft. So why doesn’t this great military ever win anything? Or put another way, why in recent decades have those forces been unable to accomplish Washington’s stated wartime objectives? Why has the now 15-year-old war on terror failed to result in even a single real success anywhere in the Greater Middle East? Could it be that we’ve taken the wrong approach? What should we be doing differently?
3. America’s empire of bases: The U.S. military today garrisons the planet in a fashion without historical precedent. Successive administrations, regardless of party, justify and perpetuate this policy by insisting that positioning U.S. forces in distant lands fosters peace, stability, and security. In the present century, however, perpetuating this practice has visibly had the opposite effect. In the eyes of many of those called upon to “host” American bases, the permanent presence of such forces smacks of occupation. They resist. Why should U.S. policymakers expect otherwise?
4. Supporting the troops: In present-day America, expressing reverence for those who serve in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation. Everyone professes to cherish America’s “warriors.” Yet such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines. Our present-day military system, based on the misnamed All-Volunteer Force, is neither democratic nor effective. Why has discussion and debate about its deficiencies not found a place among the nation’s political priorities?
5. Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief: Are there any military actions that the president of the United States may not order on his own authority? If so, what are they? Bit by bit, decade by decade, Congress has abdicated its assigned role in authorizing war. Today, it merely rubberstamps what presidents decide to do (or simply stays mum). Who does this deference to an imperial presidency benefit? Have U.S. policies thereby become more prudent, enlightened, and successful?
6. Assassin-in-chief: A policy of assassination, secretly implemented under the aegis of the CIA during the early Cold War, yielded few substantive successes. When the secrets were revealed, however, the U.S. government suffered considerable embarrassment, so much so that presidents foreswore politically motivated murder. After 9/11, however, Washington returned to the assassination business in a big way and on a global scale, using drones. Today, the only secret is the sequence of names on the current presidential hit list, euphemistically known as the White House “disposition matrix.” But does assassination actually advance U.S. interests (or does it merely recruit replacements for the terrorists it liquidates)? How can we measure its costs, whether direct or indirect? What dangers and vulnerabilities does this practice invite?
7. The war formerly known as the “Global War on Terrorism”: What precisely is Washington’s present strategy for defeating violent jihadism? What sequence of planned actions or steps is expected to yield success? If no such strategy exists, why is that the case? How is it that the absence of strategy -- not to mention an agreed upon definition of “success” -- doesn’t even qualify for discussion here?
8. The campaign formerly known as Operation Enduring Freedom: The conflict commonly referred to as the Afghanistan War is now the longest in U.S. history -- having lasted longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. What is the Pentagon’s plan for concluding that conflict? When might Americans expect it to end? On what terms?
9. The Gulf: Americans once believed that their prosperity and way of life depended on having assured access to Persian Gulf oil. Today, that is no longer the case. The United States is once more an oil exporter. Available and accessible reserves of oil and natural gas in North America are far greater than was once believed. Yet the assumption that the Persian Gulf still qualifies as crucial to American national security persists in Washington. Why?
10. Hyping terrorism: Each year terrorist attacks kill far fewer Americans than do auto accidents, drug overdoses, or even lightning strikes. Yet in the allocation of government resources, preventing terrorist attacks takes precedence over preventing all three of the others combined. Why is that?
11. Deaths that matter and deaths that don’t: Why do terrorist attacks that kill a handful of Europeans command infinitely more American attention than do terrorist attacks that kill far larger numbers of Arabs? A terrorist attack that kills citizens of France or Belgium elicits from the United States heartfelt expressions of sympathy and solidarity. A terrorist attack that kills Egyptians or Iraqis elicits shrugs. Why the difference? To what extent does race provide the answer to that question?
12. Israeli nukes: What purpose is served by indulging the pretense that Israel does not have nuclear weapons?
13. Peace in the Holy Land: What purpose is served by indulging illusions that a “two-state solution” offers a plausible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? As remorselessly as white settlers once encroached upon territory inhabited by Native American tribes, Israeli settlers expand their presence in the occupied territories year by year. As they do, the likelihood of creating a viable Palestinian state becomes ever more improbable. To pretend otherwise is the equivalent of thinking that one day President Trump might prefer the rusticity of Camp David to the glitz of Mar-a-Lago.
14. Merchandizing death: When it comes to arms sales, there is no need to Make America Great Again. The U.S. ranks number one by a comfortable margin, with long-time allies Saudi Arabia and Israel leading recipients of those arms. Each year, the Saudis (per capita gross domestic product $20,000) purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. weapons. Israel (per capita gross domestic product $38,000) gets several billion dollars worth of such weaponry annually courtesy of the American taxpayer. If the Saudis pay for U.S. arms, why shouldn’t the Israelis? They can certainly afford to do so.
15. Our friends the Saudis (I): Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001, were Saudis. What does that fact signify?
16. Our friends the Saudis (II): If indeed Saudi Arabia and Iran are competing to determine which nation will enjoy the upper hand in the Persian Gulf, why should the United States favor Saudi Arabia? In what sense do Saudi values align more closely with American values than do Iranian ones?
17. Our friends the Pakistanis: Pakistan behaves like a rogue state. It is a nuclear weapons proliferator. It supports the Taliban. For years, it provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. Yet U.S. policymakers treat Pakistan as if it were an ally. Why? In what ways do U.S. and Pakistani interests or values coincide? If there are none, why not say so?
18. Free-loading Europeans: Why can’t Europe, “whole and free,” its population and economy considerably larger than Russia’s, defend itself? It’s altogether commendable that U.S. policymakers should express support for Polish independence and root for the Baltic republics. But how does it make sense for the United States to care more about the wellbeing of people living in Eastern Europe than do people living in Western Europe?
19. The mother of all “special relationships”: The United States and the United Kingdom have a “special relationship” dating from the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Apart from keeping the Public Broadcasting Service supplied with costume dramas and stories featuring eccentric detectives, what is the rationale for that partnership today? Why should U.S. relations with Great Britain, a fading power, be any more “special” than its relations with a rising power like India? Why should the bonds connecting Americans and Britons be any more intimate than those connecting Americans and Mexicans? Why does a republic now approaching the 241st anniversary of its independence still need a “mother country”?
20. The old nuclear disarmament razzmatazz: American presidents routinely cite their hope for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. Yet the U.S. maintains nuclear strike forces on full alert, has embarked on a costly and comprehensive trillion-dollar modernization of its nuclear arsenal, and even refuses to adopt a no-first-use posture when it comes to nuclear war. The truth is that the United States will consider surrendering its nukes only after every other nation on the planet has done so first. How does American nuclear hypocrisy affect the prospects for global nuclear disarmament or even simply for the non-proliferation of such weaponry?
21. Double standards (I): American policymakers take it for granted that their country’s sphere of influence is global, which, in turn, provides the rationale for the deployment of U.S. military forces to scores of countries. Yet when it comes to nations like China, Russia, or Iran, Washington takes the position that spheres of influence are obsolete and a concept that should no longer be applicable to the practice of statecraft. So Chinese, Russian, and Iranian forces should remain where they belong -- in China, Russia, and Iran. To stray beyond that constitutes a provocation, as well as a threat to global peace and order. Why should these other nations play by American rules? Why shouldn’t similar rules apply to the United States?
22. Double standards (II): Washington claims that it supports and upholds international law. Yet when international law gets in the way of what American policymakers want to do, they disregard it. They start wars, violate the sovereignty of other nations, and authorize agents of the United States to kidnap, imprison, torture, and kill. They do these things with impunity, only forced to reverse their actions on the rare occasions when U.S. courts find them illegal. Why should other powers treat international norms as sacrosanct since the United States does so only when convenient?
23. Double standards (III): The United States condemns the indiscriminate killing of civilians in wartime. Yet over the last three-quarters of a century, it killed civilians regularly and often on a massive scale. By what logic, since the 1940s, has the killing of Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Afghans, and others by U.S. air power been any less reprehensible than the Syrian government’s use of “barrel bombs” to kill Syrians today? On what basis should Americans accept Pentagon claims that, when civilians are killed these days by U.S. forces, the acts are invariably accidental, whereas Syrian forces kill civilians intentionally and out of malice? Why exclude incompetence or the fog of war as explanations? And why, for instance, does the United States regularly gloss over or ignore altogether the noncombatants that Saudi forces (with U.S. assistance) are routinely killing in Yemen?
24. Moral obligations: When confronted with some egregious violation of human rights, members of the chattering classes frequently express an urge for the United States to “do something.” Holocaust analogies sprout like dandelions. Newspaper columnists recycle copy first used when Cambodians were slaughtering other Cambodians en masse or whenever Hutus and Tutsis went at it. Proponents of action -- typically advocating military intervention -- argue that the United States has a moral obligation to aid those victimized by injustice or cruelty anywhere on Earth. But what determines the pecking order of such moral obligations? Which comes first, a responsibility to redress the crimes of others or a responsibility to redress crimes committed by Americans? Who has a greater claim to U.S. assistance, Syrians suffering today under the boot of Bashar al-Assad or Iraqis, their country shattered by the U.S. invasion of 2003? Where do the Vietnamese fit into the queue? How about the Filipinos, brutally denied independence and forcibly incorporated into an American empire as the nineteenth century ended? Or African-Americans, whose ancestors were imported as slaves? Or, for that matter, dispossessed and disinherited Native Americans? Is there a statute of limitations that applies to moral obligations? And if not, shouldn’t those who have waited longest for justice or reparations receive priority attention?
Let me suggest that any one of these two dozen issues -- none seriously covered, discussed, or debated in the American media or in the political mainstream -- bears more directly on the wellbeing of the United States and our prospects for avoiding global conflict than anything Donald Trump may have said or done during his first 100 days as president. Collectively, they define the core of the national security challenges that presently confront this country, even as they languish on the periphery of American politics.
How much damage Donald Trump’s presidency wreaks before it ends remains to be seen. Yet he himself is a transient phenomenon. To allow his pratfalls and shenanigans to divert attention from matters sure to persist when he finally departs the stage is to make a grievous error. It may well be that, as the Times insists, the truth is now more important than ever. If so, finding the truth requires looking in the right places and asking the right questions.
Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, now out in paperback. His next book will be an interpretive history of the United States from the end of the Cold War to the election of Donald Trump.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2017 Andrew J. Bacevich
Tomgram: William Hartung, Ignoring the Costs of War
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just wanted to remind you that our recent offer of a signed, personalized copy of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower’s highly praised new Dispatch Book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, in return for a contribution of $100 ($125 if you live outside the United States) is a limited one. It will only last another week, so if you meant to, do get yourself an autographed copy and don’t tarry. Check out our donation page. At the very least, offer TomDispatch your support and buy a copy of a great and disturbing book either at Amazon by clicking here (and so giving us a few extra cents at no extra cost to you) or by visiting publisher Haymarket Books’ website where it’s available at a significant discount by clicking here. Tom]
Wilbur Ross put the matter... well, mouth-wateringly. At a Milken Institute Global Conference in California, the commerce secretary recalled how President Trump was hosting a dinner for China’s president, Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago club at the moment when a bevy of Tomahawk missiles were being dispatched against an airfield in Syria. Ross described the moment this way: “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria. It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” To laughter from the crowd, he then added, “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.”
The president himself recalled the same moment in an interview with Fox Business: “I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We're now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen, and President Xi was enjoying it.” (Of course, Donald Trump is hardly the first person to, in essence, say, “Let them eat cake.”)
In the end, of course, someone did have to pick up the tab for that thrillingly militarized dessert and it just happened to be you and me. As TomDispatch regular William Hartung, author of Prophets of War, points out today in a piece on the true costs of war, American-style, the bill for that piece of cake and those Tomahawk missiles was $89 million dollars, admittedly a mere lagniappe by twenty-first-century U.S. military standards. (The tip for the meal naturally went to the maker of those Tomahawks, Raytheon). Rest assured that future desserts will undoubtedly be even more elaborate and expensive. After all, in a rare bipartisan show of unity, Republicans and Democrats just polished off a spending bill that will not only keep the government open through September, but give the Pentagon, an institution that happens to be historically incapable of even auditing itself, an extra little treat: $15 billion above and beyond its already vast budget to tide it over in its never-ending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and “replenish equipment and pay for training and maintenance.”
We’re talking chocolate cake all the way to the bank when it comes to the Pentagon and the major weapons contractors it regularly offers its tastiest desserts. Admittedly, that $15 billion wasn’t quite what President Trump wanted, but call it an mouth-watering appetizer when it comes to a meal about which, unlike almost everything else on the table in Washington, Democrats and Republicans always see more or less eye to eye. And expect one thing: a lot more chocolate cake in President Trump’s future. After all, the generals are in charge. Tom
The American Way of War Is a Budget-Breaker
Never Has a Society Spent More for Less
By William D. Hartung
When Donald Trump wanted to “do something” about the use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria, he had the U.S. Navy lob 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield (cost: $89 million). The strike was symbolic at best, as the Assad regime ran bombing missions from the same airfield the very next day, but it did underscore one thing: the immense costs of military action of just about any sort in our era.
While $89 million is a rounding error in the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget, it represents real money for other agencies. It’s more than twice the $38 million annual budget of the U.S. Institute of Peace and more than half the $149 million budget of the National Endowment of the Arts, both slated for elimination under Trump’s budget blueprint. If the strikes had somehow made us -- or anyone -- safer, perhaps they would have been worth it, but they did not.
In this century of nonstop military conflict, the American public has never fully confronted the immense costs of the wars being waged in its name. The human costs -- including an estimated 370,000 deaths, more than half of them civilians, and the millions who have been uprooted from their homes and sent into flight, often across national borders -- are surely the most devastating consequences of these conflicts. But the economic costs of our recent wars should not be ignored, both because they are so massive in their own right and because of the many peaceable opportunities foregone to pay for them.
Even on the rare occasions when the costs of American war preparations and war making are actually covered in the media, they never receive the sort of attention that would be commensurate with their importance. Last September, for example, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute released a paper demonstrating that, since 2001, the U.S. had racked up $4.79 trillion in current and future costs from its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, as well as in the war at home being waged by the Department of Homeland Security. That report was certainly covered in a number of major outlets, including the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, and U.S. News and World Report. Given its importance, however, it should have been on the front page of every newspaper in America, gone viral on social media, and been the subject of scores of editorials. Not a chance.
Yet the figures should stagger the imagination. Direct war spending accounted for “only” $1.7 trillion of that sum, or less than half of the total costs. The Pentagon disbursed those funds not through its regular budget but via a separate war account called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Then there were the more than $900 billion in indirect war costs paid for from the regular budget and the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs. And don’t forget to add in the more than half-trillion dollars for the budget of the Department of Homeland Security since 2001, as well as an expected $1 trillion in future costs for taking care of the veterans of this century’s wars throughout their lifetimes. If anyone were truly paying attention, what could more effectively bring home just how perpetual Washington’s post-9/11 war policies are likely to be?
That cost, in fact, deserves special attention. The Veterans Administration has chronic problems in delivering adequate care and paying out benefits in a timely fashion. Its biggest challenge: the sheer volume of veterans generated by Washington’s recent wars. An additional two million former military personnel have entered the VA system since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Fully half of them have already been awarded lifetime disability benefits. More than one in seven -- 327,000 -- suffer from traumatic brain injury. Not surprisingly, spending for the Veterans Administration has tripled since 2001. It has now reached more than $180 billion annually and yet the VA still can’t catch up with its backlog of cases or hire doctors and nurses fast enough to meet the need.
Now imagine another 15 years of such failing, yet endless wars and the flood of veterans they will produce and then imagine what a Cost of War Project report might look like in 2032. Given all this, you would think that the long-term price tag for caring for veterans would be taken into account when a president decides whether or not to continue to pursue America’s never-ending wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but that, of course, is never the case.
What a Military-First World Means in Budgetary Terms
Enter Donald Trump. Even before he launches a major war of his own -- if he does -- he’s loosed his generals to pursue with renewed energy just about all the wars that have been started in the last 15 years. In addition, he’s made it strikingly clear that he’s ready to throw hundreds of billions (eventually, of course, trillions) of additional tax dollars at the Pentagon in the years to come. As he put it in a September 2016 interview on Meet the Press, “I’m gonna build a military that’s so strong... nobody’s gonna mess with us.” As he makes plans to hike the Pentagon budget once more, however, here’s what he seems blissfully unaware of: at roughly $600 billion per year, current Pentagon spending is already close to its post-World War II peak and higher than it was at the height of the massive 1980s military buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan.
On the dubious theory that more is always better when it comes to Pentagon spending (even if that means less is worse elsewhere in America), Trump is requesting a $54 billion increase in military spending for 2018. No small sum, it’s roughly equal to the entire annual military budget of France, larger than the defense budgets of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, and only $12 billion less than the entire Russian military budget of 2015.
Trump and his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, have pledged to offset this sharp increase in Pentagon funding with corresponding cuts in domestic and State Department spending. (In a military-first world, who even cares about the ancient art of diplomacy?) If the president gets his way, that will mean, for instance, a 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and a 29% cut in the State Department’s. Eliminated would also be $8 billion worth of block grants that provide services to low-income communities, including subsidies for seniors who can’t afford to heat their homes, as well as any support for 19 separate agencies engaged in purely peaceable activities, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Legal Services, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which invests in economic development, education, and infrastructure projects in one of the nation’s poorest regions.
Overall, as presently imagined, the Trump budget would hike the Pentagon’s cut of the pie, and related spending on veterans' affairs, homeland security, and nuclear weapons to an astounding 68% of federal discretionary spending. And keep in mind that the discretionary budget includes virtually everything the government does outside of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that perpetual war and the urge to perpetuate yet more of it leaves little room for spending on the environment, diplomacy, alternative energy, housing, or other domestic investments, not to speak of infrastructure repair.
Put another way, preparations for and the pursuit of war will ensure that any future America is dirtier, sicker, poorer, more rickety, and less safe.
Taking the Gloves Off When It Comes to the Costs of War
The biggest beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse will, as always, be the major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, which received more than $36 billion in defense-related contracts in fiscal 2015 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available). To put that figure in perspective, Lockheed Martin’s federal contracts are now larger than the budgets of 22 of the 50 states. The top 100 defense contractors received $175 billion from the Pentagon in fiscal year 2015, nearly one-third of the Department of Defense’s entire budget. These numbers will only grow if Trump gets the money he wants to build more ships, planes, tanks, and nuclear weapons.
The Trump administration has yet to reveal precisely what it plans to spend all that new Pentagon money it’s requesting, but the president’s past statements offer some clues. He has called for building up the Navy from its current level of 272 ships to 350 or more. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the construction costs alone of such an effort would be $800 billion over the next three decades at an annual cost of $26.6 billion, which is 40% higher than the Navy’s present shipbuilding budget.
To put this in perspective, even before Trump’s proposed increases, the Navy was planning major expenditures on items like 12 new ballistic-missile-firing submarines at a development and building cost of more than $10 billion each. As for new surface ships, Trump wants to add two more aircraft carriers to the 10 already in active service. He made this clear in a speech on board the USS Gerald Ford, a new $13 billion carrier that, as with so much Pentagon weaponry, has been plagued with cost overruns and performance problems.
President Trump also wants to double down on the Pentagon’s preexisting program to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years on a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles. While that plan is politely referred to as a “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, it already essentially represents Washington’s bid to launch a new global arms race. So among a host of ill-considered plans for yet more expenditures, this one is a particular ringer, given that the United States already possesses massive nuclear overkill and that current nuclear delivery systems can last decades more with upgrades. To give all of this a sense of scale, two Air Force strategists determined that the United States needs just 311 nuclear warheads to dissuade any other country from ever attacking it with nuclear weapons. At 4,000 nuclear warheads, the current U.S. stockpile is already more than 13 times that figure -- enough, that is, to destroy several planet Earths.
And don’t forget that Trump also wants to add tens of thousands more soldiers and Marines to the military’s ranks. By the most conservative estimate, the cost of equipping, training, paying, and deploying a single soldier annually is now close to $1 million (even leaving aside those future VA outlays), so every 10,000 additional troops means at least $10 billion more per year.
And don’t forget that the staggering potential costs already mentioned represent just the baseline for military spending -- the costs President Trump will set in motion even if he doesn’t get us into a major war. Not that we’re not at war already. After all, he inherited no less than seven conflicts from Barack Obama: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Each of them involves a different mix of tools, including combat troops, trainers, Special Operations forces, conventional bombing, drone strikes, and the arming of surrogate forces -- but conflicts they already are.
Based on his first 100-plus days in office, the real question isn’t whether Donald Trump will escalate these conflicts -- he will -- but how much more he will do. He’s already allowed his military commanders to “take the gloves off” by loosening the criteria for air attacks in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, with an almost instant increase in civilian casualties as a result. He has also ceded to his commanders decision-making when it comes to how many troops to deploy in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, making it a reasonable probability that more U.S. personnel will be sent into action in the months and years to come.
It still seems unlikely that what must now be considered Trump’s wars will ever blow up into the kind of large-scale conflicts that the Bush administration sparked in Iraq. At the height of that disaster, more than 160,000 U.S. troops and a comparable number of U.S.-funded private contractors were deployed to Iraq (compared to 7,000 troops and more than 7,800 contractors there now). Nor does the talk of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 3,000 to 5,000 suggest that the 8,400 troops now there will ever be returned to the level of roughly 100,000 of the Obama “surge” era of 2010 and 2011.
But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Given Trump’s pattern of erratic behavior so far -- one week threatening a preemptive strike on North Korea and the next suggesting talks to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program -- anything is possible. For example, there could still be a sharp uptick in U.S. military personnel sent into Iraq and Syria when his pledge to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS doesn’t vanquish the group.
And if we learned anything from the Iraq experience (aside from the fact that attempting to use military force to remake another country is a formula for a humanitarian and security disaster), it’s that politicians and military leaders routinely underestimate the costs of war. Before the invasion of Iraq, Bush officials were, for instance, citing figures as low as $50 billion for the entire upcoming operation, beginning to end. According to figures compiled by the Congressional Research Service, however, direct budgetary costs for the Iraq intervention have been at least 16 times larger than that -- well over $800 billion -- and still counting.
One decision that could drive Trump’s already expansive military spending plans through the roof would be an incident that escalated into a full-scale conflict with Iran. If the Trump team -- a remarkable crew of Iranophobes -- were to attack that country, there’s no telling where things might end, or how high the costs might mount. As analyst Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, a war with Iran could “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”
So before Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style -- in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.
William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2017 William D. Hartung