Tag Archives: war

Wag The Dog?

Is Trump preparing to take us into war with Iran? 

The New Yorker recently reminded us that the U.S. has a less-than-glorious history of provoking war:

The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats. In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use U.S. military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown. The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, U.S. warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” a U.S. military source told the Los Angeles Times that year.

We are still paying the price (fiscally and morally) for our invasion of Iraq–a decision sold to the American public on the basis of misinformation, bad intelligence and outright lies. As the article reminds us, we are still living with the repercussions sixteen years and more than four thousand American deaths later.

Those of us who are older will recall that the Vietnam War was authorized by two purported (and subsequently disputed) attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Those “attacks” prompted Congress to give President Johnson  “all necessary measures” to prevent “further aggression.” Fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese died.

Those weren’t the only examples in the article–not even close.

Americans were promised that the war against Iraq would be “easy”–the Iraqis would “greet us as liberators,” and democracy would flower in the Middle East. (Too bad the GOP has so little interest in reintroducing democracy to the U.S.) Those predictions, needless to say, were inaccurate–which explains why chills ran down my spine when I heard similar rhetoric from the usual suspects who can’t hide their eagerness to invade Iran.

The State Department has issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory for Americans going to Iraq; it also ordered nonessential personnel out, and warned of a “high risk for violence and kidnapping.”

This action comes after the United States indicated that Iran was behind attacks on four oil tankers just outside the Persian Gulf. Iran has denied those accusations, but as tensions in the region increase, Republicans are lining up to spread the message that war with Iranwould be easy,  and that it’s time foreveryone to get behind Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton declared that the United States could win a war in Iran with just “Two strikes: the first strike and a last strike.” This is completely at odds with the evaluation of military strategists. There is little doubt about the ability of the U.S. military to overcome that of Iran in the field, but the military of Iran is much more capable than that of Iraq, where the “easy” victory has been followed by well over a decade of low-grade warfare, bombings, and terror attacks.

Tensions with Iran were dramatically heightened when Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear treaty. The withdrawal was opposed by the other signatories to that treaty, and numerous monitoring agencies confirmed–contrary to Trump’s assertions– that Iran was in full compliance with its terms.

It’s a fairly safe bet that Trump is lying about the attacks on our oil tankers.

The New York Times reports that a British military official—who also happens to be the deputy commander of the coalition fighting ISIS—has stated that he sees “no increased risk from Iran or allied militias,” but the U.S. has fired back to say there are “identified credible threats” that generated the State Department warnings. That’s not to say that European officials and coalition members aren’t seeing aggressive moves in the Middle East. It’s just that those moves have “originated not in Tehran, but in Washington.”

Bottom line: Trump is perfectly capable of starting a war if he thinks a war will help him win re-election.

If he moves in that direction, every single sane American needs to take to the streets. We need to mount demonstrations so massive they will make the Women’s Marches look like lightly attended tea parties.

Trump has done enormous–hopefully, not yet irreparable– damage to this country. He has given aid and comfort to neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremicists; trashed America’s image across the globe, and significantly deepened the country’s tribal divisions.

We cannot sit by and allow him to initiate a conflict that–idiots like Tom Cotton to the contrary– would be anything but “easy to win” and that might well trigger World War III–just because he wants to “wag the dog.”

Enough is enough.

America’s Heartless–And Misogynist– Administration

The Washington Post headline really says it all: “The U.N. wanted to end sexual violence in war. The Trump Administration had objections.”

BERLIN — When Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidiwere awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for their work to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, there was widespread praise from all parts of the world, including the United States.

But when the Trump administration was asked this month to do its part, and to pass a U.N. resolution to end sexual violence in war, things suddenly looked a bit more complicated.

Until the end, international politicians and celebrities urged the United States to “stand on the right side of history,” as actor George Clooney said, and to “ensure [victims’] voices are at the center of our response,” as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and actress Angelina Jolie wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

But to no avail.

The U.N. Security Council finally passed a resolution, but it was significantly watered down, thanks to the Trump Administration’s insistence on deleting key portions. Needless to say, our European allies are furious. (Not that this administration has ever given any evidence of caring what our democratic and civilized allies think. Trump only kowtows to dictators and autocrats.)

So why, you might be asking yourself, would the U.S. government–even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office–object to a resolution against sexual violence as a tool of warfare?

If you think about it for awhile, it will make (sick) sense.

This utterly immoral position is entirely consistent with the misogyny and contempt for women and women’s rights that characterize today’s GOP. The administration objected to  references to reproductive and sexual health, references which might be understood as support for abortion.

The initial version of the draft resolution had stated that victims of sexual violence should be able to access services, which specifically included “sexual and reproductive health.” Amid objections, a subsequent version referred only to “comprehensive health services” for victims of sexual violence.

But for the Trump administration, even offering vaguely defined “comprehensive health services” for sexual violence victims went a step too far.

The U.S. position is thus that a woman who has been raped as an act of war and who finds herself pregnant as a result has no right to terminate that pregnancy.  Once again, we see that the “religious” doctrine espoused by the President, his Vice-President and his entire party classifies women as incubators, not humans entitled to and capable of self-determination.

Also removed from the final resolution were references to expanded U.N. monitoring that would keep track of violations of the resolution. That, in practice, could mean that perpetrators will have to fear less international scrutiny than originally planned.

To avert a U.S. veto, the passed resolution included only watered-down references to the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is supposed to prosecute war crimes but has recently found itself in a clash with the Trump administration after it considered investigating U.S. troops over the war in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the world, the United States never ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty.

Although there has always been rape in war, the use of sexual violence as a systematic intimidation tool mostly emerged in the 20th century, and has grown alarmingly.

Between 1992 and 1995, Serb troops systematically raped at least 20,000 girls and women, according to the European Commission, which in a 1996 report detailed that “impregnated girls have been forced to bear ‘the enemy’s’ child,” thus exposing them to lifelong psychological scars.

“Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can,” the United Nations’ State of the World’s Children concluded the same year.

By 2008, U.N. member states had acknowledged in a landmark resolution that sexual violence in conflict had “become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”

The administration of America’s despicable President–himself a serial abuser and accused rapist–has shamed the country once again.

While We’re Talking About Patriotism…

Among Monday’s Fourth of July reliable pieties were many exhortations to “support the troops.” We heard little or nothing about what really supporting our troops would look like.

A commenter on my Fourth of July post advocated reinstitution of the military draft; the comment reminded me of a book review I read awhile back, so I dug it out. In the New York Times, Matthew Crawford reviewed Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. Junger had previously directed two well-received documentaries about an American platoon stationed in a small village in Afghanistan. In those films, Crawford tells us, we see

…the recalcitrant realities of killing. We see the joys and depravities of a cell of men released from the neutering moral regulation of American society. That society has a mission for them to do, but it cannot avow the means by which it is to be accomplished and must avert its gaze from the appalling maleness of it all.

In Tribe, Junger asks: how do you return home from such an experience, an experience where the qualities demanded of soldiers, the qualities cultivated by war, are “fundamentally at odds with our public principles”? How do you reintegrate these young people into a society largely indifferent to and unaware of the nation’s foreign entanglements, let alone the realities of combat?

In his review of the book, Crawford points out that the problems of re-entry and reintegration into society in countries (like Israel) where the burdens of national defense are widely shared–and much less remote from the collective consciousness of the general public–are much different from the problems faced by returning American soldiers.

There are strengths and weaknesses to a volunteer army. I would suggest that the weaknesses are significant–and corrosive–and that they outweigh the strengths.

Our “volunteers” are mostly recruited from marginalized populations and those who have few other educational or employment options. To be blunt (and not “politically correct”), that reality–and America’s extensive use of “contractors” (aka mercenaries)– makes it easier for lawmakers to authorize military actions. They need not come back to their districts and face constituents whose sons and daughters have been conscripted and sent into danger.

I have previously written about the negative consequences of “outsourcing” patriotism. In the concluding paragraph of his book review, Crawford underlines several of my concerns.

The self-deceptions of contemporary society that Junger elaborates run too deep to be relieved by exhortations to “support the troops.” The conclusion one reaches upon finishing Tribe is that we should bring back the draft and have universal, obligatory military service. It is hard to think of a public policy reform that would do more to heal the growing chasm of social class, affirm our shared destiny as citizens and at the same time discipline our foreign policy. A nation of 320 million will never be a tribe, but if after such a reform we still have enthusiasm for putting “boots on the ground,” those boots will belong to “us” rather than “them.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Wishful Thinking Isn’t Foreign Policy

A post-debate column from the Brookings Institution focused on a criticism of Administration foreign policy that is dangerously disconnected from reality in its naivete.

The Republican presidential candidates last night disagreed on many important issues, but on foreign policy, they showed a remarkable unanimity. Together, they presented what boils down to a consensus Republican foreign policy manifesto: “Obama is weak; I am strong.”

As the author notes, the message is simple: favoring diplomacy over force is weakness.

The problem with this very simplistic worldview is front and center in the current debate about the Iran nuclear agreement. Opponents–not all of whom are Republicans, and several of whom should know better (yes, Senator Schumer, I’m looking at you)–routinely fault the agreement as “not good enough,” but fall curiously silent when they are asked to propose alternatives. To date, I have not heard any of them offer a single specific suggestion; when pressed, they say something like “I’d get a better deal,” without explaining what “better” would look like or how they would achieve it.

None of those who are opposed to any deal at all with Iran have said what they would do instead. Implicitly, of course, they are counseling war.

All of the Republican candidates seem intent on ignoring the changes in the world that limit America’s capacity to achieve such dramatic outcomes. America’s military power is second to none, but it has been shown in both the George W. Bush and Obama presidencies to have severe limits in achieving foreign policy outcomes. Overall, particularly since the global financial crisis, power has diffused; strong, new competitors have emerged, and even America’s allies have grown more independent and willful as they have grown in relative power. No presidential act of will can change those stark realities.

Indeed, this was a realization not originally of President Obama, but of President Bush, whose second-term foreign policy looks much more like that of Obama than that articulated by the Republican candidates at the debate. It was George W. Bush after all, humbled by American difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, who started the process of withdrawal from Iraq, began the search for an Iran deal, and chose to respond to the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia with sanctions and negotiation. The ideas of preemptive war and unilateral American action were essentially abandoned by the end of the Bush presidency, in fact if not entirely in rhetoric.

The Iran deal is a case in point. It is all well and good to counsel abandoning it on the first day. But, after scrapping the deal, the United States does not have the capacity to reconstruct the international coalition that kept Iran in its box the last 13 years. All of its allies have accepted this deal, and without them there can be no effective effort to deny Iran a nuclear weapon.

There’s a reason thoughtful and knowledgable people–from Dick Lugar and Madelyn Albright to nuclear weapons experts–have strongly endorsed the Iran agreement.

Wishful thinking is not strategy; posturing and self-delusion are not foreign policy. It took an unnecessary and costly war to teach George W. Bush that lesson; we don’t need a repeat performance.



I haven’t posted anything about the situation in Syria, because–to be utterly candid–I’m conflicted about it. Not about Assad–he’s a vicious dictator–but about what America should or could do that wouldn’t simply make a horrible situation worse.

I don’t consider myself either a hawk or a dove; I opposed our intervention in Iraq, but not Afghanistan, because the situations were very different. Afghanistan had harbored and supported the people who attacked us. Iraq was an obvious war of choice, trumped up by people who quite clearly had no understanding of the complex political realities of the Middle East. Furthermore, we had international support for our response to Afghanistan, and a pathetic, trumped-up “Coalition of the Willing” for our aggression in Iraq.

Justified or not, neither war went well.

Now I am listening to the arguments for and against a “targeted” action against Syria. The President’s argument–Syria has defied international norms and inaction will send a message that such violations can continue with impunity–resonates with me. But so does the argument that another “go it alone” cowboy intervention in the world’s most dangerous region is likely to end badly, doing more harm than good.

Until I read this post by Andrew Sullivan, I thought I was the only person impatient with the self-righteous moralists on both ends of the political spectrum. On the Right, we have the American Exceptionalists who believe we should be the world’s policemen, not to mention the irony-challenged chickenhawks who pontificate about saving the lives of Muslims they routinely stereotype and discriminate against here at home;  on the Left, we have the anti-imperialism scolds who loudly accuse anyone considering any intervention of any sort for any reason guilty of moral turpitude and/or commercial intent. To both camps, waging war or not is apparently a simple decision, to be made without any ambivalence or concern for the truly disastrous consequences that could flow from a wrong decision.

A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker made all of these points far more clearly than I can. (Actually, this article from the Onion did an even better job of laying out the unattractive options–and when the Onion is the voice of sanity, that sort of sums it all up.)

Whatever we do, act or refrain from acting,  prudence requires that we think carefully about the pitfalls. What do we want to accomplish,  what decisions and tactics are likely to achieve that goal, and at what cost–not just in human lives and dollars, but to America’s long-term international interests?

I’m all for realpolitik. I just don’t know what it looks like right now.