OOPS!

The U.S. military has come up with some pretty good acronyms in the past, such as SNAFU (situation normal all f’d up) and FUBAR (f’d up beyond all repair). I recommend that the Pentagon consider inaugurating a new acronym for 2008: OOPS. It stands for outrageously, offensively, and profoundly stupid.

It hasn’t taken very long for the Pentagon to earn the OOPS label. News broke last week that the Pentagon sent Taiwan a set of nuclear components by accident. When Taiwan pointed out the error – they’d been hoping for some helicopter parts – the Pentagon misinterpreted the report and didn’t act on it. Now the International Atomic Energy Agency has to come up with a new category: accidental proliferator. OOPS!

Last August, the U.S. military mistakenly sent six nuclear-armed missiles on a cross-country tour of the United States. For 36 hours, no one knew where the nuclear weapons were. OOPS!

The Pentagon tortured terrorism suspect Murat Kurnaz in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, using waterboarding, electroshock, and sleep deprivation. During the more life-threatening sessions, doctors were summoned to verify that he was still alive and the torture could continue. He was held for four years at Guantamano even though the FBI and U.S. intelligence concluded that he was an innocent man. That’s not just OOPS. It’s VILE (violation of international law, etc).

What’s refreshing about military speak – and I’m talking here of the language of grunts and jarheads, not Pentagon representatives – is its candor. This candor was on display at the recent Winter Soldier hearings, where vets testified about their experiences in Iraq. It was not pretty. “We were encouraged to bring ‘drop weapons’ or shovels,” Corporal Jason Washburn testified. “In case we accidentally shot a civilian, we could drop the weapon on the body and pretend they were an insurgent.” FPIF contributor Aaron Glantz was there to capture these moments of unvarnished truth in Winter Soldiers’ Testimony.

In its prosecution of the Iraq War, the Bush administration has been anything but candid. As David Bromwich writes in The New York Review of Books, the administration has raised euphemism to the level of military doctrine. Bromwich proposes some corrective editing. Waterboarding should be identified as torture. Contractors should properly be called mercenaries. The surge should be labeled an escalation (to remind everyone of the failures of a similar policy in the Vietnam War).

And the Iraq War should simply be called a mistake. As FPIF columnist Zia Mian writes this week in The Costs of War, the war has been a disaster for virtually everyone: U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians, the U.S. economy, America’s standing in the world, even the Bush administration itself. “The Iraq War has broken the Bush presidency, cost the Republicans control of Congress, and may lose them the White House,” Mian writes. OOPS!

No one is immune from mistakes, of course. Here at FPIF, we too had our little OOPS moment last week when we asserted in World Beat that Venezuela, not Colombia, had conducted a cross-border raid into Ecuador. I’d like to blame this on a Bush administration disinformation campaign. I’d like to pretend that it was a ruse to see if World Beat subscribers read all the way to the end. But, alas, it was simply an unthinking error: mea culpa.

More Mistakes

In mid-March at George Washington University, Hillary Clinton gave a major speech on the Iraq War. With a sharp eye for political blather, FPIF’s Stephen Zunes provides an annotation. When Clinton argues that the “president took us to war,” Zunes points out that “President George W. Bush was not solely responsible for taking the United States to war. He had accomplices, such as Hillary Clinton. Bush was only able launch the invasion as a result of being provided with the authorization to do so by a congressional resolution. Clinton was among a minority of congressional Democrats who – combined with a Republican majority – provided sufficient votes to give the go-ahead for this illegal and disastrous war.”

The U.S. economy, having taken a heavy hit as a result of the war, has edged into a recession. The Bush administration’s response: a “surge” in government tax rebates.

Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz thinks the government stimulus package a mistake. In an interview with FPIF’s Carmela Cruz, Stiglitz said, “The stimulus package was too little, too late, and poorly designed. Yes, it will stimulate the economy, but not enough to avert the major slowdown. It was not designed to maximize bang for the buck, in other words the stimulation per dollar of deficit spending. For instance, increasing unemployment insurance would have been far better. It was also not designed to address America’s long-run problems. After all, insufficient household consumption is not a pressing problem in the United States. And many heavily indebted households will use the money to pay off pressing debts.”

U.S. in the World

Everyone talks about the precipitous decline in U.S. standing in the world, but who’s willing to do anything about it?

FPIF contributor Howard Salter evaluates the presidential candidates’ positions on global cooperation, from torture and Darfur to relations with the UN and the International Criminal court. “Obama and Clinton would seem to embrace a more cooperative U.S. foreign policy than McCain,” Salter writes in Global Cooperation: The Candidates Speak. “Obama’s view of diplomacy stands out as holding the greatest potential for what he calls ‘change.’ It would be unique – and refreshing – for the president of the United States to speak directly with not only our ‘friends,’ but also our ‘enemies.’ This open door-type of diplomacy, with our nation’s commander-in-chief leading the way, would be a bold new model in today’s interconnected world.”

Also this week, FPIF excerpts a chapter from an important new book on the military-industrial complex by Nick Turse. With a combination of wit and number-crunching, Turse gives a multidimensional picture of the biggest elephant in every room: the Pentagon. In The Military-Petroleum Complex, Turse looks at the food that keeps the elephant going. “The Pentagon needs two things to survive: war and oil,” he writes. “And it can’t make the first if it doesn’t have the second. In fact, the Pentagon’s methods of mass destruction — fighters, bombers, tanks, Humvees, and other vehicles — burn 75% of the fuel used by the DoD. For example, B-52 bombers consume 47,000 gallons per mission over Afghanistan.”

Finally, in her Postcard from…Nepal, Laura Elizabeth Pohl provides a snapshot of a Bhutanese refugee in limbo. Unable to return to Bhutan and not yet willing to emigrate to North America, Chet Nath waits in Nepal.

“For 15 years, Chet Nath postponed major life decisions until the day he would be living back in his homeland,” Pohl writes. “He put off marriage. He put off children. ‘Then one day I realized I had passed half my life here in the refugee camp. I realized I couldn’t keep delaying. That is why I married late and had a child late,’ said Chet Nath last June as he played on the bed with his three-year-old son Kushal. ‘I had never expected it would take so long to get back. I am still hopeful we’ll be back.’”