Focal Points Blog

The Shameless Cynicism of Zeroing in on the Ground Zero Islamic Center

At AlterNet, Joshua Holland deftly turns the expression “Ground Zero” on its head.

When the horror of nuclear warfare was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the term “Ground Zero” entered our lexicon. The expression has come to mean the epicenter of a catastrophic event. . . . the point from which damage spreads. [While] it’s not an apt analog for the physical destruction that resulted from the attacks on the World Trade Center. . . . it is an appropriate metaphor for the . . . bigotry against Muslim Americans that has radiated out from Ground Zero and spread across the United States.

Ironically, not long after 9/11, you could walk the streets of Manhattan and still see Muslims praying in a storefront mosque with a vendor outside selling Islamic ware, as well as Middle-Eastern food vendors playing tapes or CDs of muezzins. No inhibitions; no harassment.

It’s true that recently, though, things have begun to turn ugly, as Holland reports: “In May, an Arab man was brutally beaten in broad daylight in New York by four young men.” But it’s in the heartland where violence against Muslims has been spreading in the last couple of years. He writes:

A mosque in Miami, Florida, was sprayed with gunfire last year. Mosques have been vandalized or set aflame in Brownstown, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; Arlington, Texas . . . Taylor, South Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Eugene, Oregon; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Tempe, Arizona; and in both Northern and Southern California. A mosque in a suburb of Chicago has been vandalized four times in recent years.

The perpetrators of these hate crimes are. . . . being whipped into a frenzy by cynical fearmongers on the Right [who] have started referring to the Park 51 project as “the Obamosque.” [These fearmongers] see fear and loathing of Islam as a potent social issue.

But, continues Holland . . .

It’s an extraordinarily dangerous game, not only for the American Muslim community but for U.S. national security as well. Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who has interrogated several dangerous terrorists [said] ‘from a national security perspective, our leaders need to understand that no one is likely to be happier with the opposition to building a mosque than Osama Bin Laden. His next video script has just written itself.’

Frank Rich of the New York Times echoed this in his most recent column.

Here’s what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the “ground zero mosque” just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they’re wielding is not merely pounding Park51 [but] has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

Compromising America’s interests (ostensibly anyway when it comes to Afghanistan) in this manner might be too subtle for most of the public to notice. But, when it comes to a recent move by Republican Congresspersons, it seems, at first glance, as if their constituents might find it downright un-American. On July 29 Raymond Hernandez reported for the New York Times:

House Republicans . . . blocked a Democratic plan to provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to rescue workers and residents of New York City who suffered illnesses from the toxic dust and debris at ground zero. . . . Republican opponents of the legislation expressed concern over the $7.4 billion cost of the program. . . . Democrats accused Republicans of being callous and vowed to bring the bill back for another vote in the fall.

Huh? Do Republicans actually think they’ve managed to incite concern over the deficit to the point that it would trump coming to the relief of American heroes? In fact, there may be something else going on here.

Try hatred for the 9/11 widows. Not only are some of them loudmouths who questioned the 9/11 Commission, according to this line of thinking, but others were driving around Staten Island in SUVs like welfare queens in Cadillacs with money they received from the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Sorry, rescuers. Your well-being takes a backseat to the more pressing business of preventing people from getting something for nothing. (Okay, for a dead family member. Details, details.)

Besides that, Republican politicians who count on their constituents to voice no objections to blocking the plan are a symptom of the heartland’s underlying resentment of New York City. To what other phenomenon can one attribute the curious lack of ongoing cries from Americans to bring us the head of bin Laden?

Imagine if a small town in the Midwest had been struck? Republican politicians would have made locating bin Laden a priority come hell or high water. They find 9/11 useful when they seek to stir up hatred for — never mind Islamists — garden-variety Muslims. In fact, they may well be aware that some Americans are secretly glad that those urban elites in New York City got theirs that sunny day in New York.

Europe’s Favorite Scapegoat: the Roma

Bulldozer demolishes housePeggy Hollinger and Chris Bryant of the Financial Times put their fingers on what’s behind the current uproar over Europe’s Roma population: the group is “an easy target for politicians seeking to distract attention from problems at home by playing on fears over security.” That strategy was stage center in early August when France’s conservative government shipped several hundred Roma back to Romania and French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged he would bulldoze 300 Roma camps over the next several weeks.

Europe is certainly in need of distraction these days. Sarkozy’s poll numbers are dismal and his administration is plagued by scandals. The economic crisis has seen France’s debt soar, and European governments have instituted savage austerity programs that are filling the jobless rolls from Dublin to Athens. Since most politicians would rather not examine the cause of the economic crisis roiling the continent—many were complicit in dismantling the checks and balances that eventually led to the current recession—“criminal gypsies” come in very handy.

France’s crackdown was sparked by an angry demonstration in Saint-Aignan following the death of a young “traveler” at the hands of police. Sarkozy never saw a riot he couldn’t turn to his advantage. On July 29 his office declared it would dismantle Roma camps because they are “sources of illegal trafficking, profoundly shocking living standards, exploitation of children for begging, prostitution and crime.”

Living conditions in Roma camps are, indeed, sub-standard, but in large part because local French authorities refuse to follow a law requiring that towns with a population of over 5,000 establish electrical and water hookups for such camps. And because countries like Germany, France, Italy and Britain refuse to use any of the $22 billion that the European Commission has made available for alleviating the conditions that the Roma and other minorities exist under.

As for the “crime” and “drug trafficking” charge, research by the European Union (EU) suggests there is no difference between crime rates among the Roma than in “the population at large.”

“Indeed there are Roma who are in charge of trafficking networks, but they represent less than one percent of this population, the rest are victims,” David Mark, head of the Civic Alliance of Roma in Romania, a coalition of over 20 Roma non-governmental organizations, told IPS News.

Mark went on to point out that “Because that one percent commits crimes and the authorities are not able to stop them, all Roma are being criminalized.” The expulsions and demolitions, he charged, are “based on criminalization of an entire ethnic group, when criminality should be judged on a case by case basis in courts of law.”

In some cases the level of hysteria would be almost laughable were it not resulting in the most widespread roundup of an ethnic minority since World War II. Italy declared a “Gypsy emergency,” in spite of the fact that Italy, which has a population of 57.6 million people, has only 60,000 non-Italian Roma.

Estimates are that there are between 10 and 12 million Roma in Europe, making the group the continent’s largest minority.

For several weeks, the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, played hot potato with the issue. The EC insisted that it was doing everything it could to help the Roma and pointed to the $22 billion pot that remains pretty much untapped. But it also kept silent on charges by human rights organizations that countries like Germany, Italy and France were violating EU law guaranteeing freedom of movement.

These nations—primarily France—argue that since the Roma are from Romania and Bulgaria, and both countries are newly minted EU members, the freedom of movement clause doesn’t kick in until 2014. And, in any case, French officials charge that the Roma can’t show they are gainfully employed and self-supporting.

On this latter point, rights organizations point out that Roma are discriminated against in employment. “It’s somewhat hypocritical to complain about people not having money to subsist in France when you don’t offer access to the labor market at the same time,” says Bob Kushen, managing director of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest.

With the exception of Spain and Finland, most EU members have the same restrictions on staying in a country more than three months without a regular job.

France is certainly not alone in singling out the Roma. Germany is preparing to deport 12,000 to Kosovo, a destination that may well put the deportees in danger, because Kosovo Albanians accuse the Roma of siding with the Serbs during the 1999 Yugoslav War. From the Roma’s point of view Serbia had long guaranteed their communities a certain level of employment and educational opportunities, while the Albanians had always repressed them.

Other countries singling out the Roma include Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium. The Swedes deported some 50 Roma for “begging,” even though begging is not a crime in Sweden.

But France has instituted the most aggressive anti-Roma campaign, which also includes its own “gens du voyage,” all of whom are French citizens and theoretically guaranteed encampment facilities. France is estimated to have between 300,000 and 500,000 of these “travelers.”

The French campaign, however, has sparked a backlash.

Romania’s Foreign Minister, Teodor Basconschi, blasted France for “criminalizing ethnic groups” and warned of “the risks of populist provocation and creating xenophobic reactions at a time of economic crisis.” Basconschi called for a joint Romanian-French approach “devoid of artificial election fever.”

The Vatican’s secretary of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People Commission said, “The mass expulsion of Roma are against European norms.”

The growing chorus of protest by human rights groups, the United Nations, the Vatican, and Romania finally moved the EU to inject itself into the controversy.

“Recent developments in several European countries, most recently eviction of Roma camps in France and expulsions of Roma from France and Germany, are certainly not the right measures to improve the situation of this vulnerable minority. On the contrary, they are likely to lead to an increase in racist and xenophobic feelings in Europe,” said Meviut Cavusogiu, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Cavusogiu cited Protocol No. 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights that prohibits “the collective expulsions of aliens,” as well as the right to freedom of movement for all EU citizens.

However, France was sticking by its guns, claiming that it was not “deporting” anyone: the Roma were leaving voluntarily for a nominal payment of $386 for adults, and $129 for children. But some members of Sarkozy’s party, the Union for a Popular Movement, were using the word “deport,” and even the more explosive term “rafles.” That was the term used to describe the rounding up of French Jews during WW II, most of whom died in the death camps.

Roma suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Nazis. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 1.5 million Roma perished in the concentration camps.

Scapegoating the Roma is an old European tradition, almost as old as the initial migration of the Romany people out of Rajasthan, India in the 11th century. Most of those Roma settled in Moldavia and Wallachia—today’s Romania—where they were quickly enslaved. Those Romany who did not escape enslavement by taking up the nomadic life remained slaves until 1856.

According to Maria Ochoa-Lido of the Council of Europe, those centuries of slavery essentially sentenced the Roma to poverty-stricken lives on the margins, with life expectancy considerably lower than other populations in the EU.

A lack of access to education, social services, education and the legal system for Romania’s 2.5 million Roma still drives many of them to take to the road. As bad as conditions for the Roma are in countries like France and Germany, they are better than those in poverty-stricken Romania.

The attacks on the Roma could well be a prelude to similar campaigns against other European minorities: Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in England, Moroccans and Algerians in Spain and Italy, and Africans scattered throughout the continent. Xenophobia in a time of economic crisis rarely restricts itself to a single target.

Visit Dispatches from the Edge for more of Conn Hallinan’s essays.

When Demography Shifts From a “Prized Asset” to a “Crippling Burden”

New York Times piece, India Tries Using Cash Bonuses to Slow Birthrates, Jim Yardley details an Indian federal program. Intended to “allow India more time to curb a rapidly growing population that threatens to turn its demography from a prized asset into a crippling burden,” it attempts to persuade rural Indian newlyweds to delay childbirth.

Though with . . .

. . . almost 1.2 billion people . . . roughly half the population is younger than 25. This ‘demographic dividend’ is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within five years. India will have a young, vast work force while a rapidly aging China will face the burden of supporting an older population.

However, on the heels of the above “though” follows a monumental “but.”

. . . if youth is India’s advantage, the sheer size of its population poses looming pressures on resources and presents an enormous challenge for an already inefficient government to expand schooling and other services.

Still . . .

It was considered a sign of progress that India’s Parliament debated “population stabilization” this month after largely ignoring the issue for years.

India may just be addressing the tip of the overpopulation iceberg, if in a more sensitive way than China’s authoritarian one-child policy. But would that more states considered addressing population concerns as a “sign of progress.” To some states a burgeoning population serves as another weapon, along with its armed forces and perhaps nuclear weapons, as a way to equalize its power with larger states. In the United States, meanwhile, overpopulation has become a “third rail” for politicians. First of all, it’s contrary to the go-forth-and-procreate agenda of evangelicals and second, it invokes fear that Latinos will soon outnumber whites.

As Focal Points readers are no doubt aware, a sampling of overpopulation’s perils include: depletion of natural resources such as oil and water; deforestation and resultant global warming; mass species extinctions; and, along with educational shortfalls, heightened infant and child mortality.

As part of our commitment to the most fundamental issues threatening humanity (not that we won’t write about it at all, but climate change is addressed more ably elsewhere), Focal Points intends to feature posts about the earth’s “carrying capacity” as we have been nuclear weapons.

Los Alamos Watchdog Shoots an Arrow at the Beating Heart of Nuclear Weapons

In a recent Focal Points post, we posed a fundamental question: Who stands at the front lines of disarmament? Is it the makers of the new movie Countdown to Zero? Disarmament groups like the Ploughshares Fund and the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission? Weapons-system-trashing activists a la the Berrigan brothers? Using the last as a reference point, we concluded that “even the perimeter fences of a submarine base aren’t the front lines of disarmament. The honor goes to those groups that act as watchdogs on behalf of the public for U.S. national laboratories such as Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.”

Greg Mello is the head of the primary watchdog for the former, the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG). As I wrote in my previous post, he explained that “$3.4 billion of the proposed $16 billion in new warhead spending [in the federal budget] is to be allotted to the construction of a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility for the construction of nuclear pits. In a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists piece, he writes that, at 270,000-square-feet, the new facility ‘would add only 22,500-square-feet of additional plutonium processing and lab space to [Los Alamos's] existing 59,600-square-feet of comparable space.’ [That] works out to $151,000 per square foot, or $1,049 per square inch.’ Holy (watch your tax dollars go up in) smoke!”

Even worse, since “there is already a surfeit of backup pits [which] will last for many decades to come” the new facility “would increase production capacity to an even more absurd level.” To provide perspective, as LASG notes elsewhere, “If built, it would be by far the most expensive government project ever built in New Mexico except the interstate highways.”

To give you an idea of how LASG actually works, one of its staff, Darwin BondGraham, wrote in a press release, “Earlier this year we finally obtained enough information from [the Department of Energy] and its contractors to confidently determine that the increased cost, greatly expanded construction requirements, and . . . new environmental impacts . . . make the [Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement] different [from what] was originally analyzed.” Thus: “On July 1 we formally notified the U.S. Department of Energy of our intent to seek a new Environmental Impact Statement, and to pursue an injunction against [the] Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement [facility].”

This is what life on the disarmament front lines looks like: poring over the books cheek by jowl with lawyers. And this, courtesy of an August 16 LASG press release, is what a frontal assault looks like.

The Los Alamos Study Group today filed a complaint in federal District Court in Albuquerque to halt further investment in [the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility]. . . . The complaint was filed against the Department of Energy . . . and the National Nuclear Security Administration [the NNSA, which, LASG alleges] have violated the National Environmental Protection Act . . . by preparing to construct [the facility] without an applicable Environmental Impact Statement. [Mello said] “NNSA changed the project to which it had committed without telling anyone, and without environmental analysis of alternatives either to the project.”

Why an environmental impact statement? Department of Energy changes . . .

. . . helped drive the proposed facility underground — into a thick stratum of loose volcanic ash which cannot support [the] new excavated depth of 125 feet (up from 50 feet) and replacement of an entire geologic stratum beneath the building with 225,000 cubic yards of concrete and grout. [This would also result in] greatly increased CO2 emissions including more than 100,000 tons from concrete production alone [and] from 20,000 to 110,000 heavy truck [trips] just for concrete ingredients and disposal — somewhere — of loose volcanic ash.

To sum up, the Los Alamos Study Group is on the front lines of disarmament because it’s confronting production of the nuclear pit, the beating heart of a nuclear weapon — where the chain reaction occurs. As another such watchdog, Livermore’s Tri-Valley CAREs, put it: “Stopping nuclear weapons where they start.”

If you agree that LASG is (wo)manning the front lines of disarmament and you’d like to help, but are leery of NGOs top-heavy with administrative salaries, consider LASG. Donating to this self-contained, action-oriented organization figures to give you a lot of bang for the charitable buck. And make no mistake, bucks have got to bang if we hope to block the biggest modern-day bang of all — the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

The Problem with Lee’s Reunification Plan

On August 15th, the 65th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak delivered a speech outlining his plans for the reunification of Korea. Although the plans are still vague, like the creation of a “peace village” or a unification tax, a few things are clear.

Lee’s calls for reunification are at odds with his policy. “The next step is to carry out comprehensive inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation with a view to developing the North’s economy dramatically.” The truth is that from the day he came into office, Lee has effectively reversed any of the gains made towards reunification by his predecessors, Presidents Roh Moo-Hyun and Kim Dae-Jung. Lee has cut bilateral aid, stymied inter-Korea business efforts, and even thwarted efforts by South Korean NGOs from providing humanitarian aid to the North. For example, the Korean Sharing Movement, among the country’s most respected and organized humanitarian efforts, sent in 2007 some 3,000 of its members to North Korea to provide medical assistance, build homes and schools, and supplant North Korean cooperative farms with fertilizer. By the end of 2009, the Lee administration only gave clearance to 84 individuals.

“Today inter-Korean relations demand a new paradigm,” Lee stated. “It is imperative that the two sides choose coexistence instead of confrontation, progress instead of stagnation.” As Lee was wrapping up his speech, some 30,000 American and 56,000 South Korean troops are embarking on a 10-day war game, which follows on the heels of South Korea’s anti-submarine exercises near the disputed maritime border with North Korea, which follows on the heels of the joint US-ROK military exercises two weeks before which featured 8,000 marines, 200 ships, and the USS George Washington. “The two Koreas cannot afford to repeat the unfortunate history punctuated by mutual distrust and confrontation,” said Lee. The question is who is confronting whom?

“Reunification will happen. It is therefore our duty to start thinking about real and substantive ways to prepare for reunification such as the adoption of a unification tax.” A reunification tax? This seems to reflect Lee’s shrewd approach to exploit the South Korean peoples’ sentiment—the desire for reunification—with the hard-nosed reality that most don’t want to shoulder the burden. A presidential National Unification Advisory Commission conducted a survey before the Cheonan incident and found that 8 of 10 South Koreans age 19 or older believed unification with North Korea was important, yet only 52.4 percent said they would be willing to shoulder the economic cost of unification.

Some estimate that it would cost somewhere between $300 to $600 billion over ten years to raise North Korean incomes to be 60 percent that of their South Korean counterparts. The Rand corporation estimates that it would cost $670 billion to double the GDP of North Korea within five years of unification. The bottom line is this: the people of South Korea, North Korea and the United States are already paying a tax, but not for reunification, but for preparation for war. South Korea has been annually increasing its military spending by 10 percent, and is estimated to spend $665 billion in its Defense Reform 2020 Initiative. According to a State Department official, citing research by Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, the United States expends nearly $15 billion annually to maintain its 27,500 troops on its some 85 bases and other installations. In other words, the people of all three countries are already spending the money—let’s just get the governments to talk to each other and truly put back on track the reunification process that was laid out by the two Korean leaders on June 15, 2000.

Wanted: an Accurate Assessment of Arab-Iran Animosity

At the end of June, Iranian news service FARS reported that Israeli Air Force helicopters flew military equipment to an airport in Saudi Arabia ostensibly in preparation for an attack on Iran. Meanwhile, according to the London Times, Saudi Arabia agreed to allow Israel to use its airspace for an attack on Iran. The Saudis denied both reports.

The reports were also scoffed at by some of those interviewed for an article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Shafeeq Ghabra, an expert on Gulf geopolitics . . . argued that an attack on Iran was not in Saudi interests.” Meanwhile, Middle-Eastern security authority Dr. Mustafa Alani said, “The Saudis will never be part of a military action against Iran, never mind an Israeli attack on Iran. . . . Furthermore, the Saudis are not needed [and besides the] Americans can attack Iran without embarrassing all these Gulf states, not just Saudi Arabia.”

Whether the reports are true or not, they demonstrate how prevalent the view is that Saudi Arabia thinks of Iran as a regional rival that needs to be reined in with, if necessary, military action. Sure, the Arab states, Israel and Iran have triangulated for decades. Nobody detailed that better than Trita Parsi in his 2007 book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States. But is Arab-Iran animosity really that pronounced? At Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s essential blog Race for Iran, they explore that question.

Shibley Telhami [of the centrist think tank the Brookings Institution recently] released the results of his 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll, which he conducts annually with Zogby International. [The results] can hardly be comforting for those who want to believe that the Islamic Republic is becoming estranged from its regional neighbors and that Arabs are ready to stand side-by-side with Israelis to support military action . . . against Iranian nuclear targets.

For example, while . . .

. . . 77 percent [of those in all the Arab states polled believe] that Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear program . . . only 20 percent agree that Iran should be pressured by the international community to stop the program. In Egypt and Morocco, huge majorities . . . believe that Iran has the right to pursue such a program. In Saudi Arabia, the population that believes Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons is evenly divided, 50 percent to 50 percent, on this question.

Returning to Arabs in general . . .

These data set the stage for one of the most remarkable findings in [the poll]: 57 percent of the respondents believe that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a positive outcome for the region; 20 percent believe this would not matter one way or the other, while only 21 percent believes this would be a negative outcome for the region. This is truly remarkable. [Bear in mind that] with regard to the Iranian nuclear issue and perceptions of the Islamic Republic as a “threat”, the trend in Arab public opinion over time is running in the opposite direction from that desired by most major Arab governments.

Of course, since the Arab states and people aren’t on the same page, the possibility still exists that Saudi Arabia is aiding Israel in preparations for an attack on Iran. On a related issue, then, is Iran’s apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons prompting Saudi Arabia to follow suit? To learn the answer, let’s explore another Race for Iran article, this one written by Gulf petrochemical expert Jean-Francois Seznec.

If Iran develops nuclear weapons, it may gain a strong and unacceptable bargaining tool to use against its Arab neighbors. If Iran succeeds in developing only nuclear power generation capacity, it still would have a technological advantage, which until now has been maintained by the Gulf Arab countries in most industrial ventures. The consensus is that most Gulf countries will now pursue very active nuclear policies, all couched in terms of power generation.

While . . .

It seems pretty clear that the Saudis do not have the wherewithal or interest to develop nuclear weapons [they] do not want to be left behind Iran or even the UAE in terms of technological advance, ability to maintain industrial primacy, and . . . nuclear bragging rights.

Finally, he writes, “the Saudis are happy to promote any policy that would delay the Iranian program” and many “in Washington claim that [Gulf] leaders say ‘in private’ that they would support a U.S. attack on Iran.” But he is “firmly convinced that this is just not the case. This understanding of ‘in private’ statements reflects only a selective and self-serving hearing of Gulf leaders’ words.”

Thus if Arab states aiding and abetting Israel in an attack on Iran seems counterintuitive to you, in this instance you might be safe betting on your instincts.

‘Aspirational’ vs. ‘Operational’ Military Budget Cutting

Quiz: Who said this? “Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China.”

And this: “As we learned last year, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.”

And this: “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

Would you believe, the current Secretary of Defense?

Such musings have led him to mount the most serious effort to restrain his own budget of any Defense Secretary since the post-Cold War period. He deserves credit for this.

But look at what he said when asked about his carrier talking point: “I may want to change things, but I’m not crazy. I’m not going to cut a carrier, okay?”

So what we seem to have is an “Aspirational Gates,” who wants to cut weapons systems we don’t need, and an “Operational Gates,” who knows he needs to keep such aspirations in bounds.

What the Operational Gates isn’t doing is cutting his budget. The $100 billion he wants to cut is a lot less than it sounds, because:

  • It’s spread over five years.
  • All but $7 billion of it will be “done” after he is likely no longer around to see that it actually is done.
  • Most importantly, his plan is to shift any savings to other programs within his own budget.

And, the longest unbroken surge in military spending in U.S. history will continue. Gates’ plan to slow its rate of growth is being redefined as budget cutting.

But since, as he has also mentioned, we are spending nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world put together. And since we are seriously in need of money, we need to do better than this.

Today the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget releases its blueprint for $75 billion in cuts that can be made safely–increasing Gates’ plans for military cuts next year by a factor of 10.

The Aspirational Gates could really get behind this.

Israel v. Palestine Brings Out the Jewish in Me

Fooled you! It’s not what you think. Far be it from me to justify Israel’s oppression of Palestine by trotting out the tired “they shoot rockets at Israel” argument. Half-Jewish in descent, but raised in another religion, I know little about Judaism. But there’s no denying that I can “feel” it inside me.

I’m also prone to the Jewish self-loathing that afflicts many of us. For example, the heightened interior life — a.k.a., neurosis — to which many Jews seemed privy to me when I was young struck me as “uncool.” Thus I’ve long wondered if the outsized anger with which I respond to how Israel treats Palestine was a variation of that syndrome.

Then I had an epiphany (insert hosannas by celestial choir of indeterminate denomination here). I realized it wasn’t self-loathing I was experiencing but that other syndrome known to reflective Jews. You know, the one where we expect more from Jews than from others. How can we treat Palestinians like they’re animals? Of course, that line of thinking is not only vanity, but the flip side of a thought process that leads the “chosen people” — Israel and its American supporters — to justify subjugating the members of another race and religion.

Where Does the Administration Get Off Calling Missile Defense “Proven”?

At the Union of Concerned Scientists blog All Things Nuclear, David Wright writes that:

“the Obama administration’s approach to missile defense has been particularly disappointing — and is potentially dangerous. Originally the administration said it would require missile defenses to be ‘proven,’ . . . So it was surprising when (a) the administration’s Ballistic Missile Defense . . . Review stated that ‘The United States is currently protected against limited ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks,’ and (b) the President called the Aegis missile defense system ‘proven’ in the announcement of his proposed European system in September 2009.”

“Neither of these statements are [sic] true in any meaningful sense. Neither the Aegis system nor the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system fielded in Alaska and California has been subjected to realistic tests against the kind of attacks and under the conditions you would expect in the real-world.”

Wright goes into more detail.

The Pentagon is using sleight of hand: it is defining the “threat” very narrowly. [It] has defined a “limited missile attack” as an attack by a limited number of missiles, and by missiles that have no countermeasures. . . . But it makes no sense to assume that North Korea, Iran, or any other country would spend years developing a long-range missile to hit the U.S. . . . and not have some of its aerospace engineers also design countermeasures that would make the missiles effective against [U.S. missile defense. After all] effective decoys and other countermeasures can be built with less sophisticated technology than is needed for a long-range missile and nuclear warhead. [Emphasis added.]

Then Wright demonstrates the threat that hyping missile defense can pose to national security.

First, if military and political leaders believe they have defensive capabilities that they do not in fact have, that can lead them to make bad decisions. For example, if [they mistakenly believe that] they have effective anti-missile systems it may encourage them to take aggressive actions that are in fact likely to make another country launch missiles at them.

[Second] the claim that Aegis is “proven” has led officials to believe the U.S. should buy and deploy many hundreds of Aegis interceptors before they have actually been shown to be effective.

Wright sums up:

It would be ironic if the administration’s real steps to reduce nuclear threats to the United States were derailed . . . by its pursuit of a system with known shortcomings that has yet to undergo realistic testing.

Serial Denialists and the State of Permanent War

Two months ago, I wrote that the Obama administration and the U.S. command in Afghanistan faced an “Iraq 2006 moment” in the second half of 2010 – a collapse of domestic political support for a failed war paralleling the political crisis in Bush’s Iraq War in 2006. Now comes Republican Congressman Frank Wolf to make that parallel with 2006 eerily precise.

Wolf published a letter to President Obama last week calling for the immediate establishment of an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group.” It would be the son of the Iraq Study Group. Wolf is the Congressman who authored the legislation in 2005 creating the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to come up with fresh ideas for that failing war. The Wolf proposal came nearly a year after American public had turned against the war decisively in January 2005, when support for the war fell to 39 percent.

The U.S. public had withdrawn its support because it had become obvious that the war was a failure. The Bush administration had overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime only to unleash a violent Sunni-Shi’a sectarian power struggle that the U.S. military couldn’t control. Even worse, the U.S. military presence was objectively supporting one side in that power struggle by building up a clearly sectarian military and police sector, even as it pretended by the honest broker between Sunni and Shi’a.

By 2006 it had become apparent even to the political elite that the war was failing and that something had to be done. But for war supporters like Wolf, the idea was not to find a way out of a criminally stupid war but to tweak the war strategy so that the administration could rebuild public support for it.

The problem with the Baker-Hamilton group was not that it didn’t have the information it needed to call for end to the U.S. war. Bob Woodward’s The War Within reveals that the commander of all U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Pete Chiarelli, told the Iraq Study Group that the sectarian character of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government was the primary problem. And the officer in charge of training the Iraqi army, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the group that, without Sunni-Shi’a reconciliation, “[T]here are not enough troops in the world to provide security.”

Elementary logic would have suggested that with Sunni-Sh’ia reconciliation there would be no need for U.S. troops and that without it, U.S. troops would be unable to change the situation. Either way, the U.S. military presence was irrelevant to the future of Iraq. After nearly four years of fighting, with enormous casualties on both sides, the U.S. military had succeeded only in helping Iran consolidate Shi’a rule in Iraq.

Nevertheless the Study Group’s report went along with an indefinite continuation of the U.S. military role in Iraq.

Now we have the same nightmare of a stupid war that the political class can’t bring itself to end.

Wolf says he’s been talking with retired figures in the national security elite, who tell him that “our Afghanistan policy is adrift.” And he warns of a “palpable shift in the nation’s mood and in the halls of Congress” on the war. He notes that 62 percent of the American public in a July 2010 poll said the war is “going badly.”

So now Wolf proposes the same kind of bipartisan study group that he says helped rebuild support for the Iraq war to come up with “fresh strategies” for the war in Afghanistan. Wolf makes no effort to hide his hope to “reinvigorate national confidence in how America can be successful” in Afghanistan.

Wolf is the poster child for the deep denial on U.S. wars practiced by a very large segment of the political elite. On one hand, his proposal is the clearest evidence of the desperation that has overtaken Washington about the palpable failure of Obama’s war. But on the other hand, Wolf suggests that all we need is a group of “respected” war supporters to offer a new strategy for the Afghan War to be back on the road to victory again.

This refusal to face up to reality that the United States cannot succeed in Afghanistan, despite all the evidence to the contrary, suggests that something much deeper is going on here. Wolf and his fellow deniers in the political elite are not just refusing to give up on the specific war in Afghanistan. They are doing it because they are desperately clinging to the broader system of global military hegemony which impels the U.S. national security state to continue that war.

In his latest book, Washington Rules, historian Andrew Bacevich points to this largely un-discussed aspect of recent U.S. wars. The “Washington rules” to which the title refers are the basic principles of U.S. global policy that have been required beliefs for entrance into the U.S. political elite ever since the United States became a superpower. The three rules are U.S. global military presence, global projection of U.S. military power and the use of that power in one conflict after another.

Bacevich suggests that personal and institutional interests bind the U.S. political elite and national security bureaucrats to that system of global military dominance. The politicians and bureaucrats will continue to insist on those principles, he writes, because they “deliver profit, power and privilege to a long list of beneficiaries: elected and appointed officials, corporate executives and corporate lobbyists, admirals and generals, functionaries staffing the national security apparatus, media personalities and policy intellectuals from universities and research organizations.”

That description of the problem provides a key to understanding the otherwise puzzling serial denial by the political elite on Iraq and Afghanistan. It won’t do much good for anti-war people to demand an end to the war in Afghanistan unless they are also demanding an end to the underlying system that has now produced quasi-permanent American war.

First posted at the Seminal.

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