Remember This on Memorial Day: They Didn’t Fall, They Were Pushed

Of all the world’s holidays commemorating wars, Memorial Day should be one of sober reflection on war’s horrible costs, surely not a moment to glorify warfare or lust for more wars.

By Ray McGovern

How best to show respect for the U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for their families on Memorial Day? Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.

First, let’s be clear on at least this much: the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq – so far – and the 2,350 killed in Afghanistan – so far – did not “fall.” They were wasted on no-win battlefields by politicians and generals – cheered on by neocon pundits and mainstream “journalists” – almost none of whom gave a rat’s patootie about the real-life-and-death troops. They were throwaway soldiers.

And, as for the “successful surges,” they were just P.R. devices to buy some “decent intervals” for the architects of these wars and their boosters to get space between themselves and the disastrous endings while pretending that those defeats were really “victories squandered” – all at the “acceptable” price of about 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers each and many times that in dead Iraqis and Afghans.

Memorial Day should be a time for honesty about what enabled the killing and maiming of so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the senior military brass simply took full advantage of a poverty draft that gives upper-class sons and daughters the equivalent of exemptions, vaccinating them against the disease of war.

What drives me up the wall is the oft-heard, dismissive comment about troop casualties from well-heeled Americans: “Well, they volunteered, didn’t they?” Under the universal draft in effect during Vietnam, far fewer were immune from service, even though the well-connected could still game the system to avoid serving. Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, for example, each managed to pile up five exemptions. This means, of course, that they brought zero military experience to the job; and this, in turn, may explain a whole lot — particularly given their bosses’ own lack of military experience.

The grim truth is that many of the crème de la crème of today’s Official Washington don’t know many military grunts, at least not intimately as close family or friends. They may bump into some on the campaign trail or in an airport and mumble something like, “thank you for your service.” But these sons and daughters of working-class communities from America’s cities and heartland are mostly abstractions to the powerful, exclamation points at the end of some ideological debate demonstrating which speaker is “tougher,” who’s more ready to use military force, who will come out on top during a talk show appearance or at a think-tank conference or on the floor of Congress.

Sharing the Burden? (more…)

Pentagon Document Shows US Knew Syria Strategy Would Aid Rise Of ISIS

A newly declassified document from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012 reveals the US government’s understanding that the policy it was pursuing in Syra would foster the rise of ISIS. As has been noted continually by critics of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy, DIA’s analysis surmised that the Syrian opposition was comprised primarily of Islamic fundamentalists who hated the US not “moderates” who wanted to build a liberal democracy as Syrian war advocates claimed.

The Obama Administration’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels – at one point even bypassing a US law against arming terrorists – did not alter the composition of the Syrian rebels and the weapons sent by the US into Syria ended up being captured by Al Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

But as the Pentagon document shows, the problem with the Obama Administration’s policy was deeper than its arms program. The US “allies” in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey specifically wanted a Sunni-based Islamic State in order to undermine Assad and check Iranian influence in the region.

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.” Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:

“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”

So what was the point of the Obama Administration’s press strategy calling the Syrian rebels “moderates” when analysts were privately telling them that the rebels were far from moderate and their triumph would lead to an Islamic State? President Obama later repudiated his own talking point in 2014 and claimed that it had “always been a fantasy” to believe the moderates would ever be the force that prevailed within the Syrian opposition. No kidding.

Now the “Salafist Principality” previously forecast by US defense analysts has not only come into being but is proving to be quite resilient. Then again, it’s not like no one saw it coming.

The Weekend Roundup for May 23-24th, 2015

Starting my first week of summer. This will be some exciting three months.

Rest in peace John Nash

International Politics

Overall

– United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: We need to deal with the causes of the migrant causes first

– After Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter criticized Iraqi troops as having “no will to fight,” an Iraqi lawmaker responded that such accusation was “unrealistic and baseless

Middle East

– Syrian rebels say they are learning tactics from soldiers in Hamas in their fight against the Syrian government

– After the capture of Palmyra in Syria, Islamic State militants killed at least 400 people

– King Salman of Saudi Arabia said those behind the suicide attack that killed 21 people would pay

– An Iranian general asked for more funds for the army to counter the ISIS threat

– Syrian organizations accused the government of using chlorine bombs against civilians (more…)

Late Night FDL: Paradise By The ‘C’

Bruce Springsteen – Paradise By The ‘C’

The Boss will release a new album this year…

Bruce Springsteen has already recorded his next album and it will be released before the end of the year.

Springsteen fansite blogitallnight.com posted the first news as rumour of the next record over the weekend, ‘Here is a great way to start out the weekend. I heard that Bruce Springsteen has finished recording his new album and it is now in the mixing stage. The best part of it all was that I was told it would be released this summer! It seems unprecedented for Springsteen to release a new album without a few months notice but after all, he is The Boss. As for what the album consists of, I was told it was very different from what Springsteen has put out before. So with my grain of salt, here is to hoping that this particular rumor is true!’

Springsteen’s last album was ‘High Hopes’ in January 2014. The next album will be the 19th Bruce Springsteen album.

Another work nite for moi…! What’s on your mind tonite…?

The West and ISIS

By Jim Wight

Far from the boasts made by the US, British, and French governments that IS would be destroyed, they have been unable to even contain the extremist jihadi group as it marches from city to city and town to town in Syria and Iraq, seemingly without constraint, sowing chaos and carnage in the process.

There are a number of reasons why the West has made a virtue of failure and disaster in the region. The first, of course, is the determination to prosecute a hegemonic strategy regardless of the consequences. We can trace the modern incarnation of this strategy to the 2003 war in Iraq, which only succeeded in destabilizing the country preparatory to it descending into the abyss of sectarian violence and schism, where it exists today, 12 years later.

The short-lived Arab Spring of 2011/12, which after decades spent living under corrupt dictatorships gave millions of people across the region reason to hope for a better future, gave way to an Arab Winter in the form of a counter-revolutionary process driven by Western intervention – first in Libya with the air war unleashed against the Gaddafi regime, and then in Syria with its support for the opposition against Assad. The resulting chaos laid the ground for the emergence of various al-Qaeda affiliated groups, followed by ISIL/ISIS, later morphing into IS (or Daesh in Arabic).

Despite carrying out airstrikes against the organization both in Syria and Iraq, it has taken Ramadi in western Iraq and the ancient city of Palmyra in the district of Homs in central Syria with alarming ease. After failing to take the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria, next to the Turkish border, and losing Tikrit to Iraq government forces earlier this year, its butchery and barbarism is once again resurgent.

The loss of Ramadi in particular, a mere 80 miles from Baghdad, is a major embarrassment for Washington, despite Obama’s incredulous statement that it merely constitutes a “setback.” The billions of dollars funnelled into Iraq by the US to finance the reconstitution of the Iraqi Army has proved akin to pouring money down a drain. The elite Golden Division, for example, stationed in Ramadi, tucked tail and fled almost on first contact with IS forces, leaving in its wake a significant amount of US-supplied hardware and equipment.

What’s clear by now is that a full-blown Sunni-Shia conflict is underway across the region, pitting Sunni-supported IS against an Iranian-supported Shia militia that has already proved its mettle with the taking back of Tikrit. The context of this struggle is the deep enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia, informing a series of proxy local conflicts in Yemen and most prominently in Iraq and Syria.

Further, when it comes to this conflict, the West is on the wrong side – friendly with those it has no business being friends with, and enemies of those it has no business being enemies with. The Saudis, Qataris, and Turkey have been guilty of fomenting the chaos and carnage with both the active or passive support for IS, without which it could not sustain its existence and enjoyed the success it has.

In particular the Saudi gang of corrupt potentates, sitting in gilded palaces in Riyadh, have long been dredging a deep well of hypocrisy as part of the US-led grand coalition against IS and its medieval barbarism. A state that beheads almost as many people in public as IS, the oil-rich kingdom’s status as a close Western ally is beyond reprehensible. Money talks, but in Riyadh it flows alongside a river of blood spilled in the name of Wahhabism, the perverse and extreme Sunni ideology that underpins the obscene luxury and ostentation of the nation’s ruling clan.

Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, supported by Russia, are currently leading the ‘real’ struggle against the savagery of IS. Yet each of them is regarded as a threat to regional stability and Western interests, and scorned as such.

The need for a major reorientation of the West’s entire Middle East policy is glaringly obvious. Instead of lurching from one disaster to another – all in the name of ‘democratism’, which is not to be confused with democracy – a coherent strategy to defeat IS and its butchery rather than make it stronger would entail the formation of a coalition of the willing, comprising Iran and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s survival as a secular state, in which the rights of minorities are upheld, is from guaranteed as the conflict that has ripped the country apart enters its fourth year. Its people have suffered immeasurable harm over the course of this brutal conflict, suffering that evinces no sign of letting up soon.

The Assad government and the Syrian army, which has bled like no other army has in recent times, have proved unbelievably resolute in resisting both Syria’s invasion by thousands of foreign jihadis, and the enormous pressure levelled against the regime by US and its allies, both within and without the region.

As for Iraq, the damage wrought by the sectarianism of the Maliki government, prior to it being ousted in August 2014, is even worse than most thought. The Iraqi Army is unfit for purpose, riven with corruption and a lack of morale. The fact that 200 IS militants were able to rout the 2000 Iraqi troops defending Ramadi tells its own story. It is also evident that IS has been able to exploit the disaffection of the Sunni population throughout Anbar Province – otherwise known as the Sunni Triangle – without whose either active or passive support they would not have been able to take first Fallujah and now Ramadi.

Iraq’s permanent schism along sectarian lines is closer now than it has ever been. This rather than a Western-style democracy is the end result of Bush and Blair’s war of 2003.

The spreading destabilization of the Middle East is a threat to stability and security everywhere. With every gain made by IS more disaffected young Muslims throughout the West are attracted to its ideology. As Malcolm X said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.”

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Copyright © CounterPunch

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

Scaremongering About the Patriot Act Sunset

As Section 215 nears its expiration date, the standoff over civil liberties is imminent, writes ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer.

By Jameel Jaffer

In a last-ditch effort to scare lawmakers into preserving unpopular and much-abused surveillance authorities, the Senate Republican leadership and some intelligence officials are warning that allowing Section 215 of the Patriot Act to sunset would compromise national security. (One particularly crass example from Senator Lindsey Graham: “Anyone who neuters this program is going to be partially responsible for the next attack.”) Some media organizations have published these warnings without challenging them, which is unfortunate. The claim that the expiration of Section 215 would deprive the government of necessary investigative tools or compromise national security is entirely without support.

First, there’s no evidence that the call-records program is effective in any meaningful sense of the word. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which reviewed classified files, “could not identify a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.” The President’s Review Group, which also reviewed classified files, determined that the call-records program had “not [been] essential to preventing attacks,” and that, to the extent the program had contributed to terrorism investigations, the records in question “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using targeted demands. Although government once made far grander claims to the FISA court, the strongest claim that leaders of the intelligence community now make in support of the call-records program is that it provides “peace of mind.” Whatever this claim means—peace of mind to whom?—it’s not a claim that the program is necessary.

Second, there’s no evidence that other forms of collection under Section 215 have been any more effective. If intelligence officials could cite instances in which collection under Section 215 had been crucial to terrorism investigations, you can be sure they would have cited them by now. They certainly would have cited them to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, but a report by the Inspector General released this past week states that FBI personnel were “unable to identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained through use of Section 215 orders.” FBI personnel didn’t say that collection under Section 215 had been entirely useless—they said it had been useful in corroborating information already in their possession, for example—but they certainly didn’t say, or even come close to saying, that the expiration of Section 215 would compromise national security.

Third, the sunset of Section 215 wouldn’t affect the government’s ability to conduct targeted investigations of terrorist threats. This is because the government has many other tools that allow it to collect the same kinds of things that it can collect under Section 215. It can use administrative subpoenas or grand jury subpoenas. It can use pen registers. It can use national security letters. It can use orders served under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. If Section 215 sunsets, it can use the provision that Section 215 amended, which will allow it to collect business records of hotels, motels, car and truck rental agencies, and storage rental facilities.

The sunset of Section 215 would undoubtedly be a significant political loss for the intelligence community, and it would be a sensible first step towards broader reform of the surveillance laws, but there’s no support for the argument that the sunset of Section 215 would compromise national security. Against this background, it’s not surprising the FBI Director reacted the way he did to a question about the possible sunset of Section 215. “I don’t like losing any tool in our toolbox,” Comey said, “but if we do, we press on.”

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© 2015 Just Security

Why do people persist in voting against their self-interest?

If people voted in their own self-interest, the Republican Party would never come close to getting 1% of the vote. It would fade away into an obscure footnote in history. That will be its destiny, if people make it their business to find out what is going on in this country. The simple truth is the rich and the corporations they own, including the thieving Wall Street banks, are looting this country, eliminating the middle class and enslaving everyone in debt.

Trickle-down economics is not working, never has worked, and never will work. Anyone who believes that it will is willfully ignorant, stupid, or both.

The Republican Party represents the best interests of the 1% of the 1% and they do not give a damn about anyone else. They realize that they have to suppress voting, rig outcomes and convince people to vote against their own best interests or they will never win another election.

Greed is their undoing because they are creating a vast lower class made up of everyone who is not rich. Sooner or later all of us will realize we have more in common with each other, regardless of race, color, religion or national origin.

Let’s do everything in our power to make it sooner rather than later.

Here’s are two interesting reads about ‘white fragility,’ ‘white privilege‘ and the need to eliminate them.

What do you think?

Has the west given up on democracy?

Tunisian General Rachid Ammar announces his resignation on TV, June, 2013. Demotix/ Chedly Ben Ibrahim. All rights reserved.

Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

By Mathew Burrows and Maria Stephan

Authoritarianism is on the march. Aggregate Freedom House scores on political rights and civil liberties have declined each of the past nine years. A third of all democratic regimes since the ‘third wave’ of democratization began forty years ago have failed. Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

It’s true that democracy comes in ‘waves’ of democratization, ebbing and flowing, as described by the late Samuel Huntington. Political scientists including Jay Ulfelder, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way rightly urge caution when assuming the demise of democracy. We should hardly expect political systems to develop linearly, especially in places like the Middle East, where dictatorships have been rooted for decades usually with strong western support.

Still, growing evidence of democratic backsliding and authoritarian resurgence, chronicled by USIP’s Steven Heydemann is troubling. Russia and Syria are poster children for how authoritarianism has led to international instability. Support for democracy has been a core, bipartisan element of US foreign policy since the time of Woodrow Wilson. While idealism has been a motive; at its core, support for democracy has advanced US national interests. Democracies don’t go to war with each other; they are more reliable partners than tyrannies; they don’t commit mass atrocities; and they are better at reconciling domestic differences peacefully. Systemic corruption and institutionalized discrimination have been key drivers of violent extremism, according to Carnegie scholar-practitioner Sarah Chayes.

Around the world, aggrieved citizens are still standing up to challenge power structures, demanding basic freedoms. The question is. can we avoid citizen challenges leading to bloodbaths and prolonged chaos? How can democratic movements lead to reforms that encourage more durable stability?

Our book, Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? analyzes authoritarian resilience in places like Central Asia, Syria, and the Gulf, highlighting the dilemmas and possible solutions. As Denver scholar Erica Chenoweth demonstrates, mass nonviolent movements, which have historically been major drivers of democratic transitions and twice as successful as armed struggles at overturning dictators, have seen their effectiveness drop in the past few years to levels not seen since the 1950s. According to media expert Zeynep Tufecki, authoritarian regimes are using the internet and state-controlled media to counter challenges to their rule.

What can be done to reverse the tide? First, we should recall that civil society activism, in the form of speech, peaceful assembly, and labor organizing, are protected under international human rights law. Nonviolent activists have a right to receive information and even financial help from external actors, a point underscored by Seton Hall law professor Elizabeth Wilson. Second, the fact that the popular Arab Spring uprisings that toppled four dictators have not produced consolidated democracies doesn’t mean that western powers should give up on democracy in the Middle East – or anywhere else.

It’s hardly surprising that Tunisia, the one Arab Spring country on the best path to democratization, had the most nonviolent and participatory of all the uprisings. Tunisia has a civil society, anchored by strong trade and labor unions, helping to ensure nonviolent discipline during and after the transition. Tunisia’s George Washington, army chief of staff Rachid Ammar, refused regime orders to fire on peaceful demonstrators. This sense of integrity within the ranks of the military, as ex-Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair writes about, can be inculcated through contacts with military officers from democratic countries. Military-to-military ties are underappreciated sources of western leverage.

In an era of authoritarian backlash, there is a need for a new breed of diplomacy. Diplomats have a wide range of tools and assets to support pro-democracy movements. Popular uprisings in places like Egypt, which are often led by non-traditional civil society actors took diplomats who are too used to dealing with registered NGOs and CSOs by surprise. Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman and Kurt Basseuner highlight in their Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support that everyday diplomatic tools can make a difference. These range from showing solidarity, to physically inter-positioning to deter violence and coordinating allied embassies’ support for democrats. Unfortunately, foreign service officers receive minimal training on how to support democrats.

Helping populations pivot from protests to politics is no simple undertaking. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond emphasizes, the reality is that democratic institutions, strong political parties, and the rule of law take generations to take root. There is plenty of evidence that technocratic tweaking of institutions without such strong civil society engagement doesn’t achieve democratic progress. Successful anti-corruption campaigns around the world, as chronicled by John’s Hopkins fellow Shaazka Beyerle, combine citizen-led action with engagement with government institutions.

Arguably the most important role outside actors can play is helping civic actors pry open space for political engagement. Democracy support foundations and organizations need to develop innovative ways to support civil society, particularly in restrictive spaces. Such support should seek to advance key aspects of successful nonviolent movements, as Peter Ackerman and Hardy Merriman have stressed: unity around goals and leaders, operational planning, nonviolent discipline, diversified participation, movement resilience, and the ability to prompt loyalty shifts in the authoritarian’s key pillars of support. Engaging with broad array of civil society actors, using small, flexible grants to support credible local mobilizers, encouraging sustainable leadership and movement principles and providing convening spaces for activists, traditional civil society and government reformers to mix it up are a few ways to do that.

Acclaimed strategist and Nobel Laureate in Economics Thomas Schelling once said that in the match between repressive regimes and domestic challengers, each side seeks to impose costs on the other side while minimizing the costs to their own side. “It is a contest and it remains to be seen who wins.” As authoritarians around the world seek to consolidate their grip on power, it behooves western actors to get serious about pushing back against the authoritarians, otherwise we risk the current ebb turning into a growing tide against democracy.

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This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.

Mathew Burrows is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Maria J. Stephan is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Prior to government service, she was Director of Educational Initiatives at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, DC, an independent non-profit foundation that studies and promotes the use of civilian-based, non-military strategies for advancing rights and freedoms around the world.

Camera Work: Light

A photographer can work so long as there is light – Edward Weston

Rhodies

Yesterday, I came home from shopping and was struck by the color of the Rhodies just outside my front door. They had a glow on that I didn’t remember from last year, so, after putting the groceries away, I grabbed the camera and took a look. I had photographed this same bush last year and I knew they were the same flowers, but something was different. The different was the light.

I have an outdoor light on the building, set to go on with a motion sensor. Last year, the sensor didn’t work, so as the days got shorter, I messed with the settings and got it to work reliably. Now, if anything, it’s too sensitive, and seems to ignore the fact that it’s daylight. My walking by the sensor field set it off, and provided enough artificial light to function as a second source, blending well in brightness as an accent light on diffuse daylight.

A gift, in fact. Studio photographers routinely do this mixing, pushing at times the mix of colors using different color gels over the lamps. You see this in theatre as well. I just had to walk up to the bush, wave my hand and there it is.

But even without this fortuitous circumstance, when we photograph outdoors on a sunny day, we see the same effect, namely direct sun on the subject but the shadows get skylight only, and skylight is blue.

Examine the values in both photos. The left is a sunny exposure, the shadowed part is bluer and the green leaves duller in color. The shadow would have been quite a bit bluer, but the magic of digital made that problem go away.

The right side is the version with the fill light from the porch fixture. The daylight is from an overcast sky, which, incidentally is blue, compared to direct sun, but the brain compensates for this and presents us with gray. (The subject of color balance via brain compensation is a subject all to itself).  Again, digital magic mimics the brain.

Tweaking the right photo needs as much consideration as tweaking the left, because raw out of the camera, each photograph would seem off balance, if some sort of realistic presentation is desired.

A final note: both photos are the same size and the same proportion yet the two sides appear different. Optical illusion, due to the fact that the right image is centered, the left is not, giving rise to the perception that the right side is square. Or at least, squarish. In a final spread for a book or magazine, I would not likely run these two together but here, it offers a glimpse into another aspect of working with images.

Here’s a link to a new gallery on my website where you can see these images full size, along with a few others. This gallery is new and I’ll be adding to it significantly. There have been additions to other galleries this week as well.

Enjoy!

Photos ©2015 Lawrence Hudetz All Rights reserved.