Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Mark Welsbrot, was published by The Guardian, October 26, 2009
What kind of a public debate can we have on the most vital issues of the day in the United States? A lot depends on the media, which determines how these issues are framed for most people.
Take the war in Afghanistan, which has been subject to major debate here lately, as Barack Obama has to decide whether to take the advice of his commanding officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and send tens of thousands more troops there, or heed public opinion, which actually favours an end to the war.
This month, one of America's most important and most-watched TV news programmes, NBC's Meet the Press, took up the issue. The lineup:
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, former army general and drug tsar (under Bill Clinton) turned defence industry lobbyist. In a news article on McCaffrey titled "One man's military-industrial-media complex", the New York Times reported that McCaffrey had "earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defence industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." McCaffrey has appeared on NBC more than 1000 times since 11 September 2001.
Retired General Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George Bush (2002-2005). He is currently on the board of directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the largest military contractors in the world, and also of United Technologies Corporation, another large military contractor.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, a pro-war spokesperson that is one of the most regular guests on the Sunday talkshows.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, was apparently intended to represent the "other side" of the debate. Here is what he said: "Clearly we should keep the number of forces that we have. No one's talking about removing forces."
"No one" in the above sentence refers to the American people, whom Levin understandably sees as nobody in the eyes of the US media and political leaders. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 32% of those polled wanted US troops out of Afghanistan within one year or right now. That was the largest group. Another 24% wants the troops "removed within one to two years". For comparison, the leadership of the Taliban is willing to grant foreign troops 18 months to get out of their country.
In other words, a majority of 56% of Americans wants US troops out of Afghanistan about as soon as is practically feasible or even sooner. Yet Meet the Press – a mainstream network news talkshow since 1947 – does not see fit to find one person to represent that point of view. The other major TV and radio talkshows that the right also labels "liberal" in the US make similar choices almost every day.
When asked whether the US should set a timeline for withdrawal, Levin answered "no".
I know, if you have enough time you can still find an anti-war, public-interest viewpoint and the facts to support it – on the internet and even among some of the news stories in major media publications. But most Americans have other full-time jobs.
If the media's influence stopped there, the damage would be limited. After all, Americans can often still overcome the tutelage of the media's opinion leaders, as the above poll demonstrates. But the media also defines the debate for politicians. And that is where the life-and-death consequences really kick in.
If you want to know why Obama has not fought for a public option for healthcare reform, why he has caved to Wall Street on financial reform, why he has been Awol on the most important labour law reform legislation in 75 years (despite his campaign promises), just look at the major media. Think for a moment of how they would treat him if he did what his voters wanted him to do. You can be sure that Obama has thought it through very carefully.
Obama's whole political persona is based on media strategy, and on not taking any risk that the major media would turn against him. That is how he got where he is today and how he hopes to be re-elected. Many analysts confuse this with a strategy based on public opinion polling. But as we can see, these are often two different things.
Seventy-five percent of Americans support a public option for healthcare reform. (A majority would support expanding Medicare to cover everyone, but over the years the media, insurance and pharmaceutical companies made sure that this option didn't make it to the current debate.)
Obama has the bully pulpit. He could say to the rightwing Democrats in the Senate: "Look, you can vote against my proposals, but if you do not allow your president to even have a vote on this reform, you are not a Democrat." In other words, you can't join the Republicans in blocking the vote procedurally.
He could probably force Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to join him in enforcing this minimal party discipline that would come naturally to Republicans, which would allow the healthcare bill to pass the Senate even if conservative Democrats voted against it.
But to do that would risk losing some of Obama's post-partisan, non-ideological aura that guarantees his media support. Of course, the media is not the only influence that hobbles healthcare reform. The insurance, pharmaceutical and other business lobbies obviously have more representation in Congress than does the majority of the electorate. But Obama does not feel this direct corporate pressure nearly as much. After all, he was the first president in recent decades to get 48% of his campaign contributions from donations of less than $200 – a very significant change in American politics, made possible though internet organising.
There are other powerful elite groupings, such as the foreign policy establishment – which is more ideologically driven, like the medieval church, than a collection of lobbying interests – that thwart reform on issues of war and peace. But the major media remain one of the biggest challenges to progressive reform in the 21st century.
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
This article, by Juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, August 21, 2009
It was worse.
Back in the bad old days of Bush's corrupt gang, we on the left were pilloried for suggesting that the administration was manipulating terrorism-related news in order to win the 2004 elections. But when Tom Ridge says it . . .
In fact, I argued in summer, 2004, that when Ridge did raise the terrorism alert, it had the unfortunate effect of outing an al-Qaeda double agent who had been turned by the Pakistani government and was helping set a trap for al-Qaeda in the UK. In turn, that caused the British government to have to move against the people it had under surveillance prematurely, harming the case.
Ridge is alleging he was pressured on the eve of the election. But I still wonder about the circumstances of the summer announcement. He might have been being used then, too, and not known it.
And if any of us had said that Dick Cheney was setting up civilian mercenary assassination squads (at least 007 works for the British government), and set things up so that perhaps neither the CIA director nor the president even knew about it, we would have been branded moonbats. But well, that is today's story
You shudder to think what hasn't come out yet.
If Bush and his gang falsely put up the terror alert or even tried to, for partisan political gain, that is a sort of treason. If they thereby ruined a British surveillance operation, they recklessly endangered US and NATO security. If they were arranging for civilian mercenaries to murder people . . . well you'd have to say that they were at least planning to be murderers. (The wingnuts will say that Xe was only being contracted to kill al-Qaeda types; but the wingnuts wouldn't be able to tell a Barelvi from an al-Qaeda supporter if their lives depended on it, and I wouldn't exactly trust Mr. Prince to be fair to Muslims.)
The horrible thing is that Wolf Blitzer on CNN assembled David Frum and Frances Townsend, former members of the Bush administration, to sit around on his afternoon news and analysis program on Thursday afternoon and more or less either call Ridge a liar or pooh-pooh the significance of what he is saying. There wasn't a single centrist or left of center voice to show any outrage. I mean, I know that Time Warner is not made up of people who necessarily care about the little person or social justice or anything. But a little bit of shame?
It isn't enough that the corporate media lied to us for Bush for 8 years, they are continuing to do it. Give money to Amy Goodman.
This book review, by Jon Letman, was distributed by the Inter Press Service News Agency, August 17, 2009
KAUAI, Hawaii, Aug 17 (IPS) - Six months into Barack Obama's presidency, the U.S. public's display of antiwar sentiment has faded to barely a whisper.
Despite Obama's vow to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq before September 2011, he plans to leave up to 50,000 troops in "training and advisory" roles. Meanwhile, nearly 130,000 troops remain in that country and more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers occupy Afghanistan, with up to an additional 18,000 approved for deployment this year.
So where is the resistance?
In independent journalist Dahr Jamail's "The Will to Resist: Soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan" (Haymarket Books), Jamail profiles what may ultimately prove to be the United States' most effective anti-war movement: the soldiers themselves.
During the early years of the Iraq war, Jamail traveled to Iraq alone and reported as an unembedded freelance journalist. Over four visits, Jamail documented the war's effects on Iraqi civilians in "Beyond the Green Zone" (2007).
Although he is a fierce critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of the U.S. mainstream media which he says served as a "cheerleader" for war, Jamail admits he was raised to admire the military. However, after covering the war from Iraq between 2003 and 2005, Jamail was enraged by what he calls "the heedless and deliberate devastation [he] saw [the U.S. military] wreak upon the people of Iraq."
Back in the U.S., traveling the country speaking out against the war, Jamail met scores of soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found that he shared with them a "familiar anguish" which drove him to further explore their motivations as soldiers. In doing so he opens the door to a growing subculture of internal dissent that is increasingly bubbling up and spilling over the edge of an otherwise ultra-disciplined, highly-controlled military society.
"The soldiers I spoke with while working on this book are some of the most ardent anti-war activists I have ever met," Jamail told IPS. "Having experienced the war firsthand, this should not come as a surprise."
In "The Will to Resist", Jamail profiles individual acts of resistance that he envisions as the possible seeds of a broader anti-war movement. The book is filled with stories of soldiers who refuse missions deemed "suicidal", go AWOL, flee abroad, refuse to carry a loaded weapon, even arranging to be shot in the leg - and those who in a final act of desperation commit suicide.
Soldiers who refuse to deploy or follow orders risk court-martial, prison time, dishonourable discharge and loss of veteran's medical benefits, yet an increasing number of active duty soldiers and veterans are willing to do so.
Rather than accept a mission almost certain to bring death, some troops simply refuse to follow orders. Jamail describes soldiers in Iraq on "search and avoid" missions who grew adept at giving the appearance of going out on patrol when, in fact, they were lying low, catching up on sleep and trying to avoid being killed.
Jamail quotes one Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as saying, "Dissent starts as simple as saying 'this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?'"
Soldiers tell Jamail that incidents of refusing orders are unremarkable and "pretty widespread," to which he responds, "It is also understandable why the military does not want more soldiers or the public to know about them."
"Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who served a year in Iraq, has recently publicly refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan," Jamail told IPS, "and the Army, due to the threat of more soldiers and the broader public learning of this, backed away from giving Agosto the harshest court-martial possible, to one of the lightest."
Jamail also dedicates two chapters to soldiers who stand up to systemic misogyny and homophobia in the military. Extensive interviews with female soldiers detail a pervasive culture of institutionalised "command rape," harassment, abuse and assault which, in a number of high-profile cases (and many more unknown) end in ostracism, coercion, demotion, suicide and murder.
Citing studies from professional medical journals that offer a grim assessment of sexual intimidation and abuse within the U.S. military, Jamail writes, "According to the group Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women in the United States will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. In the military, at least two in five will. In either case, at least 60 percent of the cases go unreported."
As Jamail recounts horrific cases of violence toward women in the military, he notes the irony of frequent claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "liberating" women of those Muslim countries.
Like female soldiers, gay and lesbian service men and women are targeted for harassment and abuse. Jamail meets soldiers who, under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, must conceal their true identity, falsely posing as straight while battling internal conflicts about their own roles in the military.
In the blunt language of the soldiers, Jamail describes the military experience as a process of dehumanisation. "The primary objective appeared to be to mistreat and dehumanise your guys [fellow soldiers]," one Marine says. "I could not do it, not to my men and not to those people. I like the Iraqis, I like the Afghanis. Why were we treating them like shit?...That is when I really started questioning what the hell was going on."
For many soldiers however, the pain of war is simply too much to bear and so they choose their own final discharge: suicide. In an emotionally exhausting chapter, Jamail cites statistics from the Army Suicide Event Report which states active duty military suicides have risen to their highest rates since the Army started tracking self-inflicted deaths in 1980, and the numbers are growing.
Documenting the phenomenon of "suicide by cop," Jamail quotes from a Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD)-wracked veteran's pre-"suicide" internet article in which he wrote, "…We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. We kill ourselves because we are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out."
Contemplating the long-term implications of the more than 1.8 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jamail points out that the United States, for many years to come, will be faced with caring for tens of thousands of veterans whose lives are permanently marred by grave physical and traumatic brain injuries, psychological scars, PTSD, and a host of associated problems ranging from divorce and substance abuse to domestic violence, homelessness and run-ins with the law.
Other soldiers manage to cope somehow and, perhaps in a sense, recover. Following their discharge, some veterans profiled by Jamail seek to make peace with themselves by educating others about the realities they experienced in war.
The most successful and constructive of military efforts to resist war are made by those who turn their experiences into teaching tools and therapeutic exercises like music, video, theater, painting, books, blogs, photographic and art exhibitions, performance art and even making paper out of old military uniforms.
In a chapter titled 'Cyber Resistance,' Jamail contends the Internet "is probably the first time that we have available to us an inexpensive and extremely inclusive means to communicate and thereby advocate sustained resistance to unjust military action, at an international scale without losing any gestation time."
Websites like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Blogspot and countless alternative news sources have given soldiers and veterans both a voice and the means to connect with those Jamail calls "fence-sitters, members of the silent majority and well-intentioned but resource-less individuals to participate in the promise of a historical transformation."
"While we don't have an organised GI resistance movement today that is anywhere close to that which helped end the Vietnam war," Jamail said, "the seeds for one are there, and they are continuing to sprout amidst a soil that is becoming all the more fertile by the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, the lack of withdrawal in Iraq, and an increasingly over-stretched military."
This article, by J. Stainthorp Berggren, was posted to the IVAW website July 23, 2009
This past week I was talking to one of our brothers and the question came up about what we are up against, and it really made me think.
Like it made sense for IVAW, to recognize that we are up against a lot - the mainstream media, a lot of money, some corporate interests, legislators, policy, administrations, the pervasive promotion of US status quo...
But it also made me stop and think about what we're all up against personally, just by being out and open about being against what's going on. I remember a few years back some students at the college I went to and worked at had an event I came across inviting people to come up to DC for a march around the Capitol. Again there was one on the Pentagon. I went both times - first in January and then in March - and it took me about a month or two to finally tell my mom....and I'm a momma's boy. So we went to lunch and I explained what I had been learning about and going to these protests and being against these wars. I felt this huge weight coming off because it seemed like she was listening. When I finished talking she asked me when I was going to seminary school. I smiled awkwardly and felt nothing I had said either made sense or mattered. If I couldn't be understood by my parents who would understand, you know? Like why the fuck did I need to be a priest to feel this way.
It took a few years for me to realize not going to Iraq had nothing to do with my own decisions. I tried to go, the unit was split up, and the rest is history. But it really wasn't history and isn't over, because I am still learning to work through some guilt and anger from this situation. It took me until just this past year to realize subconsciously I had connected my self worth to a war, and how destructive that was and is. On top of that most of those feelings just stayed bottled up inside.
So my parents to some degree. And then my own issues with guilt, and subsequent anger, depression, and anxiety. I'm up against that.
When the part of my unit was in Iraq and I was stateside I used to have nightmares. One night I was dreaming of going to bed in the middle of the damn desert and we had an air strike overhead. So I jumped up and started screaming at guys in my platoon and was getting them to cover. One guy wouldn't get up, he was just depressed and didn't care. I was screaming at him and ended up pulling him up and running with him. At that point my screaming woke me up and I found myself awake having jumped out of my bed and screaming at the top of my lungs. When my unit got back one of the guys told me about this night with an airstrike and how this guy in my squad just stayed in his rack and didn't care what happened, he was just sick of being there. The same shit I was having nightmares about had happened, and when I asked and asked about when this was it was right around the time I had that specific dream. That shit didn't help with my guilt or feeling worthless.
So I'm up against false memories and no sleep.
At the point I started identifying as being against the war I was working at a school down in Georgia. In a department with the mission of developing ethical leaders in college. As I became involved and aware I began to challenge some blanket ignorant statements. One assistant director even told me once I was too idealistic. That's funny, because now I've been told that at two jobs in a row. Working in institutions claiming to promote educational experiences grounded in values I often find myself at odds with what people say, and even sometimes how people treat me because I served in the Marines. Things from higher ups like how Bush was great and Obama is not and sending me videos that are garbage. Things blasting the new president for minute actions but not questioning the war Bush started even though some polls indicated 70% of Americans didn't want to invade Iraq. It's hard for me to talk not only about being anti-war, but even being in IVAW. I feel like I might be punished in a real roundabout way. I've had predecessors that challenged simple things, and here I am challenging some folks basic assumptions about freedom, war, and constitutionality. It can be draining, so I'm up against that.
Up against joe blow civilian, members of organizations, and even educators that claim to be ethical.
I think when this question came up about what we are up against I hadn't thought about it this deeply for me. I knew it, you know, but maybe I hadn't named everything I was and am really up against. Sometimes a phone call or an email from another IVAW makes my day. That may sound sappy, does it sound that way? I don't know, maybe it should. Maybe that's like the feel good movie of the year or some shit. Just being able to connect with someone else can make all the difference when you are really up against some real shit.
A couple of months ago I got this email on my work email account with IVAW in the title...I was like "oh shit, some member found out and is going to rail on me for being unpatriotic, enabling terrorists, and on and on like always," but it wasn't. It was another marine that hadn't deployed. He said he found my work email online after going through some profiles on IVAW and that he was thankful I'd brought up some of the guilt I felt for not deploying, yet how the war still impacted me. He was not deployed and mentioned some struggles he dealt with. Many similar, and unless we speak up and speak out, some folks will just live and die alone.
He was up against that same guilt. Depression. Anxiety. Sometimes didn't even want to tell folks he'd been in the marines because the first question is almost always "well did you go to Iraq?" The great qualifier, right? Like even civilians know if you don't get orders you ain't shit. Up against them.
Up against status quo thinking and ignorant questions.
I'm glad though I thought about this, because it made me realize that I'm in this for the long haul. It's not some get money for college or see the world bullshit, the level of commitment is real, not a time slot. That honor isn't about a contract on paper, it's about a contract with yourself. That courage isn't always on the battlefield, sometimes it's just finally figuring out the fucking truth and living with it and moving forward.
In some sense we're up against the entire fucking power structure of the nation, and in broader terms we're up against money, and power, and a lot of resources. Sometimes that shit is easy to say we're fighting...not so easy when it's family. Coworkers. Friends. Self.
We're up against a lot, time to recognize that and start listening to each other.
This was posted to Facebook, by the Progressive Coalition, July 20, 2009
Hello everybody. Just writing you to ask for your help in our unity for this late breaking incident involving a right wing U.S. Army (colonel Peters)in getting him to publicly apologize and be fired by Faux news. Thanks,
Retired Army Lt. Colonel Peters, you should immediately apologize for your statement that my fellow captured American soldier in the hands of the Taliban enemy should be (implied) tortured and killed if he deserted.
First of all, we won't know that for sure until much later. You right wing so called patriots make me sick. I as an American and liberal-progressive did not and will not engage in talk that denigrates John McCain's service (even though he was coerced into signing statements against America during his capture) to this nation so why do you hypocritically come after a young man still in the hands of a vicious enemy (the Taliban) giving them reason to feel that he should maybe be tortured and killed ?
You sir, are a disgusting human being, knowing that this young man's family is watching this along with the world. It's not bad enough that he is already being used for propaganda purposes but you and your right-wing friends like Michelle Malkin are sick and again, I and many of my fellow soldiers demand that you apologize to this young man's family for further endangering his life by making these hateful statements against him.
theprogressivecoalition.com , thejefffariasshow.com
former PFC, U.S. Army
Persian Gulf/ Iraq Occupation III
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 9, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (IPS) - The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months.
The Petraeus account, reported by McClatchy newspapers Feb. 5 and then by the Associated Press the following day, appears to indicate that Obama is moving away from the 16-month plan he had vowed during the campaign to implement if elected. But on closer examination, it doesn't necessarily refer to any action by Obama or to anything that happened at the Jan. 21 meeting.
The real story of the leak by Petraeus is that the most powerful figure in the U.S. military has tried to shape the media coverage of Obama and combat troop withdrawal from Iraq to advance his policy agenda - and, very likely, his personal political interests as well.
This writer became aware of Petraeus's effort to influence the coverage of Obama's unfolding policy on troop withdrawal when a military source close to the general, who insisted on anonymity, offered the Petraeus account on Feb. 4. The military officer was responding to the IPS story 'Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision' published two days earlier [link below].
The story reported that Obama had rejected Petraeus's argument against a 16-month withdrawal option at the meeting and asked for a withdrawal plan within that time frame, and that Petraeus had been unhappy with the outcome of the meeting.
It also reported that Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and retired Army general Jack Keane, a close ally of Petraeus, had both made public statements indicating a determination to get Obama to abandon the 16-month plan.
The officer told IPS that, contrary to the story, Petraeus had been "very pleased" with the direction of the discussions. He said that there had been no decision by Obama at the meeting and no indication that Obama had a preference for one option over another.
The military source provided the following carefully worded statement: "We were specifically asked to provide projections, assumptions and risks for the accomplishment of objectives associated with 16-, 19- and 23-month drawdown options." That was exactly the sentence published by McClatchy the following day, except that "specifically" was left out.
The source also said Petraeus, Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had already reached a "unified assessment" on the three drawdown options and had forwarded them to the chain of command.
But a White House official told IPS Monday that the Petraeus account was untrue. "The assessments of the three drawdown dates were not requested by the president," said the official, who insisted on not being identified because he had not been authorised to comment on the matter. "He never said, 'Give me three drawdown plans'."
McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported a similar account from aides to Obama. "Obama told his advisors shortly after taking office that he remained committed to the 16-month timeframe," Youssef wrote, "but asked them to present him with the pros and cons of that and other options, without specifying dates."
That suggests that the only specific plan for which Obama requested an assessment of risks was the 16-month plan, but that he agreed to look at other plans as well.
The sentence given to this writer as well as to McClatchy bore one obvious clue that the request for the assessments of three drawdown plans did not come from Obama: the sentence used the passive voice. It also failed to explicitly state that the request in question was made during the meeting with Obama.
Petraeus did not respond to a request through the intermediary to say who requested the studies and whether they had been proposed by the military commanders themselves. McClatchy's Youssef also noted that it is "unclear who came up with the idea..." of the 19- and 23-month withdrawal plans.
By implying that Obama had requested the three plans without saying so explicitly, the sentence leaked by Petraeus seems to have been calculated to create a misleading story.
One of Petraeus's objectives appears to have been to counter any perception that he is seeking to undermine Obama on Iraq policy. Petraeus wishes to remain out of the spotlight in regard to any conflict regarding withdrawal over the Iraq issue. "He has been very careful to keep a very low profile," said the military officer close to Petraeus, "because this is a new administration."
But the Petraeus leak also serves to promote the idea that Obama is moving away from his campaign pledge on a 16-month combat troop withdrawal, which has already been the dominant theme in news media coverage of the issue. That idea would also justify continued sniping by military officers at the Obama 16-month plan as too risky.
In a new book, 'The Gamble', to be published Tuesday, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks confirms an earlier report that in his initial encounter with Petraeus in Baghdad last July, Obama had made no effort to hide his sharp disagreement with the general's views. Obama interrupted a lecture by Petraeus, according to Ricks, and made it clear that, as president, he would need to take a broader strategic view of the issue than that of the commander in Iraq.
Ricks, who interviewed Petraeus about the meeting, writes that Obama's remarks "likely insulted Petraeus, who justly prides himself on his ability to do just that..." That strongly implies that Petraeus expressed some irritation at Obama over the incident to Ricks.
On top of the interest of Petraeus and other senior officers in keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as possible, Petraeus has personal political interests at stake in the struggle over Iraq policy. He has been widely regarded as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in 2012.
Petraeus evidently believed the White House was promoting a story that made him look like the loser at the Jan. 21 meeting. "I imagine the White House is not too happy that this information is out there," said the military source, referring to the Petraeus account he had provided to IPS.
Obama is obviously treading warily in handling Petraeus. His concern about Petraeus's political ambitions may have been a factor in the decision to bring four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Jones in as his national security adviser.
"I've been told by a couple of people that one of the reasons for Jones being chosen was to have him there as a four-star to counter Petraeus," says one Congressional source.
This article, by juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, February 5, 2009
It is being alleged by US pundits that the outcome of the provincial elections in Iraq, as far as it is known, indicates a defeat for the religious parties and for Iran.
This allegation is not true. In the Shiite provinces, the coalition of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa) will continue to rule. Both parties are close to Tehran, and leaders of both spent time in exile in Iran. Da'wa appears to have become more popular than ISCI. But Da'wa was founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic in Iraq, and current leader Nuri al-Maliki has excellent relations with the Iranian leadership.
Da'wa is more "lay" in the composition of its leadership, which is made up of lawyers, physicians and other white collar types. ISCI has more clerics at the top, though it also comprises technocrats such as VP Adil Abdul Mahdi. But Da'wa will need Iranian economic and development aid just as much as previous governments did.
In the Sunni provinces there appears to have been a turn to more secular parties, but neither the Sunni fundamentalists nor the Arab nationalists have much use for Iran to begin with.
The Kurdish leadership is also quite close to Iran. They will have elections in May.
This article, by Chris Tomlinson, was published by the Asocited Press, February 5, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls "the human terrain" of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.
An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That's almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.
This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.
"We have such a massive apparatus selling the military to us, it has become hard to ask questions about whether this is too much money or if it's bloated," says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Committee on Media and Democracy, which tracks the military's media operations. "As the war has become less popular, they have felt they need to respond to that more."
Yet the money spent on media and outreach still comes to only 1 percent of the Pentagon budget, and the military argues it is well-spent on recruitment and the education of foreign and American audiences. Military leaders say that at a time when extremist groups run Web sites and distribute video, information is as important a weapon as tanks and guns.
"We have got to be involved in getting our case out there, telling our side of the story, because believe me, al-Qaida and all of those folks ... that's what they are doing on the Internet and everywhere else," says Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. "Every time a bomb goes off, they have a story out almost before it explodes, saying that it killed 15 innocent civilians."
On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.
What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors' names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.
The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.
In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.
The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.
Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military's average cost per service member. That's double the staffing costs for 2003.
Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.
"It's not up to the Pentagon to sell policy to the American people," says Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored legislation in Congress last year reinforcing the ban.
Spending on public affairs has more than doubled since 2003. Robert Hastings, acting director of Pentagon public affairs, says the growth reflects changes in the information market, along with the fact that the U.S. is now fighting two wars.
"The role of public affairs is to provide you the information so that you can make an informed decision yourself," Hastings says. "There is no place for spin at the Department of Defense."
But on Dec. 12, the Pentagon's inspector general released an audit finding that the public affairs office may have crossed the line into propaganda. The audit found the Department of Defense "may appear to merge inappropriately" its public affairs with operations that try to influence audiences abroad. It also found that while only 89 positions were authorized for public affairs, 126 government employees and 31 contractors worked there.
In a written response, Hastings concurred and, without acknowledging wrongdoing, ordered a reorganization of the department by early 2009.
Another audit, also in December, concluded that a public affairs program called "America Supports You" was conducted "in a questionable and unregulated manner" with funds meant for the military's Stars and Stripes newspaper.
The program was set up to keep U.S. troops informed about volunteer donations to the military. But the military awarded $11.8 million in contracts to a public relations firm to raise donations for the troops and then advertise those donations to the public. So the program became a way to drum up support for the military at a time when public opinion was turning against the Iraq war.
The audit also found that the offer to place corporate logos on the Pentagon Web site in return for donations was against regulations. A military spokesman said the program has been completely overhauled to meet Pentagon regulations.
"They very explicitly identify American public opinion as an important battlefield," says Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University. "In today's information environment, even if they were well-intentioned and didn't want to influence American public opinion, they couldn't help it."
In 2003, for example, initial accounts from the military about the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces were faked to rally public support. And in 2005, a Marine Corps spokesman during the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah told the U.S. news media that U.S. troops were attacking. In fact, the information was a ruse by U.S. commanders to fool insurgents into revealing their positions.
The fastest-growing part of the military media is "psychological operations," where spending has doubled since 2003.
Psychological operations aim at foreign audiences, and spin is welcome. The only caveats are that messages must be truthful and must never try to influence an American audience.
In Afghanistan, for example, a video of a soldier joining the national army shown on Afghan television is not attributed to the U.S. And in Iraq, American teams built and equipped media outlets and trained Iraqis to staff them without making public the connection to the military.
Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of strategic communications for the U.S. Central Command, says psychological operations must be secret to be effective. He says that in the 21st century, it is probably not possible to win the information battle with insurgents without exposing American citizens to secret U.S. propaganda.
"We have to be pragmatic and realistic about the game that we play in terms of information, and that game is very complex," he says.
The danger of psychological operations reaching a U.S. audience became clear when an American TV anchor asked Gen. David Petraeus about the mood in Iraq. The general held up a glossy photo of the Iraqi national soccer team to show the country united in victory.
Behind the camera, his staff was cringing. It was U.S. psychological operations that had quietly distributed tens of thousands of the soccer posters in July 2007 to encourage Iraqi nationalism.
With a new administration in power, it is not clear what changes may be made. Obama administration officials have said they intend to go through the Department of Defense budget closely to trim bloated spending.
The emphasis on influence operations started with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002, Rumsfeld established an Office of Strategic Influence that brought together public affairs and psychological operations. Critics accused him of setting up a propaganda arm, and Congress demanded that the office be shut down.
Rumsfeld has declined to speak to the press since leaving office, but while defense secretary he spoke bluntly about his desire to revamp the Pentagon's media operations.
"I went down that next day and said, 'Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I'll give you the corpse,'" Rumsfeld said on Nov. 18, 2002, according to Defense Department transcripts of a speech he delivered. "'There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.'"
In 2003, Rumsfeld issued a secret Information Operations Roadmap setting out a plan for public affairs and psychological operations to work together. It noted that with a global media, the military should expect and accept that psychological operations will reach the U.S. public.
"I can tell you there wouldn't be a single American disappointed with anything that we've done that might be out there, that they don't know about," says Col. Curtis Boyd, commander of the 4th PSYOP Group, the largest unit of its kind. "Frankly, they probably wouldn't care because maybe they are safer as a result of it."
In January 2008, a new report by the Defense Science Board recommended resurrecting the Office of Strategic Influence as the Office of Strategic Communications. But Congress refused to fund the program.
In February, the Army released a new eight-chapter field manual that puts information warfare on par with traditional warfare.
The title of an entire chapter, Chapter 7: "Information Superiority."
This reoport was originally broadcast by Deutsche Welle Worlde, January 21, 2009
In a paper on transatlantic cooperation published to coincide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Chancellor Merkel's conservatives call for a new political strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in parliament this week proposed setting up a "contact group" of nations to forge a new political strategy to stablilize Afghanistan.
The group, the document says, should not only include the five permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- but also the European Union, Iran and Pakistan.
The policy paper does not specifically mention Iran but German media quoted Andreas Schockenhoff, vice chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU ) saying the conservatives would welcome Iran's participation.
Germany hopes to include Iran
"Such an initiative, that would include Iran, would benefit if it came to direct talks between Washington and Tehran," Schockenhoff said in comments released by his office.
"The group should aim to reach an international consensus...that the stability of Afghanistan should be an objective of the utmost importance," the paper said, adding that weakening al Qaeda is "a common interest".
"Given the lack of an international consultation forum (on Afghanistan), an international contact group that is legitimized by the UN Security Council, should carry out such an initiative," the paper reads.
A similar idea for a "contact group" to coordinate international strategy in Afghanistan was proposed by former French President Jacques Chirac in 2006, but was not supported by Washington.
Presented on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration and under the title "For a Closer Transatlantic Partnership", foreign policy experts from the Christian Democrats called on the new US president to look for alternatives to an increase in troops, which Obama has advocated.
Germany bracing for troops request
Germany is among European nations bracing for demands from the new US administration that they do more in Afghanistan, but the Germans are reluctant to send more troops and believe talks on a new strategy for stabilizing the country are the main priority.
Chancellor Merkel has said that she would not accede to any request from the new US administration to send troops to southern Afghanistan, the scene of much of the heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents. "Wherever Germany commits itself, a wholeness of military and civilian assistance should be visible," she said.
German forces, the third-biggest component in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are based in safer northern Afghanistan. Other armies have borne the brunt of the fighting in the south.
Merkel skeptical of Obama's Iran policy
Merkel indicated on Tuesday that Obama would draw a blank in Berlin if he pressed Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan, and also expressed doubts on whether Obama's stated wish to talk to Iran would bear fruit. In contrast to President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is open to talks with Iran, a step Germany has welcomed.
"On the European Union side we have held talks with Iran on multiple occasions, but unfortunately very unsuccessfully over a long period of time," Merkel said. "I think it will remain clear that so long as Iran keeps its nuclear program so opaque, and as long as it wants to destroy Israel, there will of course be points when we will say that on this basis we cannot come together."
But she added: "I believe in any case that we should try it."