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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Abandoning Sanity, the War on Terror Blunders On

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity put out a memorandum titled Countering Terrorism - How Not To Do It.

VIPS represents the intelligence "establishment", which was disrupted in the post-9/11 environment. Intelligence analysts had been manhandled by the White House particularly in regard to intelligence estimates on Iraq. CIA chief Tenet had placated the White House.

Nowhere was the absence of CIA independence made more clear than in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union Address, where Bush claimed Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium in Niger--a statement which had been proven patently false by Joe Wilson's inquiry into the matter.

The CIA had been responsible for fact-checking the content of all Presidential State of the Union addresses, at least before what the VIPS memo calls the “9/11-Changed-Everything chestnut."

Cheney had been meddling in the intelligence-gathering sector for quite some time. His interest in Iraq went back to before 9/11, where he had a secret energy policy task force meeting with Big Oil representatives in which a map of the oil fields of Iraq was examined.

As a motive, the seizure of Iraqi oil was certainly in place, the advocates for war simply seized on 9/11 as their opportuunity. Resistance to the war came from veteran intelligence professionals whose job it was to measure the real threat posed by countries like Iraq.

Reforms to the existing intelligence-gathering systems were made, so the status quo had been abandoned. Using the failure of the intelligence community to prevent 9/11 as a pretext, the US government was consolidating a vast array of intelligence services into a single body: the Department of Homeland Security.

The VIPS memo explains that the new order required destruction of the old intelligence-gathering infrastrucure. The merger "created chaos by throwing together 22 agencies with 180,000 workers-many of them in jobs vital to our nation’s security, both at home and abroad. It also enabled functionaries like the two Michaels-Brown and Chertoff-to immobilize key agencies like the previously well-run Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), leading to its feckless response to Hurricane Katrina."

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity has grounds for opposing the reorganization. Previously independent agencies were made to share bosses, and a whole new layer of bureaucracy was added, in typically over-engineered federal style.

Diversifying the methods used to analyze intelligence is vital; consolidation threatens to force a one-size-fits-all approach to analyzing threats.

The federal bureaucratic structure doesn't lend itself to independent thinkers, who are likely to be denied leadership positions as office politics witness the advancement of yes men and analysts whose work is judged by their political affiliations.

Whenever an agency of the Department of Homeland Security's size is created, politics are bound to effect how intelligence is analyzed and shared. Intelligence must be gathered without favor to any political party.

Protecting our analysts from political pressure is vital. Our leaders depend on objective and independent analysis free of political opinions to make national security decisions.

Politics is a tool of expediency quite the opposite of the deliberate, pain-staking investigatory process needed for good analysis. Professionals in the field work hard to verify facts. They reach conclusions only after exhaustive examination of data. Imposters are revealed and their opinions discounted.

One such slouch, Ahmed Chalabi, discredited by the CIA and State Department, found a home as a spy for the Pentagon--he told them what they wanted to hear, that we'd be welcomed with open arms, etc.. The intelligence--garbage in--was in turn sent up the chain of command all the way to the White House. The garbage was then sent out in government press releases to solidify the case for war.

Pre-war Intelligence

The absence of Iraqi WMD has been blamed on faulty intelligence, which is inaccurate because there was an explicit effort made at the request of Cheney to find evidence that Iraq had WMD (alongside an effort to connect Iraq to terrorism.)

Failing to find the intelligence they sought at the CIA, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and architects of the Iraqi War turned to the Pentagon, where they created the Office of Special Plans, a shadowy group of outside consultants who searched for any shred of evidence that could justify an attack on Iraq. Rather than generate unbiased analysis, the purpose of the OSP was to find evidence which made the case for war.

Cherry-picking desirable intelligence while ignoring the unfavorable is the complete opposite of how intelligence should work. An objective threat analysis should determine the response needed; instead, war proponents sought to build a body of evidence to support the intervention they sought. Their methodology worked backwards.

Ultimately, the intelligence cherry-picked by the OSP turned out to be false, but by then the group--run by the discredited Douglas Feith--had sent its dubious findings on to the White House Iraq Group. WHIG which was run through Cheney's office; it's job was to supply the mainstream media with evidence of the threat posed by Iraq. Prominent in this group was none other than Scooter Libby, whose job it was to pass on what were essentially lies about Iraq to media figures like Judith Miller, who then wrote about what they'd been told. In Miller's case, allegations of Iraqi WMD, scantily fact-checked, were featured in the front pages of The New York Times.

The relationship between Libby and Miller information became very useful to the White House when it leaked Valerie Plame's identity. Although Miller didn't take the bait and publicly reveal Plame's identity, Miller's confession that she'd been told Plame's identity did muddy the trail for Patrick Fitzgerald, who'd been unable to identify the person who'd first leaked Plame's identity. While Robert Novak was the first to identify Plame publicly, he'd learned that from Armitage only after Libby had leaked it to Miller.

The willingness of the Administration to give up Plame's identity does show a certain contempt for the CIA. We know from the DHS organization that it devalued the independence of the traditional intelligence-gathering function. Cheney's visits to Langley in 2002 bordered on arm-twisting to get the intelligence he and other advocates for an invasion sought.

The White House was far more confident with the intelligence findings at the Pentagon, which they favored as the primary source of their intelligence. The State Department and CIA, on the other hand, were troublesome, committed to accuracy and objectivity over expediency. Rather than admit how the intelligence gathering process had been subverted, Cheney and others knew intelligence operatives would confess to having made mistakes, simple errors of judgement as opposed to acts of gross negligence. Admitting to structural inadequacies inherent in the intelligence profession was far more congenial a political aftermath than confronting people like Joe Wilson, who dared to confront the false intelligence as the willfully inserted fallicies they were. Wilson's crime was to have a wife still involved in the field, who paid the price for her husband's campaign to tell the truth and reveal the lies.

An overall pattern of intelligence manipulation emerges when the OSP, WHIG, and Niger allegations are considered. I've always considered the likelihood that competing intelligence was being suppressed very likely simply because the Administration wanted a war and through that a second term.

Undeniably, the White House case for war came off well. The Commander-in-chief effect was bolstered in what is know as the Wag the Dog effect--Presidents invariably get more popular in times of war. From what I heard in the January 2003 State of the Union, the President's case against Iraq was quite compelling. While I certainly didn't support the war at that time, the stream of what we now know were clearly lies did make Iraq into quite a menace. The media complied shamelessly in spreading the lies.

Post-facto, the intelligence failure that an absence of WMD in Iraq has been blamed on the intelligence community, a fact which is not lost on the VIPS people.

Blaming the intelligence community was a Rovian slap-in-the-face, adding insult to injury. The CIA was blamed for assumptions they'd never made about Iraq; Tenet played along, attributing the "errors" to the invariably unpredictability of events in the intelligence arena.

Blaming the CIA and faulty intelligence shifted political criticism away from White House's case for war, made on garbage, cherry-picked information rejected by the traditional intelligence community. Rather than address the manipulative purpose it served, pre-war intelligence was dismissed to have been a simple, honest error.

Resource War

The mainstream media did nothing to question any of the allegations, which no doubt contributed to the false premises and was complicit in making the case for an invasion of Iraq.

So the case for war in Iraq had been made psychologically, and the masses prepped for war before carefully chosen intelligence was presented to the public to build the case for war.

9/11 was fresh on everyone's mind so the political climate was ripe for a militarized solutions to confronting the apparent threat from Islamic terror. Afghanistan's role sheltering al Qaeda--labelled responsible for the aircraft attacks on 9/11--led to a speedy invasion there. Under fabricated pretenses, Iraq was invaded despite the clear evidence that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Afghanistan--at least the regime change part--had been easy. Iraq was the perfect target, for as long as the American people were afraid and kept in a state of fear through a stream of Orwellian rhetoric bent on capitalizing politically on 9/11.

The Veteran Intelligence Professional for Sanity memo summarizes the approach taken by the administration:

"Post 9/11 dragnet-detentions of innocents, official tolerance of torture (including abuse of U.S. citizens like John Walker Lindh), and panic-boosting color codes, had already been spawned from the mother of all slogans-”The Global War on Terror”-rhetorically useful, substantively inane."

I've said that I think the occupation of Iraq has been intentionally mismanaged in order to perpetuate a military presence there indefinitely. Our chief motive is colonial: the need to extract oil as easily extracted reserves plummet in response to skyrocketing global demand. The Middle East is the world's best source of cheap energy.

China and India are especially hungry and dealing with even the most despotic regimes like Sudan in their quest for energy. To counter them strategically, US and UK oil conglomerates must control "their share" of the world's remaining reserves.

Suspicious is the total absence of any energy conservation. Big Oil has certainly influenced US government policy to the point Americans have become dependent on petroleum imports. The perception that cheap energy is needed to sustain our gluttony has prevailed in top economic policy circles. Rather than confront our addiction, we've fed it, failing to increase efficiency or fully develop alternative energy source. The need for raw materials, or in Iraq's case its oil, still encourages colonialism in our foreign policy.

Unfortunately all troop losses in Iraq can be attributed indirectly to our demand for oil; all continued losses represent the price in blood for our oil we will extract, a predatory process that will require the US to maintain military control over Iraq indefinitely.

Freedom or Security

The old debate over peace and security is always worthy of reconsideration. While the use of WMD does highlight the consequences of security failures, there's absolutely no way to prevent a terror strike, so we can only reduce the chance of its occurrance.

The VIPS memo continues:

"Everyone wants security. But all too few recognize that security and liberty are basically flip sides of the same coin. Just as there can be no meaningful liberty in a situation devoid of security, there can be no real security in a situation devoid of liberty."

The idea that we can use our military to counter the threat of terror is simply too appealing to politicians. In the short-term, the citizens rally round the troops; nationalism, militarism and patriotism merge, to oppose the war is to oppose the nation.

Early on, the fear and possibilities of destruction through terror are clear. Later, after the trumpets fade and results of miltiary action begin to emerge, it's harder to believe we are "winning" or even able to stop terror.

Rather than opt for non-violent efforts that require patience, war can force instant regime change. Yet unfortunately, terrorism is a non-state actor. Military action may be useful in reducing the capacity of terrorist groups to wage operations, but fundamentally the poltiical and economic motivations for terrorism must be considered.

The Veteran Intelligence Proffessionals for Sanity memo explains the inherent foolishness of making war on a stateless entity:

"Declaring 'war' on the tactic of terrorism elevates to statehood what actually may be scattered, disorganized individuals, sympathizers, and small groups. It empowers the terrorists as they add to their numbers and provides the status of statehood to what often should be regarded and treated as a rag-tag group of criminals."

Ultimately, US foreign policy in regard to the issue of Palestinian statehood must be addressed. As long as the Arab world makes the Palestinian issue the source of its animosity, the US must try to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Military force alone, wielded by any government, cannot resolve the diplomatic challenges associated with the region.

Our war machine has been built to fight other States, not deal with the motives of terrorism. Trying to reduce the threat of terror requires far more creativity. Still, the political appeal of fighting an fellow State through the exercise of military force offers much to any incumbent President, despite the clear evidence that terrorism is not congruous with the goals of any State, even an Middle Eastern one that opposes the US like Saddam did.

Terrorism may serve the interests of some States like Iran, but destroying the enemy State will in no way reduce terrorism because terror is not exclusively dependent on any one State: it has no Head to cut off. As Iraq has shown, disembowling the State can in fact have the opposite effect: spreading the influence of terrorist groups and instilling more hatred of the US.

Politics by other means

Political motives geared towards the domestic body politic do more to shape the response to the threat of terror than do more pragmatic concerns like geopolitics or limitations to the effectiveness of military force. Politics are an unfortunate bedfellow for military planning, but an invariable part of any war effort, shaping both its genesis and attaching nebulous or shifting victory conditions to the end of any conflict.

The appeal of war-making lies in the willingness of the population to succumb to their lower nature. It's not that hard to rile up the masses; nationalistic fervor is incredibly valuable as a political tool.

It's all too easy for policy-makers to be swung by the popular appeal of war-making, to think that waging war is the end in itself. Delivering the short-term political benefit to the incumbent President, wars blind our leaders with a potent stew of militarism, nationalism, and patriotism. These emotions may play well in the electorate--linking Elite with Everyman in their support for war--but ultimately it's the children of the lower classes that end up paying the price for their leaders' wars.

Wars need rationale, long-term resolutions that are quite the opposite of irrational populism prevalent in the rush to war. Our leaders need to rise above the short-term political benefits of launching wars: the exuberance obstructs the facilites of reason in favor of glorifying our nation. Average citizens are excited by the prospect of exerting the maximum force in a collective effort, which reawakens nationalistic urges, and can prove the superiority of American might.

The emotional profile that one hand fulfills base instincts in the population--resulting in a "wag the dog" effect on the President's popularity--on the other hand becomes a liability as wars drag on and rarely turn out as expected. Vietnam was the ultimate example of a rag-tag insurgency becoming an impossible-to-win quagmire.

Nationalists and warmongers on the Right could claim that the Russians and Chinese directly supported the Vietnamese militarily--as they now claim Iran is behind our failures in Iraq--but there's no doubt it was the hard-working efforts of the Vietnamese that ultimately defeated the American army. Any other excuse for the failure of military force to work is probably just an effort to nurse the bruised egos of the supremacy-of-American-military-force crowd.

We're seeing in Iraq now the consequences of a "credibility gap" between what our political and military leaders claim as progress and the actual results on the ground. Wars can't be fought from Washington. Vietnam War apologists blame our defeat in Vietnam on politicization: the infiltration of political aims into military policy and doctrine.

Media management becomes vital; a stream of positive spin is needed to overcome the inevitable bad news. Much of Iraq war management seems also to be meant to minimize the bad news that comes with reporting on the actual effects of trying to implement our vague policies and amorphous goals there. Why? Because military failures bring with them serious political consequences for incumbents, who are typically held accountable for their decision to send our troops to war, as well as for their managing of the war and its results.

By minimizing discontent over the war, it becomes more tolerable politically. It's interesting that so many former generals have come forward in opposing Iraq; perhaps this shows that continuation of the war cannot lead to the satisfactory achievement of any military goals, but rather represents an persistent effort to achieve political (and economic) objectives which in turn is damaging our military.

In most political systems in most countries of the world, incumbents responsible for failing wars are thrown out of office; in ours, the President is apparently free to do as he wishes with our military that day after he wins a second term, at least if Congress is unwilling to exercise its authority over the purse. Signing statements that have framed the President's authority as paramount--under his responsibilities to "protect the American people"--has reduced accountability for the Executive.

Our political system lacks the ability to call elections. We could at least be spared the agony of 15 more months of agonizing Presidential pageanty that substitutes for political coverage by holding an election now. With Bush's popularity now below 30%, ending the Bush Presidency might be welcome addition to ending the media charade, whoever wins in the end.

Since the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution during Vietnam, Congress has authorized "military action." Congressional authority over managing the subsequent war has been inadequately exerted. Congress could de-authorize a previous decision to go to war, but in practice few politicans appear willing to appear as not "supporting the troops." {There may be much more behind support for the war than "supporting the troops"; as it turns out some $20 billion in pork made its way into the recent Iraq war funding request--most of which was offered to Democrats who'd been elected explicitly on a platform of stopping the war.}

Bush has clearly exerted Presidential authority in demanding total control over the way the war is fought. The "opposition party" has failed to hold the Executive accountable. In the absence of public hearings on the war--or the intelligence used to start it--resistance to the war hasn't come from Congress, despite the clear popular mandate to get out, or at least review our tactics in advance of a pull-out. Instead, Congress has been unwilling to confront the President.

In my last post I alluded to a preponderance of thinking among Democratic political consultants that an image of looking "hard on terror" and "tough on security issues" was vital in winning the public trust; I'm searching for a good article that discussed the issue.

President Johnson did micromanage many aspects of the Vietnam war; choosing targets for air bombing raids from the White House. Yet political management--or mismanagement--really can't be the sole reason for the inability of US military force to work.

Limits on Military Effectiveness

There must be other reasons, systemic ones, why the greatest military force the world has ever seen assembled cannot get the results it deserves. Students of strategy will know of Sun Tzu, who famously said that wars are won or lost before they are fought.

Sun Tzu also advocated stretching the enemy lines-of-supply. Lines-of-supply is military jargon for the methods an army uses to overcome distances between the army's region of occupation or operations and its home base. Stretch this geographical distance--Sun Tzu explains--and you proportionally magnify the
difficulties of maintaining the effectiveness of the fighting force.

As wars drag on, lines of supply become increasingly important as equipment wears down and supplies need to be brought to the front, a battefield which is literally on the other side of the world. Sun Tzu advice is so important because if lines of supply are long, they are also vulnerable.

While the US has a strategic airlift capacity beyond the imagination of anyone in the Ancient World, we must also spend huge sums to maintain it. And economics do matter--it was Osama Bin Laden who suggested that the US can be brought to its knees economically through fiscal recklessness, by drawing us into an occupation in the Middle East. Bush and the Congress are certainly appeasing Osama in their profilic spending, much of which focused on sustaining faraway operation at ever greater expense. While the borrows funds flow freely now, how much more can the government borrow in order to pay for the many needs of its aging Boomers?

{The Federal Reserve system forces the US government to borrow to finance itself. To work, money needs to flow into the US Treasury from the sale of bonds, which have so far been bought by predominantly Asian central banks. To keep the money coming, the US--like any highly leveraged borrower--will be forced to pay higher interest to attract these investors.}

Predicting the consequences of long supply lanes and strained budgets is impossible. There is no question that al Qaeda aims to damage the US economy.

Another limitation on the projection of military force is the strength of opposition--the fight that defenders of the invaded country put up. There's no way to evaluate just how hard people will resist invaders; religious and cultural sensitivities can make fanatics out of simple citizens. Inspired to defend their naton, families, and homes, average people can commit extreme acts of savagery, as we now see homicide bombers coming from all age groups and parts of Arab society, women included.

Technology may seem to play in the favor of the larger, better-equipped force but can give a false sense of superiority instead. The invention of gunpowder led to a gross imbalance in power: look no farther than the conquistador invasion of the Aztec empire in 16th century to see the consequences of a massive disparity in technology. A few hundred conquistadors were able to conquer vast swathes of territory and defeat armies of tens of thousands, albeit with some help from the Aztec's enemies and their freed slaves.

Over time, the technological advantage fades as the indigenous people gain and use the same military technologies deployed by their conquerors. For students of miltiary science, no weapon has done more to level the playing field than the AK-47. Invented at the end of World War 2 by a brilliant Soviet gunsmith, the AK-47 has become a internationally recognized symbol of armed resistance. The weapon is extremely durable, very easy to assemble and maintain, functioning perfectly in even the most inhospitable climates.

The AK-47 neutralized much of the advantage that US had in Vietnam, reducing the battle to small unit engagements on a level where mastery of terrain and the reliable AK-47 could overcome superior American technology.

Insurgencies where fighters easily merge into the general population offer an advantage. Hitting fast, in ambushes, insurgents tend to rely on speed and mobility to strike out then fade back into the civilian population. We see these tactics now in Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq, or well-planned and executed raids and mortar attacks.

The insurgents in both wars knew full well to expect retaliation against the population. Yet even this they have used to their advantage, revenge by the American military through the exercise of excessive force with gross indifference to the value of civilian life encourage participation in or sympathy for the resistance. The more civilians killed, particularly in airstrikes which are notorious in their inability to discern combatant from noncombatant, as well as child from adult, the more potential recruits for the insurgency.

While the US might be able to blame insurgents for the loss of life, it's ultimately the paranoia and mistrust of the general civilian population that results in acts of genocide waged in response to guerilla hit and run attacks. Lacking a target to shoot back at, forces of the occupation arbitrarily strike out.

One such incident in Afghanistan occurred on a busy road shortly after an attack. Not reported very widely in the MSM, the American army unit apparently killed 12 Afghan civilians who had the most unfortunate luck of passing by after the Americans had been struck. Similar accounts have appeared in Iraq; I saw one video of American soldiers shooting at passing traffic, killing at least one driver, after receiving sniper fire.

The US likes to increased bombing, if Vietnam is an indicator of how the US wants to change its tactics in Iraq. The air war in Vietnam became preferable to ground operations, which resulted in much higher casualites. Unfortunately, dropping bombs kills vast numbers of civilians--an area in which the US Air Force has prided itself since its press conferences during Gulf War ! which proud commanders showed video of laser-guided munitions that surgically destroyed targets while minimizing collateral damage.

Adopting broad-based bombing campaigns would demolish the public relations value of smart weaponry, which would render extraneous billions of dollars in weapon development and research.

A major goal of the War Party is to make war sustainable. If legions of mudered civilians--particularly children--show up on TV screens, support for the war will falter. Limiting bombing to surgical strikes of key infrastructure lets Americans feel not necessarily good, but better about how their nation wages war. To retreat to the use of air power as a blunt force of abritrary civilian destruction hints back to the bombings of London and Dresden, the firebombing of Tokyo, and blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Such bombing campaigns speak more about the inadequacy and arbitrary destructiveness of war, no matter what the military that fights it, no matter how worthy their purpose or valid their cause. When a civilian child dies, nothing good can come from it. To migrate to a campaign of mass bombing is really to orchestrate a campaign of mass murder, one that shows that our civilization has failed to progress beyond the age of Genghis Khan in the barbarity and cruelty with which it treast the most innocent among the enemy.

As wars stretch out, trumpets fade, and casualties mount, their appeal lessens. The concept of a broader War on Terror clearly hasn't motivated Americans to believe that our sacrifice is worthy. Vietnam, on the other hand, may have seemed more important going forward under the Domino Theory, which states that the whole of Southeast Asia would fall to communism if we didn't hold the line in Vietnam (a theory which has proven to be wholly misguided.)

The War on Terror has broken down because the US is in fact fighting different types of wars. Arguably, another Pearl Harbor-type event could reinvogorate the case for attacking other Islamic nation like Iran. But war- and terror-fatigue have worsened; people will grow callous to even the loudest alarm if it rings often enough. The more that Iraq serves as a proxy for the broader war on terror, the worse the prognosis for the larger war.

By linking Iraq to the War on Terror, Bush and the White House have gambled with a broader, more serious threat to our nation's security than Iraq could have ever been: that posed by radical Islamic fundamentalists. By invading, we've motivated Iraqis to oppose us by linking with radical fundamentalists or whoever is the most vociferous in their opposition to our presence.

Al-Qaeda may be resented by many Iraqis, but terrorism doesn't need the support of a majority of the population to be effective. Every addition recruit that sides with al-Qaeda represent a failure of military force, and a threat to the safety and security of the US. Generating recruits for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups may put a gleam in the eye of any greedy military-industrialist or Right-winger eager for an even longer war, a continuation of war represent not a victory, but rather the inability of military force to achieve our objectives in the War on Terror.

There's no denying that we've created a terrorist training camp in Iraq and the Shia-Sunni divide may be creating a level of chaos that encourages terrorism. It's unclear if Iraqi resistance to the American occupation will lead to a retaliatory strike on the US homeland: clearly the motivation to expel the infidel is different from that which motivates terrorists to strike in the heartland of the infidel.

And being far more intelligent than they are given credit for, the typical Iraqi insurgent has to know that a terror strike on the US would only harden American resolve to continue the occupation. In this regard our ongoing presence can theoretically discourage terror strikes by providing a closer alternative target in our troops there, as well as by serving as an example to other Muslim nations of what the US can do.

Still, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, and so linkage between the nationality of the terrorists and the US retaliation is far from established. Because of ties between the Saudi royals and the Bush family, and our dependency on oil, countries like Saudi Arabia apparently have nothing to fear from an attack on their nations in response.

By lashing out though, arbitrarily, the US can theoretically intimidate like "a child with a shotgun" might, to borrow Putin's words in referring to the US. Whether a potential terrorist will take what's happened in Iraq as a deterrent remains far from clear; the psychosis exhibited by a die-hard terrorist makes it unlikely that they will consider the geopolitical consequences of their actions, although they most certainly want to do damage. Understrength, the inadequate US military presence has created a state of general anarchy that encourages homegrown terrorists to take revenge by whatever means are at their disposal.

A false flag operation--a terror act committed by a country other than the one blamed--is far more likely. Still, war-fatigue may have weakened the potential response. Stretching US occupations out to new countries like Iran would further degrade our non-nuclear deterrence capability, which has become increasingly important as our foreign policy belligerence stimulates countries like Putin's Russia --real ones, with nuclear weapons--who increasingly see it as their duty to oppose a unipolar world in which the US is the undisputed authority.

Other Sources

1) Whack-A-Mole: John Stewart humorizes this analogy that's been made here on this blog and elsewhere in the media. The Whack-A-Mole arcade game involves striking toy moles with a hammer as they pop up. As one is hit, another pops up.

The idea with Iraq is that the insurgents simply move on whenever the US targets one region, the insurgents go on to the next. In this regard, no substantial damage is done to the "Moles" even if one is hammered down, another comes up.

This is a lot like striking at drug dealers in another war, the one on drugs. Rather than stop the entire problem, there's an illusion of progress on a superficial level. The underlying dynamic never changes--the Moles, or drug dealers, just keep popping up.

2) Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article explains how General Taguba's career was destroyed by his investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

This reporting fits into the general conclusions that I've drawn on how torture is an ineffective means of gathering intelligence. The willingness to resort to torture shows the extent of influence over the military exerted by politicians and bureacrats without any proper understanding of intelligence-gathering or interrogation.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Illegals here to stay, and other pressing realities

Amnesty Bill Fails

Trying to legalize large numbers of illegal aliens is proving difficult. Without the political will to move forward, illegal immigrants will continue to work in the shadows, where they are easily exploited. Payroll taxes might be paid but cannot be credited; a large criminal contingent within the group cannot be tracked. Insuring the health and autos of these people will remain elusive, creating a risk and liability for legal Americans.

Integration will be very slow in coming. The illegals here will continue to stay, whatever ICE might try to do, the most it can muster is an occasional selective raid on an isolated meat processing plant, where illegals may be unionizing--a situation I referred in my second-to-last post.

The longer that the US ignores the plight of its illegal population, the more likely states and municipalities are to pass laws that discriminate against this population. Their maltreatment comes despite their willingness to work unpopular jobs at low wages for the benefit of lower costs of living for the general population. And the costs of inaction include perpetuating an underclass whose children born here will receive citizenship while their parents live in fear of deportation. (Numerous children were left behind at the Smithfield raid.)

Time Magazine on June 18th described the situation:

"The estimated 12 million illegals are by their sheer numbers undeportable. More important, they are too enmeshed in a healthy US economy to be extracted."

The fiscal benefits of illegal immigration are passed on the the general population only if the economy reward the contributions of its workers. Instead, much of the productivity benefits have been passed on to the wealthy (owners of the means of production) who pay lower wages to illegals while wages for average Americans stagnate.

Average Americans may sense that illegals are necessary, but they may also be slow to grasp the benefits of a cheap workforce. Most likely they are intimidated by the prospect of competing against lower-paid workers. Anti-illegal sentiments are easily stirred up, a broader economic downturn could worsen the problem.

Illegals ultimately represent free trade, not in goods but in the global market for labor. NAFTA has created a single North American economy restricted only by the laws of the respective countries. Illegal immigration has conjoined the Mexican/American workforce, while persistently denying the egality of workers within the cooperative who just happen to come from Mexico, whose agricultural economy has been savaged by NAFTA, leading them to seek economic opportunity in the north.

While politicians may fear backlash for selling American citizenship, it's not like the illegals who've been in this country don't deserve citizenship. If after all someone can work in this country for years without committing crimes, speak our language, and learn our culture, they become de facto citizens. It's then only a question of whether we legally recognize them.

Trying to impose radical solutions on illegal immigration means deportation, which doesn't appear possible considering the impunioty which which our territorial integrity is currently being violated. Pulling illegals out now would rip families apart.
For Americans opposed to illegal immigration, there's simply been too much neglect of our borders to believe deportation is still a viable solution. For them, restoring our borders is the crucial task, so at least the human trafficking flow can be stopped going forward.

Since Clinton, who was deeply connected with the Tyson food processing company, there's been an effort to legalize illegal immigration. Big corporations like a supply of cheap labor at least until it organizes and pushes for higher wages, arguably a right of workers everywhere regardless of their immigration status.

Judging by the scope of corporate influence in Washington today, there will remain a considerable level of interest among politicians in maintaining the staus quo, letting illegals continue to flow in, then avoiding any substantive management of the issue--like amnesty--that could cause popularize the case against illegal immigration.

Back to the Future

Two posts ago I reviewed the movie Children of Men and concluded that immigrants are too integrated into secular democracies to be ethnically cleansed. The internecine tribal rivalries which are at the heart of so much ethnic violence today don't exist in the Western world.

I did however believe that governments could commit greivous acts upon human dignity with gross indifference to the value of human life. This was epitomized in the movie's final refugee camp scene, where innocents were slaughtered alongside the rebels, who'd apparently by chance chosen one particular building--filled with families of refugees--to make their stand.

I did mention the Lebanese refugee camp battles that had just begun in the north of that country, near Tripoli. Palestinians militants within the camps have an effective human shield, whihc makes collateral damage and casualties high on both sides--7 Lebanese troops were killed recently, weeks after the initial incursion into the camp by the Lebanese army as they try to find the criminal element within the camp.

Whole families Palestinian refugees have been stuck in these dismal outdoor prisons for decades. The conditions in these camps are atrocious. Coverage on the plight of Palestinians has largely been suppressed in the American media, largely out of sympathy for Israel, which unfortunately leads to the dehumanization of the Palestinians in the media as Israel positions itself as the uncontested authority over Gaza and the West Bank, vast portions of which have been ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.

Where do the cleansed Palestinians go? Places like the Nahr El-Bared camp, that's where.

Countries like Lebanon and Jordan have taken in large numbers of Palestinians, yet they've been treated as second-class citizens, rarely given the rights they might receive in Israel, for instance, if that country were to let them stay in the territories they've colonized. Instead, they are confined to refugee camps, classified as aliens, denied education and opportunity. It should come as no surprise that they rise up or are vulnerable to radicalization since they've been marginalized economically and politically. In perhaps the same way riots are bound to occur in American ghettos where blacks and Latinos face similar challenges, albeit without as much institutionalized segregation, otherwise known as apartheid.

Sickness abounds in these camps. It's as if the children which live there have been intentionally targetted. While there's no evidence of willful poisoning of refugee populations in Lebanon, like the US did in passing out cholera-laced blankets to Native Americans, the motive for using biological warfare tools to exterminate problem populations is clearly there. Or, quite simply, authorities can simply ignore the evils that befall the refugees by choosing to do nothing and let the conditions enveloping the refugees determine their fate without any intervention.

While doing nothing is morally tantamount to committing acts of gross indifference to human life, local civilian population have been able to look the other way. During World War Two, German locals living near Nazi death camps claimed ignorance as to what occurred, chalking up the ashes falling from the sky as particles of ordinary furnace pollution. US troops liberating the camps forced them to help clear the camps out, a scene well done in a latter episode from the Band of Brothers series.


Children of Men's futuristic nightmare is based on the premise women can no longer bear children. While I found that idea implausible, I've subsequently found some troubling indicators that infertility is becoming a rapidly growing problem, largely due to the increased level of chemicals in our environment.

Since watching the movie, I've noticed references to fertility issues with a plastic compound called BPA. BPA can leach from plastic polycarbonate containers and is of particular danger to the reproductive systems of women and the young. Sierra Club has issued a warning about some plastic containers.

I think infertility has a place in plausible scenario where it is less then total, perhaps even endemic yet not universal. The best example of infertility this might be Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, where fertile women are separated from the infertile and designated bridesmaids to the theocrat leaders of a future America. The infertile end up in camps where they are brutalized by police state government.

If pollution levels increase, and corporate-dominated governments are unwilling to impose restrictions on pollution, fertility will continue to decline. Ironically, growth in pollutants could also cause increased global warming, which would stimulate intervention and regulation, rather than the relaxation of standards. As a matter of fact, the scope of the global warming consequences might encourage the formation of a draconian, New World Order-type of government that would theoretically be needed to deal with the relocations and other problems caused by the phenomena.

The more integrated corporate objectives become in setting government policy, the more likely we are to have a laissez-faire approach to managing pollution, as pollution controls are accused of hurting the economy and damaging profits, particularly by the "pro-business" Right. In actuality, pollution reduction can reduce illness in the general population, which in a society with universal health care would reduce overall government outlays, putting governmental priorities into conflict with free-market (read unregulated) capitalism.

Reducing fertility would do tremendous damage unless immigrants from more fertile populations were allowed in, which would greatly change the make-up of the population in short order. The political structure would be threatened by infertility among Americans of European descent, who form the racist ideal at the political core of the country. If government were run exclusively for the benefit of an exclusive elite, like Atwood's theocrats, there might be little concern over increased infertility among the general population, unless their own bloodlines were imperiled.

Prisoner Abuse

The atrocious conduct of supposedly good guys--the troops from the Western democracies--in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo provides a potent warning flag. We know from the Stanford experiments that good people can commit perverse acts when given free control over captives.

With memories of 9/11, and a green light from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and their superiors, guards at military prisons had both motive and opportunity to commit abuses. These began as a call for "actionable intelligence" in Iraq in 2004 as the insurgency was beginning. Guantanamo prison supervisor Major General Miller was given command of Iraqi detainees; he brought his "harsh interrogation techniques" with him.

If interdicting the rise of the insurgency was the intention of all the prisoner abuse, Miller and the "recycled hillbillies" running Abu Ghraib certainly failed. As any honest student of interrogation will tell you, the results of torture--which the despicable acts perpetrated at Abu Ghraib must be considered--are notoriously unreliable. And the lack of results also testifies to the ineffectiveness of torture as a deterrent; many Iraqi undoubtedly took what happened at Abu Ghraib and other prisons under US military supervision as an insult to their religion and pride, which any counterinsurgency expert will tell you will embolden resistance not inhibit it.

So torture doesn't really work as a means of gathering intelligence or as a punitive disencouragement. If someone believes with sufficient vigor in their cause, they might consider the risks of apprehension and torture as the price of their convictions. The fact is that torture, called whatever it might be by the guilty parties, may in fact embolden insurgents by providing a moral basis for resistance. Resistance fighters in France were inhibited not in the least by Nazi brutalities; so total was their commitment to liberty for France that the consequences of capture motivated the resistance into acts of extreme bravery.

This isn't to say insurgents don't resort to similar acts of brutality when dealing with people they believe to be government sympathizers or informants. In the movie Children of Men the rebels are even more brutal in dealing with threats, arbitrarily killing any who oppose their hate-filled agenda. Destruction is their end, any methods are rationalized in the name of opposing government oppression.

The Stanford experiment showed the need for strict control over guards. An adherence to morally and legally acceptable procedures is vital to the administration of justice in a prison environment. Arbitrary arrest and detention can be bad; the treatments that befall the incarcerated can be positively horrific if legal standards aren't maintained. The Standord experiments--which used middle-class college kids as guards and prisoners--had to be stopped because those overseeing the experiment felt they had lost control over the guards, so atrocious their behavior had become in just a few days.

Even a disciplined, experience prison guard could quite easily lose it if given the 9/11 excuse, which might be more applicable in Guantanamo than Abu Ghraib considering the Iraqis had nothing to do with the bombings in New York. The "high value detainees" brought to the Cuban base may have been associated with al Qa'eda or not--the premise for creating the Gitmo prison was undoubtedly that the terrorists held there were guilty and knew something of value in the ongoing war against terror. Never mind that the interrogation techniques might actually get results out of the desire of the victims of torture to end their sufferings.

One example of interrogators hearing all they wanted to hear--and then some--may have been Khalid Shiekh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11. KSM, as he is referred to, apparently did everything for al Qaeda except maybe their limo driving for which another man stands accused.

Khalid Shiek Mohammed's sons were allegedly detained by US forces:

"In September 2002, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's two young sons, aged seven and nine, were arrested. According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention center for at least four months while U.S. agents questioned the children about their father's whereabouts." (Source)

KSM was allegedly waterboarded--which is a clear practice of torture--and proceeded to spill his guts. Deciphering the truth out of what Mohammed has confessed to is proving to be impossible. Admitted to a myriad of crimes--probably including some we never directly accused him of--KSM must have been a good example of the effectiveness of torture, at least until the breadth of his confessions brought into question the plausibility of individual confessions. Underlings must have pleased their political bosses in Washington who'd been eager to pin 9/11 on him and al Qaeda.

In the torture chamber, or on the rack, at a certain point it matters not who did what. The only thing important to the victim is ending the experience.

The movie Children of Men captures the inevitable outcome of government oppression and brutality. While we don't see torture, we do see the systemic rape of human dignity and we are left to imagine what horrors might befall dissidents and rebels captured by government forces.

Intelligence derived through torture is virtually worthless, and the torture appears to motivate insurgents.

As I said in a recent post, any force will be opposed by a force of equal strength: resistance hardens and the government resorts to arbitrary acts of violence and repression, which feeds the cause of resistance.

Limits on Military Power

Military solutions are inherently counterproductive in the long-term when victory is contingent on the open-end occupation of hostile foreign lands--in Asia no less. Sadly we've known this since Vietnam, when we tried to win the hearts and minds of Vietnamese.

Opting for a more streamlined solution in the War on Terror, we've essentially taken a step backward to the days before Vietnam, when the myth of American invincibility emphasized a militarized approach in competing with communism. Soft power--American influence and popularity--was undervalued and underutilized as it provided no big bang yet was a consistently effective means of imposing limits on the spread of communism, ultimately defeating it economically.

Instead of treating the Vietnamese with respect, and fighting communists with alternatives to violence, we lashed out, killing some two million Vietnamese (1/7th of their total population) in the process of saving them from communism. We reapt a whirlwind that end up costing us 50,000 American lives and a good chunk of our national pride.

On to Iraq: what in our approach shows we've learned from our failure in Vietnam? It's only now that non-military solutions have started to get the attention they deserve in the mainstream media. The central finding of the Iraq Studies Group extolled the value of political and economic approaches and resolved that military solutions alone were incapable of resolving the insurgency. Bush ignored the group's findings; in my opinion he's been aiming for a long-term "solution" to Iraq that involves extracting its oil.

The desire to look strong against our enemies has led politicians to disdain non-militarized solutions to our problems in Iraq. Perceptions that Vietnam was winnable have also lingered.

The illusion of American invincibility has forced us down a violent path of escalation and reduced effectiveness in combating the insurgency. Our primitive approach that relies purely on the projection of military power has only created more resistance which has cost us American lives, although not as many perhaps as in Vietnam although our death rate does seem to be climbing as our troop presence grows and the occupation drags on.

I've said that our occupation has been intentionally mismanaged. I believe the extraction of Iraqi oil to be the long-term objective of the invasion and to do that we need a pretext for an ongoing military presence that can force compliance with our will upon Iraq's government in Baghdad. The pretext for our ongoign presence will undoubtedly be resistance by Sunnis to Shia rule. If the Shia are too strong and dominate the Sunni, the US is no longer needed in Iraq and Big Oil can't get its prize (a prize for which the American public has offered 3,500 of its bravest.) So it was with little suprise and a fair amount of outrage that I recently read that the US has been arming Sunnis.

Divide and conquer has allowed us to play on ethnic differences. Yet to really work for the benefit of oil extraction, the two sides must be continually supplied with weaponry, which is clearly to the advantage of the military industrial complex in the US and UK, the world's top two arms exporting nations. Wars need weapons and ammunition to be fought. In Iraq's case, arms dealers can sell to both sides and the Americans.

And the continuation of the war brings big profits to companies like Halliburton, whose patronage can be traced to the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney. Endless war means endless profits for politically connected industrialists who supply the war machine--a market controlled by federal contracts and inside deals worth hundreds of billions.

Combined with the tripling in the price of oil and corresponding doubling or more of oil industry profits, another industry with close connections to the Bush White House, Big Oil, has done well by seeding instability in the Middle East. Ending the Iraqi occupation would stabilize the region and bring oil prices down, costing Big Oil billions. Better for them that they can enjoy favorable PSAs (Production Sharing Agreements) which offer more than double the usual take as part of a "security premium" associated with developing Iraq's oil fields.

American legions under Big Oil-friendly George Bush have turned Iraq into a mess that allows foreigner oil concerns to buy Iraqi oil fields at huge discounts, purportedly to compensate for the risks of investing into the country's oil infrastructure in such a dangerous time.

In the sense that the Occupation provides a rich stream of revenue to Big Oil and war profiteers, mismanagement of the Iraqi war continues to be a smashing success, despite the human costs of their blood money. If the occupation were to end, and Iraq stabilize, American firms would undoubtedly lose out and have to compete against equally qualified competitors in extracting Iraqi oil.

In a liberated Iraq oil sales would be made in Euros (currently all oil sales are denominated in dollars or pounds, which greatly increases demand for those currencies) as Saddam began to do shortly before the invasion. The Iranians have tried to move away from dollars in a new oil-trading bourse, which would greatly reduce demand for the US dollar and undermine its value.

So far the Russians and Chinese seem content to buy dollars to pay for the oil; the latter country has a vast sum of dollars from its exports to the US that it needs to spend somewhere.

Politics as usual

Congress spends on our military and the Pentagon funnels contracts to politically connected firms. Most of the favored companies are at the present time owned or run by Republicans, but the Democrats appear more than willing to keep the money flowing for the war, which could indicate that future beneficiaries of defense spending might be connected to Democrats.

Richard Dreyfuss' excellent article on this topic was originally posted on TomDispatch and is available here.

Some analysts think the Democrats are hesitant to stop the war because it presents such a liability for their political opposition. This position is highly cynical and would mean that the Demos are willing to sacrifice American soldiers in what they think to be a lost cause in order to position themselves better for a run at the White House.

The idea, which came out during Kerry's run in 2004, is that Democrats must appear hard on terror and strong on security, under the presumption that these areas are weak spots for Democratic candidates. Paradoxically, the effort to seem tough may have made the Democrats into Republicans in supporting the war despite the liability it's clearly become.

A much less publicized rationale for sustaining the war might be good old fashion war profiteering. Long before Democrats were ever perceived as weak as terror, there were people like 'Scoop' Jackson, a Southern Democrat, who advocated big run-ups in defense spending. Many Democrats have defense industries, like Lieberman's submarines in Connecticut, that would be hurt by decreased defense spending, despite the obvious fact submarines are of marginal value in fighting terror.

Geopolitical Realities

The reasons for continuation of the war really don't matter, the consequences do. One clear outcome has been the weakening of US troop strength capability.

The recent large-scale incursion of Turkish troops in Northern Iraq is symptomatic of inadequate force-strength along the northern border.

As troops are deployed to other volatile areas in Iraq, its borders remain porous, allowing neighboring countries to violate Iraqi sovereignity.

Countries like Saudi Arabia have stated their intent not to let Iraqi Shia decimate the Sunni population, so they, like the US, are likely supplying Sunni insurgents. Should the US occupation end, the possibility of a proxy war fought between Iranian-backed Shia and Saudi-backed Sunnis would spike. Al Qaeda in Iraq is an organization which may have faced some setbacks in Sunni tribal territories on account of its brutality. Like the Americans, many al Qaeda are outsiders and Sunni tribal leaders seem to have quickly grown angry with the group's unsavory methods.

The only positive outcome in Iraq is one in which the nation takes responsibility for itself, a condition which is firmly rooted in the idea of self-determination, or a state of minimal dependence on foreign states or non-state actors.

The additional border-monitoring responsibilities associated with occupying Iraq are just one more reason for the US to acknowledge the presence of immutable boundaries limiting our capacity to projecting military power. Preserving Iraq's territorial integrity is a clear prerequisite for establishing de facto sovereignity. Sealing Iraq's borders, as important a task as it is, ultimately falls to Iraqis. And if Iraq can't seal its borders, terrorists and hostile military forces from neighboring countries will act with impunity, whether against the US or one of the internal factions vying for power.

Whatever the consequences of withdrawal, the benefits to our enemies of remaining engaged in Iraq far outweigh whatever benefits our ongoing occupation could bring, at least from a strategic perspective. Economically, the vast oil wealth beneath Iraq could represent a big win for Big Oil, if they're able to function long-term in Iraq without ongoing US military support to prop up a sympathetic regime in Baghdad, a task which increasingly appears challenging.

Meanwhile, the benefits of extraction flow to large energy companies, who get to profit from cheap oil made available to them through a war of conquest funded by taxpayers. The American public is then charged higher "war" prices at the pump, for oil paid for in American lives in a war of conquest subsidized with taxpayer funds from the same public that is their captive market.

Other Resources

Keith Olbermann has a good rundown on the terror alerts issued by the Bush Administration and their suspicious timing. Scroll down about halfway on the transcript of Olbermann's show to the "Nexus of Politics and Terror" or find the video under <> at MSN Video. Olberman also discussed the issue on his show August 14th, 2006 (?).

Just like Vietnam, the War on Terror has been politicized. Ironic it is that many Republicans blame politics as the reason for defeat in Vietnam when they've let political motives creep into the ways wars are fought, rather than let the generals fight the war unencumbered by political agendas. (Coincidentally, another retired general--Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded American forces in Iraq, has come out against the war.)

One warning sign of politicization with the War on Terror were the average expenditures on a per capita basis: Wyoming came out ahead of New York City. Another example of politics being played in clear contradiction to the national security interest was the Plame outing. How quickly the Right denigrated Plame, ignoring her leadership role as a covert agent engaged in efforts to stop WMD proliferation. A good overview of the outing from Robert Parry is available here.

The War on Terror has been a vehicle to expand State spending, and launched us in two open-ended interventions. Wars are appealing to the State as they glorify the State through the sacrifice of patriotic soldiers, which personalizes the war effort amongst the population. The results of the war have been pathetic so far, diminishing US credibility and overextending our military, who must now follow vague, politically focused goals under increasing strain and a worsening geopolitical situation.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

America's Braveheart: Cindy Sheehan

The Democrats have sold out completely to the continuation of the war.

Cindy Sheehan has turned away from her leadership role within the antiwar movement. Who could blame her? She'd been labelled an "attention whore" by a poster on the website democraticunderground.com.

This from Sheehan's "resignation letter":
The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

All the obstacles Sheehan has faced, it's hardly likely that a single posting--made, according to editor David Allen of DU, by a regular member and not some troll--would dissuade her from her purpose which is to stop the war. {Editor's Note: I did have issues trying to link to DU, which had clustered Sheehan's letter and Allen's response, which have since disappeared and been buried in the site.}

Sheehan's contributions have been immense. In trying to confront the President, she embodies accountability for the decision to go to war, and connects the decisions of the powerful with their impact on regular folks.

With solid writing skills, Cindy's passion for her cause (one I've made my own) have made her an effective communicator, and the media attention made into a celebrity. Sheehan was not seeking fame by castigating Bush and the war: she simply wanted more than an apology from the President for his decision to send her son to his death.

Sheehan never meant to turn her son's death into a political liability for the administration but rather wanted the war to end and wasn't above creating political havoc in order to reach her goal.

When Democrats voted for the war funding, Sheehan's inherently apolitical position came through when she attacked what is known as the "War Party"--a non-partisan political advocacy group for the continuation of wars in general.

Following the money trail leads to corruption in both parties. In this respect, government expenditures are the perfect vehicle to solicit war support from politicians regardless of party affiliation.

The $20 billion in government pork accompanying the recent war bill greased enough palms to see its passage and thus more death and a continuation of the status quo, which at this point is worsening violence without an end in sight.

Just to recap, my position against the war is supported by libertarian beliefs that wars in general are the product of a State thats seeks to empower itself by asserting its control over the resources and people over which it governs.

The whole notion of government by the people has been dead in Washington for decades, corresponding with a radical increase in State power and control over the lives of individuals.

Wars are called the ultimate expansion of State power because of the money spent, the reallocation of resources to military-industrialists who profit from war and thus lobby the State for more. As wars expand, they tend to suck in ever more resources and people, and the loss of lives, particularly draftees, is the most ruthless expression of State authority over the individual, risking their lives in battle with a foe not of their choosing.

Opponents to war are really enemies of a larger State. Partisans may be offended when Cindy Sheehan scolds Democrats, but she has been saying all along that her purpose is not to get Bush--although it may have seemed that way--but rather to end the war through whatever non-violent means available.

Sheehan represents the rebellion of the individual against the State--in particular the way government expends lives for its own purposes. Our humanity is grossly devalued by war. Our society suffer not only a physical losses but moral depravity as well, as the people who die are so often innocents, deemed "collateral damage." Our sense of morality must be tied to our willingness to tolerate war, all of which end up devaluing human life and dignity.

We may think that wars are only a problem for the other guys, but we suffer as well. We all lose when our government sends our young people off to war. We suffer from the inhumanity of war.

Post-conflict, our veterans are the most visible victims. Over 50,000 Vietnam veterans took their lives subsequent to that conflict--untreated Post-traumatic Stress Disorder likely contributed. Over 1/3 of Gulf War I veterans are on full disability--Depleted Uranium might be the cause. And the emotional trauma faced by mothers who lose their children fills countless buckets of tears and shatters millions of families.

Sheehan's mission has been so uplifting because she's been focused on making leaders in our government pay for their decisions. She lobotomized the State, mocked it, showed the flaws of its political leaders, and demands accountability from the institutions that run war, and questioned their methods and priorities.

An activist of Sheehan's caliber could only be a mother. The loss of her son Casey has been a well-spring source of motivation, deep but not infinite. It's the strength of Sheehan's belief that amazes us and sets an laudable example of public service and a commitment to cause.

Sheehan was convinced her son's death could have been prevented with better equipment or, more effectively, by not going into Iraq in the first place. Rather than mourn her son's loss in solitude, she turned it into a source of motivation. Rather than close doors to a society that has taken her child, she has confronted our passivity, forcing all Americans to consider the consequences of war.

She's been arrested repeatedly trying to confront those who've sent our young people to war--regardless of their party affiliation. Like all activists with true passion, Sheehan has problems distinguishing reasonable legal boundaries from unreasonable impositions on dissent.

Better that antiwar activists chafe against the law then the status quo go on unchecked. I think many in the antiwar movement protest from the comfort of their keyboards like Sheehan says. While we may not have to get out in the heat, or face arrest, we also aren't as effective as we could be--resistance is atomized, hardly as contentious (and change-inducing) as nonviolent personal confrontation.

To be truly effective the antiwar movement needs people who are willing to take risks. In her April article "10,000 Mother of a March" Sheehan quotes Jeanette Rankin, a Vietnam War protest movement leader who said "If we had 10,000 mothers willing to go to prison, we could end the war."

Sheehan was one of the first but she won't be one of the last mothers to lose sons or daughters to this war. Many will bear their loss in silence. Expecting these people to vocalize their dissent and confront the policymakers is simply too much to ask of them, considering their loss.

Sheehan's strength comes from an invisible sun that is really in all of us, hidden like some inner reactor granted us by God, waiting for some trigger to turn loose the good pure energy of its light on the world.

Sheehan may be long gone from the public stage before her impact can truly be measured. I can't help but think of the movie Braveheart where William Wallace had been drawn and quartered yet the example he'd set lived on. The Scottish lords had set to fighting amongst themselves until Wallace set them straight, culminating in the final scene where Robert the Bruce faces the English at Bannockburn.

The modern-day equivalent might be the unfocused opposition to the war. Some want to fight Bush and the Republicans, thinking the Democrats represent the best way to end the war. Rather than fighting the powers to be, Wallace fought the system, most notably the status quo among Scottish lords that led them to make deals with the English, thus allowing them to divide and conquer.

It wasn't the individual lords that were Wallace's greatest problem, it was their lack of fight. When we lack fight, we make easy victims and victims of the Iraq War all Americans are. It's the lack of resistance, the restraints on taking action which we impose on ourselves that perpetuates the problem or in this case the war.

Sheehan may have left the stage, but the idea of resisting the State and the supporting political structure that advocates war will be her legacy. She stands as a symbol of resistance to the dehumanization of war. And we should never mourn her absence because it attests to the limits of human endurance in fighting the State and bloodthirsty machine that benefits through war; instead we should honor Sheehan's unfathomable contributions.

Cindy gave it all she had. Her resignation testifies to her endurance, to have achieved all she has, going so far beyond the emotional and physical limits faced by someone who carries a burden as heavy as losing their child.

Sheehan's case should lead us to acknowledge the emotional burdens that mothers in mourning carry. And Sheehan's case is an example of the kind of people America needs: people who stand up for their beliefs.

Other mothers will come to the movement having lost their children. Their impact will be immense.

Mothers like Sheehan who've suffered the loss of a child will fight to protect other mothers' children from the fate that their children will face in Iraq. In this they are heroes, and public servants to the thousands of American families who children are at the mercy of the war for as long as it continues.

What we really need is mothers who fight to avoid suffering the same fate, before their children die, who believe that supporting the troops means keeping them safe and out of harm's way. If 10,000 of these mothers or mothers-to-be said that Iraq is over, stood up in unison, demonstrated in peace and solidarity, Iraq would be over.

The more successful the antiwar movement becomes, the less war there will be, the fewer Casey Sheehans we will have, and the less need there will be for mother/activists like Cindy Sheehan. There is a law in physics that says every force will be met by a opposing force of equal strength; the same could be said for politics and support for war.

Media and Politics--Diverting, Averting

Fixation on the upcoming Presidential election has led the public away from holding Bush and his party accountable here and now for their policies in Iraq.

The mainstream media has defined the public debate by offering intensive coverage over 2008 candidates. Obama and Hillary have already achieved celebrity status, with Guiliani not far behind.

This from Jason Miller:

"While a majority of US Americans now vehemently oppose the Bush administration and its abominable war, too many of us still believe that both are anomalies which will be “corrected” once we “elect” a new cast of characters to take the political reins in 2008."

Politics have become pre-packaged entertainment affairs stage-managed from start til end. American politics has gone the same way as our mass consumption lifestyle--towards the seduction and corruption of consumerism, or in this case our politics.

The tale behind the walls of power is one of mammoth corporate influence. The administration is rife with former Big Oil corporation representatives. One former oil industry lobbyist has been described as being on temporary leave from Exxon Mobil as he'd gone back to work for Exxon the day after quitting his White House job. Stock prices and profits for most Big Oil companies have tripled since March, 2003.

Whenever corporations are allowed to set the public agenda, news quality suffers. The media conglomerates have a vested interest in dumbing down, in keeping their audience more fixated on Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan than the real world.
Allan Uthman writes for Alternet on the "Pageant-like Presidential Coverage."

Watching the media as I do, I've noticed the absence of substantive coverage on political issues. The larger issue is clearly how relatively unaware the bulk of Americans are concerning the absence of coverage on issues and events affecting their lives.

Some people suffering from celebrity fixation are personally affected by celebrity tragedies like the recent death of a buxom Playmate in the Bahamas, whose name quite fairly escapes me. To be emotional puddy before one's TV screen is great for advertizers but a disaster if it distracts people from things that matter.

Atomized, cocooned, we tend to personalize our relationships with things and people on TV. There's a natural human tendency to believe that the objects of our attention care about our obsession with them when in fact they are passive recipients of our affection--friends only in our imagination.

Spending on average 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV, the opinions of millions of Americans are constantly being shaped, often without the awareness of the viewer. Rather than lifting high the value of political opinion and debate--which encourage participation in the political process--TV has truncated talk on the issues and grossly degraded the perceived value of holding political opinions and expressing them publicly.

Shows like Crossfire were hardly fun to watch, but for people who care, the utter absence of any meaningful political debate bodes ill for the future of this country. Better that people have opinions, and are willing to share them, than to ignore all political debate as being divise. Differences of opinion threaten the universal appeal of television; for marketing reasons, confrontation is to be avoided.

If corporations can't make money from political coverage, they'll simply eliminate it. The dumbing down of political news may be so complete and pervasive that pageant-like coverage is the only alternative acceptable to media conglomerates.

If Americans knew how many important issues were being habitually ignored by mainstream media, they would undoubtedly reconsider the benefits of media consolidation, and perhaps even require more substantive political coverage or even some form of divestiture. As long as Americans aren't aware of the opportunity cost of lost awareness and information on key issues, they don't realize anything's missing, which ultimately empowers media companies to shape opinion all the more on the issues they do cover, and practice censorship by omission turning urgent issues into non-issues.