War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’…

March 19, 2013

UPDATE:

Taking a line out of a 1960s song, we might ask ourselves: “War, what is it food for?” and answer our own question, “absolutely nothin’ “.

When I first drafted this post I was not even thinking specifically that the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was March 19 (and the tenth anniversary day is almost over now as I write this update).

And on the tenth anniversary, so as to make a point, several bombings in Iraq killed at least 65 people. The violence there, tribe against tribe, religious sect against religious sect, continues, and these days the strife-torn nation is closer to our (the U.S.) arch-enemy Iran.

It is pretty well accepted that the stated reason for going into Iraq in 2003, that is that Saddam Hussein had so-called “weapons of mass destruction” or WMDs, was bogus. Even the supporters admit that he did not have a stockpile after all. Sorry, after the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars spent, just a little intelligence goof (or just a lie). And the term WMD itself was misleading and not precise. It was just meant to imply that he was stockpiling everything from nerve gas to atom bombs.

Had this been the case, and we knew where they were, then why didn’t we go after them specifically? And if we did not know where they were, how did we know they had them or why did we think they had them?

Now we are getting reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria in the insurrection there. This may well be true, but I hope it is not something that gives an excuse to war hawks to send troops in. I say let the Syrians fight it out amongst themselves. Or send in the French.

I don’t take the possibility that outlaw regimes or madmen might have or get so-called WMDs or nuclear weapons lightly. Right now Iran and North Korea appear to be threats. We need to have a plan to make sure that we abolish the threats, not the nations necessarily. That is purely for our own defense.

But have we learned anything since Vietnam?

The public soon forgets. The public is apathetic. The politicians are also or they use things like the threat of WMDs from Iraq as a pretext for supporting certain foreign policies that help defense contractors and secure oil. They have not done a good job of securing oil. We gained no special hold on Iraqi oil, despite the promise we would by the war hawks who wanted us to have dominance in the region.

The decision makers in our Vietnam fiasco were operating under the premise that it would be like World War II (except much smaller and much quicker), that we would apply overwhelming force and win.

But Vietnam was a different kind of war. It was North Vietnam invading South Vietnam and a civil insurrection within South Vietnam at the same time and we got ourselves into the middle of it and found it not to be so easy after all and we were afraid to fight to win and afraid to leave and be called losers. We did not fight to win (and there may have been no way to win) and we did eventually leave as losers. (It was not the fault of our military but the politicians if anyone).

Iraq turned out to be more of a mess with total civil war breaking out when we got rid of the dictator and we were caught in the middle of it. We eventually left after being told we were not welcome anymore by the new government.

I like to blame all of this on our leaders, on the politicians. But does not the general public who is so apathetic on all of this have some responsibility?

The original post follows:

The United States needed Middle East oil so bad that eventually we gave the president unlimited power to wage a true world war, that is war all over the world, no matter what nation, against terrorists with some at least loose connection with a far-flung and hard-to-track organization usually referred to as Al Qaeda.

Besides the two more or less conventional ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president was and is authorized to order drone strikes, strikes by small stealthy unmanned aircraft, against anyone virtually anywhere in the world. Of course the drone attacks don’t just kill the target person but people around the target person, to include totally innocent people, to include women and children. But all’s fair in war (not necessarily moral though).

The virtually unlimited powers were handed over to then president George W. Bush but are retained today by president Barack Obama.

Congress handed the president the powers as a result of the 9/11 attacks more than a decade ago now. The U.S. had just been attacked, not by a nation, but by this somewhat amorphous entity called Al Qaeda. Because its leader and many of its followers were being harbored by the Taliban who controlled Afghanistan at the time, we invaded that nation.

That seemed to make sense.

But Bush was being advised by the neo-conservatives who had a think tank study that called for the U.S. gaining hegemony over the Middle East because of its strategic importance what with all of its oil. The paper in fact suggested we needed another Pearl Harbor to jolt the public out of its apathy and malaise. Conveniently (in one sense of it) 9/11, a modern-day Pearl Harbor, came along and killed about the same number of people as Pearl Harbor. In round numbers, about 3,000 deaths in both incidents.

So rather quickly we were not only at war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government who gave comfort to Al Qaeda but we invaded Iraq which had no to little direct connection with Al Qaeda but was in the Middle East and did have oil and a leader who was sympathetic to anti-American causes and who did support terrorists who struck Israel, sending the parents of suicide bombers money as a reward.

Bush was able to get a congressional authorization to fight terror in the form of a resolution called the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists”. It would be a war not against another nation or nations but a method or concept.

But make no mistake about it, all of this was about oil.

Now after a decade we have spent a trillion dollars or more and heavily indebted ourselves, so much so that we are having to or think we must cut needed programs and services for the public. And thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more negatively affected by injuries received in the Middle East wars.

And we have compromised our civil liberties and values. We have inflicted torture on American soil, kidnapped people and sent them to places in other countries for torture and have even killed American citizens (no trial or anything) for being said to be connected somehow to terrorists or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s even a question as to whether a drone strike could be authorized on American soil. The U.S. Attorney General has reportedly left the door open on that question.

Troublesome is the fact that local law enforcement departments have expressed interests in drones. It seems as if George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, some are saying now that we are or nearly are “energy independent”, what with new oil and gas exploration and fracking (never mind environmental concerns).

We are in fact an energy exporter I read.

If we are to be an energy leader after being so dependent on Mid East oil it is probably because of price. When the price of energy got high enough it became economically viable to resume energy exploration in our own nation.

We did not need to go to war in the Middle East. And we don’t need to fight the whole world.

We of course must defend ourselves.

In the 9/11 scenario our intelligence agencies let us down for failing to heed their own information and to cooperate among themselves.

But it could have happened anyway even if everyone was doing everything right. We should have gone after the actual culprits and left it at that instead of opening the door to the dreams of neoconservative empire builders, who never shed their own blood.

(Interesting how so many of them had Vietnam deferments or otherwise skipped combat when they had their chance. Dick Cheney comes to mind.)

And we need to protect our civil liberties.

There was a saying during the Cold War among some: “Better Red than dead”. But I never bought into that. I don’t want to give up my civil liberties in the name of national security or personal security.

As for the competition for energy and the search for practical sources and means of energy and energy production: the marketplace, often augmented by government research, pretty well decides that.

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“War” (1969 song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)

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Whether it’s Dick Nixon or Barack Obama, powers given are hard to remove…

June 16, 2009

Sometimes I run across a quote and I think I ought to use that in my blog or maybe make a whole blog based on it.

Ran across one of those in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section:

“Let this be a lesson to any modern democracy that cedes broad power to government in a time of crisis: Granting power to the executive is easy, getting it back isn’t.”

That was in a piece decrying the left-leaning and dictatorial manner in which Argentina’s first woman to be elected president, Christina Kirchner, along with her husband and former president, Nestor Kirchner, are running and have run the government there, including the stifling of the free press, something dictators, from the left and right, are prone to do.

As I said this was in the Wall Street Journal, of which a large portion of its readers (Republican and business-minded conservatives) and certainly its editorial board, probably are worried that Barack Obama, whom they no doubt feel is left-leaning to the point of super socialist, might be assuming way too much power.

Although I don’t follow Argentine politics closely (or hardly at all), as I recall, Mr. Kirchner came to power some years ago during an economic crisis there. Then when he could not run again for president, his wife did. They are in, I understand, some faction of Peronism in their politics, a kind of combination of left and right tailored to Argentine conditions and pleasing opposing factions (or playing both ends against the middle like Juan Peron himself used to do) to gain power.

Well, anyway, I think that quote about giving an executive extra powers in a crisis coming back to haunt you later because once given rights are not easily rescinded, could have applied to, say, Lyndon Johnson (Democrat who pushed through liberal policies and fought an undeclared war, thus bypassing the constitutional role of congress in war), Richard Nixon (a Republican, who continued that undeclared war and used it as cover for extreme executive actions, some of which turned out to be outright illegal), and George W. Bush (a Republican who used the shield of 9/11 to grab powers and use police-state tactics).

No one can argue but that the U.S. is in a major economic crisis now that rivals the Great Depression. First, former Republican president Bush took extraordinary actions via the bank bailouts to meet a crisis that he and his advisers said would bring the nation down if not dealt with in such a way, and now Democratic President Barack Obama has continued and enhanced those extraordinary powers with not only more bank bailouts but what amounts to an at least temporary takeover of some domestic auto production, and he’s moving toward some type of universal health care to be imposed by government (and I’m not necessarily complaining about that last one).

The only real point here is that power once given is hard to remove. Democracy needs strong leadership but is vulnerable on that point too.

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The piece from which I took the quote that inspired my essay was written by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a member of the WSJ Editorial Board.