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

March 19, 2013


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.


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

Freeze spending, reduce mortgage payments…

October 8, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

The big news to me out of the so-called debate in Nashville Tuesday night was that John McCain might call for an across the board spending freeze if the financial crisis warranted, and that he also announced a sketchy proposal for buying up home loans and renegotiating them at their diminished value. He claimed it was his own personal idea’ with the indication that this would be separate from the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill.

On the other hand, although he vowed to give health care equal priority to other pressing problems, he made it clear he does not believe in government involvement in health care. So, I don’t know what he really means there. Well, actually I do know. He means status quo. If you can afford it, you get it, if not you don’t, unless you have zero dollars and then you might get in on an existing government program (although McCain apparently does not believe in such programs). McCain proposes a tax credit for health care and then wants to tax employer health plans (that is Obama’s version of what McCain offers. McCain does not clearly explain the tax part).

Fact checking aside, it was what I would consider a tie but it is clear that Barack Obama sees government as an agent for people in general, while McCain, well I’m not sure what he thinks government’s obligation is, except perhaps to fight war. He does call for energy independence and other programs, but does not want to raise taxes (taxes seem kind of necessary to fund things) and calls for the mostly unspecified cuts in spending. He did mention that there is waste in the defense budget that he would cut (he has said that before).

The instant polls indicate that Obama won the debate. I saw it more as a tie, but thought most of the time Obama expressed more direct concern for individuals. McCain’s direct mortgage rescue might be an exception.

As far as foreign policy, I felt it was a wash. I just don’t see a major difference, except that McCain is a little more insistent that some sort of victory (something he does not define) be attained in Iraq. Since we occupied the country, I am not sure what more we can do, except keep occupying it and hope that the violence subsides over time or turn it over as soon as possible to the Iraqis. Both want to press on in Afghanistan.

The candidates were asked at least twice what the $700 Billion Wall Street bailout does for the people (as opposed to Wall Street investment bankers). Neither one of them answered. At least I did not catch an answer (the transcript will be available soon on the web, I’m sure).

Tom Brokaw asked each candidate to prioritize their actions on health, energy, and entitlement reform to include Social Security. Obama said he would call for a 10-year program to gain energy independence just as JFK initiated the moon landing program, which was accomplished in less than a decade. He ranked health care as number two and then listed education (not on the questioner’s list, I thought).

McCain said he’d do everything at once. But he also suggested that Social Security would have to be cut (and if I got that incorrect, I’ll admit in after I read the transcript, but that is what he seemed to say. He may have been suggesting that unless something is done, the fund will run out). Later he said that he felt the Social Security funding problem could be resolved via bi-partisan study and negotiation as done during the Reagan administration. He said a special commission would probably be needed to resolve the medicare funding issue, which he called “tougher.”

I was impressed that McCain claimed that he was concerned for the environment and said that he has disagreed with the Bush administration on the issue (and I think he might find he disagrees with his vice presidential candidate too).

McCain supports nuclear power.

I did not hear Obama say he supports nuclear. He does call for increased efforts on alternative energy, using the moon-shot approach, as I already mentioned.

And really what more useful can I say. You have to have watched the debate and/or read the transcript on the web.

McCain as usual tried to portray Obama as too inexperienced in foreign affairs and military matters, but Obama stood his ground and demonstrated that he is up on the issues.

There were no major breakthrough proposals or answers concerning how to solve the nation’s financial crisis.

P.s. In my last blog I rewrote the lead and said that I would not vote for anyone who would not give a specific answer. Well both candidates fudged a little. I may have to go back on that – don’t know.

Is experience really what’s needed???

August 29, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

Is experience what we really want to lead this nation now?

Qualifications sure. But we have all kinds of experienced folks in the government and look where we are: economic chaos, war (maybe unnecessary war at that), threats of war (especially from a resurgence in the rivalry for world power from Russia (and don’t forget the Chinese juggernaut and of course continuing Islamic extremist terrorism).

We are literally going broke on an individual by individual scale and a national scale (yes, of course there are always those smart and fortunate enough to be untouched, that was so even in the Great Depression, but you know what I mean), and the present government seems powerless and even unwilling to do anything, save bail out Wall Street.

This has to be the strangest and most important presidential election in this 59-year-old’s lifetime.

You have Democrats threatening to vote Republican and some Republicans indicating they’d just as soon vote Democrat.

Despite basic differences in governmental philosophy between Republicans and Democrats, it seems to me that both candidates and parties are converging to some extent on the issues, not totally, of course.

Many Republicans are perplexed with McCain’s surprise announcement that he chose a woman, Sarah Palin, fomer beauty queen and stay-at-home mom, but now first-term Alaska governor, for his running mate (vice presidential spot). Democrats are quick to point out she would be a heart beat away from the presidency with no real experience on the national scale.

But, without knowing much about her, I would point out that she is governor of a state of the United States. What qualifications do you really have to have? And look where experience (and maybe with Bush, lack of experience at first, but plenty now) has gotten us.

(By the way, Time online has a good article on Palin at http://www.time.com)

Without going over the issues point by point, the fundamental difference between the Republicans and Democrats is that the Republicans like to look at government as something to back up business interests and in so doing promote a robust economy that supposedly benefits all, but gives commerce a free rein, with only minimal control (generalizing for sure).

The Democrats, since Franklin Roosevelt, see a government that takes a more activist role in the lives of the general public, protecting them somewhat from the uncertainty and risks of economic cycles and looks after the general welfare – working together for the common good.

The Democrats push a lot of civil rights legislation (used to be primarily for blacks, now it’s gone into protection of homosexual rights and of women’s rights, immigration rights? ) and they are heavily into pushing some form of universal health care.

(And if I could just interrupt my own blog here. Why does universal health care seem like such a threat to so many? I’ve worked all my life and have paid a heck of a lot of health care premiums, still do, but if I can’t pay them anymore and want to get in on a universal system, does that threaten you who can pay? Certainly I would support a reform that lets everyone stay on their own plan if they have one and like it, but helps those in need. Yes, we all know that there will always be freeloaders in society who never do contribute but want to get in on help. So do we deny everyone for the sins of some? Thanks, I needed that.)

The Republicans even lean toward the Democrats in some of these social issues, but for the most part they contend that government should not go too far in legislating on social issues. However, the Republicans have taken up the mantle of ultra-conservatives and want to go heavily into legislating on what they see as moral issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research. Back before the civil rights bills were passed in the 60s, conservative icon Barry Goldwater said: “you can’t legislate morality” (he was speaking against civil rights legislation). But the more modern conservatives seem to be big on legislating morality as they see it. They don’t mind government intrusion into personal lives.

I actually think that if this race stays close as it is now, you will see Barack Obama move toward McCain on some issues and you will see McCain move toward Obama on some issues (they already have a little at least).

It could be that both parties and both candidates are responding to the voters who want their government to do something constructive.

If  Mrs. Palin lives up to her purported conservative, but maverick (and is that a contradiction in terms?) image, we might really be moving into a post-partisan period… maybe.

Even Barack Obama could lead us into a post-partisan period … I think it could happen.

I know, for conservatives he did sound quite socialist the other night, but like it or not, we have used quite a bit of socialism in this country for a long time. Look what happened when Bush tried to mess with Social Security.

The preceding can be considered a true blog, not an essay as I often try to write. I just wanted to put some thoughts out into the blogoshere.

Oh, and so there you have it. We have Obama, who could be president, with questionable experience, and Palin, who could be a heart beat away from the presidency, with zero experience, as it is usually defined in terms of the presidency.

Seems like experience has been somewhat removed from the issues.

Certainly Obama aims to push much harder on issues of social reform. Both Obama and McCain vow to push hard on the energy crisis and energy independence, if in slightly different ways, and both want to wrap up the warfare in the Middle East, Iraq especially. McCain gives the impression, though, that the stay would be longer there. And something said by Palin seemed to suggest McCain is itching to go into Iran. Obama wants to wrap up Iraq, but push harder in Afghanistan. Of course Obama is pro-choice (abortion rights) and McCain is not. Both men claim to follow the Christian faith, but McCain has pretty much vowed to support what one might call Christian fundamentalism (if only for political purposes).

Time to stop this blog. Thanks.