Monday, March 28, 2011

How militarism looks in 2011

Sunday's edition of ABC's This Week provides a microcosm of how the national security state has corrupted and continues to corrupt American democracy. Military expenditures may represent a small percentage of US GDP. But our foreign and military policy of global dominance represents a huge, often overwhelming portion of our national political culture.

Jake Tapper subbed for Christine Amanpour as moderator, unfortunately. Tapper is better than most celebrity journalists at doing this. But he rarely strays far from Beltway Village conventional wisdom. Here's a general news report on the segment: Joshua Miller, Defense Secretary: Libya Did Not Pose Threat to U.S., Was Not 'Vital National Interest' to Intervene 03/27/2011.

The panel discussion in the second half was half-decent, thanks to presence of Joe Sestak. As of this writing, This Week's website hasn't made the transcript of the second half available.

But the first half gave us a glimpse of the postpartisan world which President Obama actually seems to want to achieve. We had the prowar Democratic Secretary of State on together with the prowar Republican Secretary of Defense, thus providing input from both parties.

Following them came Donald Rumsfeld to talk about Libya.Let's think about this. Here is a guy who's a war criminal, who has to be cautious about leaving the territory of the United States because in dozens of other countries he risks being arrested and indicted for war crimes, including torture. His brilliant leadership of the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War led to disaster after disaster. He lied repeatedly and blantantly to the American public about the war. So, here's a war criminal, who in a press with reasonable ethical standards, would not be invited onto TV to talk about anything but his own war crimes. His advice on matters relating to war has been repeatedly proven disastrous. He can't be relied upon to make a conscientious attempt to stick to the facts on anything.

So why in the name of Ares was this man on ABC Sunday morning being asked respectful question about the Libya War?

Jake Tapper in the latter part of Rummy's segment asked him softball questions about his memoirs that he's currently promoting. When Rummy failed to give the web address of the book's promotional website, Tapper helpfully supplied it, saying he was surprised that Rummy hadn't. (No, it's not

But Tapper snoozed through this part. He asked Rummy about this memo dated October 15, 2002. Rummy calls it his "parade of horribles" memo, but its formal title is "Iraq: An Illustrative List of Potential Problems to be Considered and Addressed." It's basically a CYA memo that Rummy wrote on the potentially bad things that could happen. Rummy easily brushed off the lame "gotcha" question that Tapper asked. But in the process he said this:

And -- and that parade -- so called parade of horribles I made before the war started. I -- I circulated it to the National Security Council and the president. And I felt that was my responsibility.

It was to sit down and say to myself, OK, the president's decided he's going to move forward and invade Iraq and change the regime. And we've got a plan, and we know the plan changes with first contact with the enemy. And what are the things that conceivably can go differently? And so I made that list. And then I got other people to help me develop it. And then I sent it around to the president and the National Security Council.

The other day, I was on O'Reilly, and he kept saying, well, why didn't we publicize the list? Well, that would be mindless, to tell the enemy every conceivable thing we didn't want them to do, every conceivable thing they could do that could complicate the problems for the United States and the coalition.

But I felt a responsibility that we look seriously at all of those. Fortunately, a lot of those terrible things that could have happened did not happen. Some of them did, to be emphasis]


When I heard it on the show, it immediately struck me that on the face of it, Rummy is saying that he knew in mid-October 2002 that Bush had decided to go to war with Iraq. If Tapper had bothered to press him on the point, he probably would have weaseled his way out of it by saying, no, he was describing what at the time he wrote might be a future scenario. But Tapper didn't try.

It's an important point. We know from other evidence like the Downing Street Memo that Bush had decided to go to war with Iraq no later than the first half of 2002. But to my knowledge, none of the senior planners and decisionmakers implicated in that decision has ever admitted that Bush had made a firm decision until just before launching the invasion.

The really sad part is that if Obama had done his duty and what the law requires him to do, he - or, technically his Attorney General - would have launched a serious and independent investigation into the torture crimes and other felonies committed in the course of launching the Iraq War on false pretences and other potential war crimes committed under the Cheney-Bush Administration. And both Democratic-controlled House of Congress should have launched their own investigation. They should have done it because it was the right thing to do and in the case of torture, international and US requires them in a serious way to do so.

If that had happened, the result would certainly have been to widely discredit Rummy and other senior members of that Administration. The Republicans would have celebrated them as martyrs. But it would have diminished the ability of people like Rummy to go on TV and pretend to be an authority on anything other than their own criminal conduct.

But that's not how our political and media elite tend to think. So Rummy could go on This Week and represent the duplicitous but unsurprising Republican posture on the Libya War: approve of it in principle but trash Obama to some degree or other as a wimp and a failure in his conduct of the war. Rummy's interview gives an idea of the kind of political pressure that Republicans create in situations like this:

TAPPER: So, first of all, are we doing the right thing in Libya?

RUMSFELD: Well, the first thing one has to say is that we have U.S. military forces involved, and everyone has to be hopeful that it turns out well and that the progress proceeds.

What concerns me is -- is the questions that have been raised, and they're fair questions, questions about who the rebels are. And I think probably the most important question is whether or not Gadhafi will stay.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the rebels, they -- they wonder whether or not the coalition has an interest in Gadhafi leaving. And there's a great deal of ambiguity about that. Gadhafi's forces wonder whether or not Gadhafi will be leaving. And there's -- that same ambiguity affects their decision-making. And until that's clarified, it seems to me, we'll have a much more difficult time. I think that the goal has to be that Gadhafi leaves.

TAPPER: Well, that is not, obviously, the goal of the military campaign. The military campaign's mission is civilian protection and a no-fly zone. Do you think that the U.S. should not have entered this coalition without Gadhafi's removal being a goal?

RUMSFELD: My personal view is that, once you're involved, you have to recognize that the prestige of the United States is at stake. And if you think about the region, what's strategically important to the United States, it seems to me we'd have to say first is Iran and Syria and their close linkage and the damage they're doing us in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in Lebanon. They are sponsoring terrorism in major portions of that region, which is terribly damaging to us.

Second, in terms of strategic importance, again, is not Libya. It's Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the gulf. Those are the anchors in that region for stability and for the United States of America. And what we do in Libya will unquestionably -- how we handle it, how it turns out -- will unquestionably have a serious impact on the more important issues of Iran, and Syria, and Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and the gulf.

TAPPER: You seem to be suggesting, Mr. Secretary, that Libya was not high on the priority list in that region for the U.S. to be involved in. I'm wondering, if you had been secretary of defense as Gadhafi's troops stormed into Benghazi, and Gadhafi himself threatened no mercy, and there was a very real fear of a mass slaughter, what would you have recommended to the president?

RUMSFELD: Well, I wasn't there, so I can't answer that question. I will say that I think that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are both experiencing the differences from serving in a legislative branch and then serving in executive positions. The perspective is enormously different. And I think you can almost see them transition in their thinking and in their handling of this.

I listened to Secretary Gates. And I must say, I agree with a lot of what he says. He said, when someone asked, well, how many people might be killed or how long will it last or what will it cost, there's no one who can answer those questions. And he's absolutely right in that respect.

I think that you have to pick it up from where we are now. And where we are now is not where your question started, what would you do in the beginning? The fact is, we are involved. And the prestige of the United States is involved.

And think back to the gulf war, the First Gulf War in the early 1990s. Saddam Hussein, when it was over, said he had fought the mother of all battles, and President George Herbert Walker Bush was gone, Margaret Thatcher and the U.K. was gone, and he was still in office. And the implication of that was that he had defeated the United States.

And we are involved -- let there be no question we're now involved in Libya. And if Gadhafi stays on, he will feel he has fought the mother of all battles against the United States. And it will be damaging to us, just as our demeanor in Somalia was damaging, the situation in Lebanon was damaging, and that will embolden others of his ilk. [my emphasis]

How many people have died for that vague notion of "American prestige" over the decades? How many American soldiers, how many foreign soldiers, how many civilians?

There a compact Republican case: Obama took us to war when our national interests weren't at stake; but he's not escalating fast enough; he's not being tough enough; he's being wishy-washy in his leadership.

By contrast, on the Democratic side, the Democratic leaders in Congress - apparently most Democratic members of Congress - aren't willing to make any kind of stink over Obama going to war without Congressional approval. So Obama and the Democrats wind up getting all the political downsides of war. But by casting it as a social-work mission, they don't get any jingoism premium out of it either!

One side is just more aggressive and willing to play the politics of war than the other. One side plays to win, the other side gets played.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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