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The best way for our leaders to remember the dead on Armistice Day? Do everything they can to avoid a nuclear war

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 12, 2018 at 11:17 pm

We are facing a situation where millions could be killed in minutes. The death toll could be even greater than that of the two world wars put together

Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real 

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, one of the world’s most horrific conflicts. One of the best accounts of how this tragedy began, by the historian Christopher Clark, details how a group of well-meaning European leaders – “The Sleepwalkers” – led their nations into a war with 40 million military and civilian casualties. Today, we face similar risks of mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals, compounded by the potential for the use of nuclear weapons – where millions could be killed in minutes rather than over four years of protracted trench warfare. Do we have the tools to prevent an incident turning into unimaginable catastrophe?

For those gripped with complacency, consider this scenario. It is 2019. Russia is conducting a large military exercise in its territory bordering Nato. A Nato observer aircraft accidentally approaches Russian airspace, and is shot down by a Russian surface to air missile. Alarmed, Nato begins to mobilise reinforcements. There is concern on both sides over recent nuclear deployments in the wake of the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Suddenly, both Nato and Russia issue ultimatums – each noting their respective nuclear capabilities and willingness to use them if vital interests are threatened. Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real.

Each of the strands in this hypothetical scenario is visible in the wind today, exacerbated by new threats – such as cyber risks to early warning and command and control systems, which can emerge at any point in a crisis and trigger misunderstandings and unintended signals that could accelerate nations towards war. This is all happening against a backdrop of unease and uncertainty in much of the Euro-Atlantic region resulting from the Ukraine crisis, Syria, migration, Brexit, new technologies, and new and untested leaders now emerging in many Euro-Atlantic states.

What can be done to stop this drift towards madness?

When leaders from across Europe meet in Paris on 11 November to mark the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the First World War, those with nuclear weapons – presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and the prime minister Theresa May – should reinforce the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. This principle, articulated at the height of the Cold War by the presidents of the United States and Russia, was embraced then by all European countries. It would communicate that leaders today recognise their responsibility to work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe and provide a foundation for other practical steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use – including resolving the current problems with INF and extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) until 2026.

There remains the challenge of rebuilding trust between the United States, Nato and Russia so that it will again be possible to address major security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region. This was done throughout the Cold War and must again be done today. This process could begin with a direction by leaders to their respective governments to renew a mutually beneficial dialogue on crisis management, especially in the absence of trust.

Crisis management dialogue was an essential tool throughout the Cold War – used for managing the “day to day” of potentially dangerous military activities, not for sending political signals. Leaders should not deprive themselves of this essential tool today. Used properly, crisis management can be instrumental in avoiding a crisis ever reaching the point where military forces clash inadvertently or where the use of nuclear weapons needs to be signalled, let alone considered, by leaders with perhaps only minutes to make such a fateful choice.

In reviewing the run-up to past wars, there is one common denominator: those involved in the decision making have looked back and wondered how it could have happened, and happened so quickly? In Paris on Sunday, 100 years after the guns across Europe fell silent, leaders can begin taking important steps to ensure a new and devastating war will not happen today.

Des Browne is the UK’s former secretary of state for defence. The article was written with Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the United States; Igor S Ivanov, former Russian foreign minister; and Sam Nunn, former US senator

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A Very Grim Forecast

In Climate change, Environment, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on November 10, 2018 at 8:12 am

Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report

by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Available at www.ipcc.ch

Though it was published at the beginning of October, Global Warming of 1.5°C, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a document with its origins in another era, one not so distant from ours but politically an age apart. To read it makes you weep not just for our future but for our present.

The report was prepared at the request of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of the Paris climate talks in December 2015. The agreement reached in Paris pledged the signatories to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

The mention of 1.5 degrees Celsius was unexpected; that number had first surfaced six years earlier at the unsuccessful Copenhagen climate talks, when representatives of low-lying island and coastal nations began using the slogan “1.5 to Stay Alive,” arguing that the long-standing red line of a two-degree increase in temperature likely doomed them to disappear under rising seas. Other highly vulnerable nations made the same case about droughts and floods and storms, because it was becoming clear that scientists had been underestimating how broad and deadly the effects of climate change would be. (So far we’ve raised the global average temperature just one degree, which has already brought about changes now readily observable.)

The pledges made by nations at the Paris conference were not enough to meet even the two-degree target. If every nation fulfills those pledges, the global temperature will still rise by about 3.5 degrees Celsius, which everyone acknowledged goes far beyond any definition of safety. But the hope was that the focus and goodwill resulting from the Paris agreement would help get the transition to alternative energy sources underway, and that once nations began installing solar panels and wind turbines they’d find it easier and cheaper than they had expected. They could then make stronger pledges as the process continued. “Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an attitude,” said Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who deserves much of the credit for putting together the agreement. “Ideally,” said Philip A. Wallach, a Brookings Institution fellow, the Paris agreement would create “a virtuous cycle of ambitious commitments, honestly reported progress to match, and further commitments following on those successes.”

To some extent this is precisely what has happened. The engineers have continued to make remarkable advances, and the price of a kilowatt generated by the sun or wind has continued to plunge—so much so that these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Battery storage technology has progressed too; the fact that the sun goes down at night is no longer the obstacle to solar power many once presumed. And so vast quantities of renewable technology have been deployed, most notably in China and India. Representatives of cities and states from around the world gathered in San Francisco in September for a miniature version of the Paris summit and made their own pledges: California, the planet’s fifth-largest economy, promised to be carbon-neutral by 2045. Electric cars are now being produced in significant numbers, and the Chinese have deployed a vast fleet of electric buses.

But those are bright spots against a very dark background. In retrospect, Paris in December 2015 may represent a high-water mark for the idea of an interconnected human civilization. Within nine weeks of the conference Donald Trump had won his first primary; within seven months the UK had voted for Brexit, both weakening and distracting the EU, which has been the most consistent global champion of climate action. Since then the US, the largest carbon emitter since the start of the Industrial Revolution, has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, and the president’s cabinet members are busy trying to revive the coal industry and eliminate effective oversight and regulation of the oil and gas business. The prime minister of Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, is now Scott Morrison, a man famous for bringing a chunk of anthracite into Parliament and passing it around so everyone could marvel at its greatness. Canada—though led by a progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who was crucial in getting the 1.5-degree target included in the Paris agreement—has nationalized a pipeline in an effort to spur more production from its extremely polluting Alberta oil sands. Brazil seems set to elect a man who has promised not only to withdraw from the Paris agreement but to remove protections from the Amazon and open the rainforest to cattle ranchers. It is no wonder that the planet’s carbon emissions, which had seemed to plateau in mid-decade, are again on the rise: preliminary figures indicate that a new record will be set in 2018.

This is the backdrop against which the IPCC report arrives, written by ninety-one scientists from forty countries. It is a long and technical document—five hundred pages, drawing on six thousand studies—and as badly written as all the other IPCC grand summaries over the years, thanks in no small part to the required vetting of each sentence of the executive summary by representatives of the participating countries. (Saudi Arabia apparently tried to block some of the most important passages at the last moment during a review meeting, particularly, according to reports, the statement emphasizing “the need for sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels.” The rest of the conclave threatened to record the objection in a footnote; “it was a game of chicken, and the Saudis blinked first,” one participant said.) For most readers, the thirty-page “Summary for Policymakers” will be sufficiently dense and informative.

The takeaway messages are simple enough: to keep warming under 1.5 degrees, global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 percent by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. We should do our best to meet this challenge, the report warns, because allowing the temperature to rise two degrees (much less than the 3.5 we’re currently on pace for) would cause far more damage than 1.5. At the lower number, for instance, we’d lose 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs. Half a degree higher and that loss rises to 99 percent. The burden of climate change falls first and heaviest on the poorest nations, who of course have done the least to cause the crisis. At two degrees, the report contends, there will be a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. As one of its authors told The New York Times, “in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”

The report provides few truly new insights for those who have been paying attention to the issue. In fact, because the IPCC is such a slave to consensus, and because its slow process means that the most recent science is never included in its reports, this one almost certainly understates the extent of the problem. Its estimates of sea-level rise are on the low end—researchers are increasingly convinced that melting in Greenland and the Antarctic is proceeding much faster than expected—and it downplays fears, bolstered by recent research, that the system of currents bringing warm water to the North Atlantic has begun to break down.* As the chemist Mario Molina, who shared the Nobel Prize in 1995 for discovering the threat posed by chlorofluorocarbon gases to the ozone layer, put it, “the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system.”

All in all, though, the world continues to owe the IPCC a great debt: scientists have once again shown that they can agree on a broad and workable summary of our peril and deliver it in language that, while clunky, is clear enough that headline writers can make sense of it. (Those who try, anyway. An analysis of the fifty biggest US newspapers showed that only twenty-two of them bothered to put a story about the report on the homepages of their websites.)

The problem is that action never follows: the scientists do their job, but even the politicians not controlled by the fossil fuel industry tend to punt or to propose small-bore changes too slow and cautious to make much difference. By far the most important change between this and the last big IPCC report, in 2014, is simply that four years have passed, meaning that the curve we’d need to follow to cut our emissions sufficiently has grown considerably steeper. Instead of the relatively gentle trajectory that would have been required if we had paid attention in 1995, the first time the IPCC warned us that global warming was real and dangerous, we’re at the point where even an all-out effort would probably be too slow. As the new report concedes, there is “no documented historical precedent” for change at the speed that the science requires.

There’s one paramount reason we didn’t heed those earlier warnings, and that’s the power of the fossil fuel industry. Since the last IPCC report, a series of newspaper exposés has made it clear that the big oil companies knew all about climate change even before it became a public issue in the late 1980s, and that, instead of owning up to that knowledge, they sponsored an enormously expensive campaign to obfuscate the science. That campaign is increasingly untenable. In a world where floods, fires, and storms set new records almost weekly, the industry now concentrates on trying to slow the inevitable move to renewable energy and preserve its current business model as long as possible.

After the release of the IPCC report, for instance, Exxon pledged $1 million to work toward a carbon tax. That’s risible—Exxon made $280 billion in the last decade, and it has donated huge sums to elect a Congress that won’t pass a carbon tax anytime soon; oil companies are spending many millions of dollars to defeat a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State and to beat back bans on fracking in Colorado. Even if a carbon tax somehow made it past the GOP, the amount Exxon says it wants—$40 a ton—is tiny compared to what the IPCC’s analysts say would be required to make a real dent in the problem. And in return the proposed legislation would relieve the oil companies of all liability for the havoc they’ve caused. A bargain that might have made sense a generation ago no longer counts for much.

Given the grim science, it’s a fair question whether anything can be done to slow the planet’s rapid warming. (One Washington Post columnist went further, asking, “Why bother to bear children in a world wracked by climate change?”) The phrase used most since the report’s release was “political will,” usually invoked earnestly as the missing ingredient that must somehow be conjured up. Summoning sufficient political will to blunt the power of Exxon and Shell seems unlikely. As the energy analyst David Roberts predicted recently on Twitter, “the increasing severity of climate impacts will not serve as impetus to international cooperation, but the opposite. It will empower nationalists, isolationists, & reactionaries.” Anyone wondering what he’s talking about need merely look at the Western reaction to the wave of Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war sparked in part by the worst drought ever measured in that region.

The stakes are so high, though, that we must still try to do what we can to change those odds. And it’s not an entirely impossible task. Nature is a good organizer: the relentless floods and storms and fires have gotten Americans’ attention, and the percentage of voters who acknowledge that global warming is a threat is higher than ever before, and the support for solutions is remarkably nonpartisan: 93 percent of Democrats want more solar farms; so do 84 percent of Republicans. The next Democratic primary season might allow a real climate champion to emerge who would back what the rising progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called a “Green New Deal”; in turn a revitalized America could theoretically help lead the planet back to sanity. But for any of that to happen, we need a major shift in our thinking, strong enough to make the climate crisis a center of our political life rather than a peripheral question easily avoided. (There were no questions at all about climate change in the 2016 presidential debates.)

The past year has offered a few signs that such large-scale changes are coming. In October, the attorney general for New York State filed suit against ExxonMobil, claiming the company defrauded shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change. In January New York City joined the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign, pledging to sell off the oil and gas shares in its huge pension portfolio; Mayor Bill de Blasio is working with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to convince their colleagues around the world to do likewise. In July Ireland became the first nation to join the campaign, helping to take the total funds involved to over $6 trillion. This kind of pressure on investors needs to continue: as the IPCC report says, if the current flows of capital into fossil fuel projects were diverted to solar and wind power, we’d be closing in on the sums required to transform the world’s energy systems.

It’s natural following devastating reports like this one to turn to our political leaders for a response. But in an era when politics seems at least temporarily broken, and with a crisis that has a time limit, civil society may need to pressure the business community at least as heavily to divest their oil company shares, to stop underwriting and insuring new fossil fuel projects, and to dramatically increase the money available for clean energy. We’re running out of options, and we’re running out of decades. Over and over we’ve gotten scientific wake-up calls, and over and over we’ve hit the snooze button. If we keep doing that, climate change will no longer be a problem, because calling something a problem implies there’s still a solution.

—October 25, 2018

From UN Human Rights Committee

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 9, 2018 at 10:49 am

I received the following from John Burroughs of The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Polity:

 

The threat or use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons, which are indiscriminate in effect and are of a nature to cause destruction of human life on a catastrophic scale is incompatible with respect for the right to life and may amount to a crime under international law. States parties must take all necessary measures to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including measures to prevent their acquisition by non-state actors, to refrain from developing, producing, testing, acquiring, stockpiling, selling, transferring and using them, to destroy existing stockpiles, and to take adequate measures of protection against accidental use, all in accordance with their international obligations. They must also respect their international obligations to pursue in good faith negotiations in order to achieve the aim of nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control and to afford adequate reparation to victims whose right to life has been or is being adversely affected by the testing or use of weapons of mass destruction, in accordance with principles of international responsibility.

 

For more about the development of the paragraph and its significance, see this post by Daniel Rietiker:

https://safna.org/2018/11/07/threat-and-use-of-nuclear-weapons-contrary-to-right-to-life-says-un-human-rights-committee/

‘Our Democracy Is Sick’: Progressive Groups Join Forces to Ensure Voting Rights and End Corporate Sabotage of Common Good

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race on November 1, 2018 at 12:34 am

Common Dreams, October 30, 2018

“Today our system is in crisis,” warns the new Declaration for American Democracy. “Together we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, voting rights are fully enforced, and everyone’s voice is heard.”

The Declaration for American Democracy

The Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of 100+ national groups committed to fundemental reforms in the U.S. political system, will officially launch its campaign the day after this year’s upcoming midterm elections. (Photo: declarationforamericandemocracy.org)

Increasingly alarmed by powerful corporate and wealthy interests that have pushed the U.S. political system toward “impending constitutional catastrophe,” nearly 100 national organizations on Tuesday announced that they are coming together for a campaign that aims to take back the country’s democratic institutions by fighting for “the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for people.”

“Our democracy is sick, and it’s not an accident.”
—Ezra Levin, Indivisible

“Today our system is in crisis,” warns the Declaration for American Democracy’s mission statement (pdf). “Together we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, voting rights are fully enforced, and everyone’s voice is heard.”

The coalition—which includes groups focused on the environment, reproductive rights, labor conditions, election security, criminal justice reform, and a host of other issues—vows to “work collectively to create and pass a series of fundamental reforms to rebalance our moneyed political system, empower everyday Americans, ensure equal justice for all, protect the public’s right to know, reduce barriers to participation in our elections, vigorously enforce voting laws, and fix our ethics laws.”

Their campaign officially begins on Nov. 7, the day after the upcoming midterm elections. Members include the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), CODEPINK, Common Cause, Credo Action, Demand Progress, Demos, Greenpeace, Indivisible, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, MoveOn.org, the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, People’s Action, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, SEIU, Sierra Club, the Working Families Party, and dozens of other organizations.

“Our democracy is sick, and it’s not an accident. This is the result of a decades-long campaign to disenfranchise communities of color and reduce government’s responsiveness to the will of the people,” said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible. “Opponents of democracy in America engage in acts of sabotage in order to entrench their own power and reward their donors. But that is about to change. America is ready for a bold vision for 21st century democracy.”

“The stakes for our civil and human rights are too high for inaction,” declared Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, another coalition member. “Voter suppression and intimidation, efforts to undermine a fair and accurate census, and corruption scandals are just a few reasons why we must advance an affirmative vision to build an America as good as its ideals.”

That vision includes protecting reproductive rights and access to healthcare, charged NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. “We deserve to live in a country where women, not out-of-touch politicians fueled by ideological and politically motivated interest groups, have the freedom to make the most personal decisions about if, when and how to grow their families,” she said. “It’s time that our democracy was fueled by elected officials willing to fight for our values, our futures and our votes.”

“We deserve a republic that truly serves the people rather than the private interests of public officials and wealthy political donors.”
—Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen

It also includes taking rapid actions to address the climate crisis and safeguard environmental protections. As Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune pointed out, “corporate polluters have been flooding our political system with big money for too long, spending unprecedented millions to try to keep people from voting while propping up politicians who push their dirty agenda rather than the things the American people care about most, like clean air and water, safe communities and family-sustaining jobs.”

As the anti-choice movement, the fossil fuel industry, and other corporate powers have poured money into political lobbying to bolster policies that endanger public health and undermine U.S. democracy, the Trump administration’s “catastrophic ethical failings have exposed the gaps in our system of ethics laws,” noted CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder.

“Only by winning foundational reforms to our politics, can we hope to move forward the substantive policies that are so important to the American people—from protecting our environment, to fighting for consumers and working families, to improving our health care and lowering prescription drug prices and more,” concluded Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “We deserve a republic that truly serves the people rather than the private interests of public officials and wealthy political donors.”

How To Get Nuclear-Weapons Treaties Back on Track

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 19, 2018 at 12:02 am

The agreements that hold back a strategic arms race are in trouble. But there is a way forward.

Back in March, President Trump told reporters at the White House in March that he wanted to meet with Putin in large part “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control” and has characterized the costly nuclear weapons upgrade programs being pursued by each side as “a very, very bad policy.”

Three months have elapsed since the July summit between Trump and Putin in Helsinki – after which the U.S. president said, “Perhaps the most important issue we discussed at our meeting…was the reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world.”

But since the summit, there has been no apparent progress. The long-running dispute over Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty remains. The two sides have not begun to discuss the future of the successful 2010 New START agreement, which limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. That treaty will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it.

Without these treaties in place, the door will be opened to an unconstrained nuclear arms race. The already abysmal U.S.-Russian relationship will become even more complicated and dangerous.

Next week, National Security Advisor John Bolton will travel to Moscow to meet with his counterpart in the Kremlin, Nikolai Patrushev. It is past time for both sides to get serious about resolving the INF compliance crisis, to agree to discuss the extension of New START, and to resume regular talks on “strategic stability.”

INF Woes: U.S. and Russian officials both say they support the 1987 INF Treaty, which led to the elimination all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. But the treaty is now at risk because Russia has tested and deployed a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile: the 9M729. Moscow, for its part, alleges, far less credibly, that Washington is deploying missile defense systems in Europe that could be used to launch offensive missiles.

Contrary to what some observers may want to believe, the arms control community has been working hard to raise the alarm bell and put advance serious options to put out the INF fire. Since Russia’s INF violation became known in early 2014, the Arms Control Association has steadfastly reported on and published expert analyses on the problem in our monthly journal Arms Control Today. We have convened U.S. and European and Russian experts from inside and outside government on the INF issue, and met with U.S. lawmakers and staff to exchange views on the problem. We have confronted senior Russian officials in private consultations Washington and in Moscow and, along with a number of experts and former U.S. officials, we have put forward options for resolving the dispute.

We view as unacceptable Russia’s flagrant violation of the INF treaty (and of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and of other key agreements). As our Board Chairman wrote last year in the Washington Post, it requires a firm U.S. and allied response, including smart diplomacy and, if the violation persists, improvements to U.S. and NATO conventional military preparedness.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been no more successful than the Obama administration in bringing Russia back into compliance. Trump’s team has tried to “toughen” the U.S. response to Russia’s INF violation by seeking funding to develop a treaty-prohibited nuclear-capable missile for the United States. Not surprisingly, this has failed to change Russia’s position and has raised concerns among our European allies who see no military requirement for it and do not want such a weapon deployed in Europe.

Some in Congress have proposed that Washington go further and declare the INF Treaty null and void if Russia doesn’t immediately return to compliance – a tactic that would only play into Moscow’s propaganda line that the U.S. is somehow to blame for the downfall of the treaty.

With the INF compliance problem now moving into its fifth year, neither side seems to be ready to engage in the tough, solutions-oriented bilateral negotiations needed to resolve the dispute over the 9M729 missile. This is the moment when Trump and Putin must push to restart discussions that have stalled at the expert level.

Specifically, Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by technical experts to examine the missiles and the deployment sites in dispute. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-km range limit, Russia should either modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession, including any that have been deployed.

For its part, the United States could offer to modify the missile-defense launchers that Moscow has complained about, allowing to Russia to clearly distinguish them from launchers that fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships, or agree to other transparency measures to allay Russian suspicions that the launchers contain offensive missiles.

Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

The Future of New START: New START remains one of the few bright spots in an otherwise broken U.S.-Russian relationship. Ratified in 2011, the Treaty limits the number of deployed strategic warheads to a maximum of 1,550 on each side, a target each met earlier this year, and which is far below the tens of thousands we pointed at each other during the Cold War.

The Treaty imposes important bounds on strategic nuclear competition as long as it is in force. As allowed in Article XIV of the treaty, it can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two Presidents, without requiring further action by the Congress or the Duma.

Before and after the Helsinki summit, Russian officials have reiterated their interest in talks designed to extend the treaty. But after his first post-Helsinki meeting with Patrushev, in Geneva on Aug. 23, Bolton said the administration remains in the “early stages” of an interagency review about whether to extend, replace, or jettison New START or to pursue a different type of approach.

Unfortunately, some elements in the Trump administration want to hold New START hostage until Russia acknowledges its INF violation—an extremely unlikely possibility. Sacrificing New START, given the transparency it provides, would only create a bigger nuclear headache and do nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with INF.

Key Senate Democrats have called for an extension of New START so long as Russia remains in compliance with it, and several leading Senate Republicans have also voiced their support for New START. U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START; for example, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress last March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

If New START is not extended, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972. In its absence, each side could quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on their strategic delivery systems. Unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition—in both numbers and technology—could spark an arms race as dangerous as that of the 1950s and 1960s. That would add scores of billions in additional costs to an already unrealistic U.S. nuclear upgrade plan.

An extension of New START, on the other hand, would buy time for the two sides to discuss agreements on new strategic systems, including the ones under development by Russia, and provide a solid baseline for talks on further reductions of each side’s strategic and tactical nuclear stockpiles.

Despite Russia’s malign behavior in Ukraine, Syria, in cyberspace, and elsewhere, it would serve U.S. and European security interests to engage with the Kremlin in new ways that bring Moscow back in compliance with INF and preserve the New START agreement. Washington and Moscow may not get along, but they have a special responsibility to manage their nuclear rivalry in ways that reduce the risk of miscalculation and the size of their bloated nuclear stockpiles.

Why we need African leadership to end the threat of nuclear weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 2, 2018 at 11:56 pm

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By Beatrice Fihn is Executive Director of ICAN, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

There’s an adage I keep hearing when discussing foreign policy and security issues, that ‘good fences make good neighbours’. In other words, clear and strong boundaries are essential for nations to maintain peaceful relationships, and if you keep your own affairs in order you can prevent your neighbour’s troubles spilling over. This argument loses all meaning in the event of a nuclear war. Nuclear weapons do not respect national boundaries, no matter where they fall.

Nuclear weapons used anywhere would have disastrous consequences that would quickly ripple across the world and undoubtedly hit the people of the African continent, even if that conflict was localised thousands of miles away.

Just a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, for example, would cause a nuclear winter lasting 2-3 years, devastate food production and lead to the starvation of billions of people. Sound far-fetched? There are 15,000 nuclear weapons around the world, that scenario would result from the use of just 100 of them.

It’s not hard to see how Africa could suffer tremendously from a crisis in which they had no involvement. Africa’s food supply is intertwined with Asia’s. Nigeria, the biggest African nation, is now the third largest importer of rice in the world with India being a key supplier.

For decades a handful of nuclear-armed states locked the rest of the world out of their negotiations about our shared future. That changed last year at the United Nations where a vast majority of states adopted the groundbreaking Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons

Put simply, the Treaty recognizes the grave humanitarian harm caused by these weapons and makes the possession of and threatening the use of nuclear weapons illegal. Once 50 nations ratify it, the ban on nuclear weapons will become international law. 69 have signed and 19 have ratified already.

But of those 19 states that have ratified, only one is from Africa. The Gambia became the first to deposit their official instruments of ratification this week. Many African states supported and voted for the Treaty at the UN, and 21 have signed, but they have not moved swiftly to ratify

Africa has been a leader on the nuclear weapons issue for decades. South Africa remains the only country to disarm after developing nuclear weapons. Most African states are part of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. If the 40 states who signed and ratified that Treaty hastened their pace to ratify the nuclear ban treaty it would quickly enter into legal force.

Doing so will give African leaders greater control over their countries’ futures and ultimately provide more security to their citizens. Africa may be free of nuclear weapons, but the continent is not free of their effects.

Rather than ending that threat, some African states are enabling nuclear weapons development in ways they may not even realize. Global banks are helping fund a new generation of nuclear weapons being built to keep the nuclear threat alive for decades to come. Banks like BNP Paribas operate across Africa, where the bank offers services in 11 countries. That bank alone provides USD$ 8.6 billion in financing to companies producing nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons puts power back in the hands of these nations. It would obligate them to cease support for nuclear weapons development, including financing, among other steps that will make their people and environment safer.

No country is immune to the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. No far-flung corner of the world with offer adequate refuge from a nuclear war, no nation can claim immunity or neutrality from a conflict that involves nuclear-armed states.

So it is incumbent on each nation to seize control of their own destiny before it is taken from them due to geopolitical events that they had no part in. Each nation can do just that by joining the growing community of nations that are part of the Treaty that bans these horrifying weapons that have no military utility. Each nation can refuse to be passive hostage to the whims of a few men with their finger on the button; only a late night tweet or insult away from plunging us all into a nightmare of their making.

By ratifying the Treaty, African nations can reclaim their own destiny and make history on the side of reason and humanity.

The Forever War’s Cheerleaders Democrats, liberals, and progressives have become some of the biggest hawks in Washington. That needs to change.

In Democracy, Drones, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, War on September 20, 2018 at 7:54 am

By Jeremy Rubin, The Nation, 9-19-18

Coming home from the Forever War can be difficult. Not long after returning from Afghanistan as a Marine officer in early 2011, I found myself feeling betrayed by compatriots who worshiped the idea of my service while refusing to confront what that service entailed. There is a chasm of awareness that often exists between veterans and civilians, especially during an age in which an all-volunteer military prosecutes never-ending wars, and in which those Americans who end up experiencing combat prove statistically negligible.

It isn’t so much a chasm of awareness as a chasm of memory. The problem with veterans is we keep remembering our wars when we are supposed to join everyone else in forgetting them. Today I experience that gap most viscerally in politics, and liberal or progressive politics in particular, where celebrated commentators like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell fail to cover America’s ongoing wars and the role some of their favorite guests have played in launching and expanding them.

I remember what it felt like to believe every word of the Bush-era officials and journalists after the September 11 attacks, and I remember what it felt like when I donned the US Marine uniform in response to those words. I remember what it felt like to step foot in Afghanistan, and I remember what it felt like when I started having doubts about why I was there. I remember what it felt like to realize how wrong I was about the strategic efficacy and moral necessity of the war, how wrong everyone I trusted was, and how wrong the war had always been. The war in Afghanistan, like most of America’s wars, had come to strike me as not only a profitable lie, but a ruinous one. I remember what it first felt like to be an immediate witness to needless destruction and death, and what it felt like to recognize I would live with that feeling for the rest of my life

The fact that those same Bush-era officials and pundits have now become heroes among partisan Democrats—the fact that the late John McCain, arguably America’s most enthusiastic warmonger, has now become something of a liberal patron saint—drives me toward despair. It is not as if my sense of hopelessness emerged from a vacuum. By the time I was discharged from the Marines in the late spring of 2011, President Obama had already caved to the militarists on Libya and the drone war, was beginning to double down on an unaccountable surveillance state and was waffling on the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. He would soon back Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression in Yemen, a war many now consider genocidal. On the other hand, Obama executed significant troop withdrawals in Iraq and (eventually) Afghanistan, and he served as a comparatively dovish voice on Iran, Syria, and Russia. He was no ally to the Palestinians, yet his relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu was icy. He also tended to keep his distance from the neoconservatives responsible for so much of the chaos in the Greater Middle East. At the very least, he didn’t go out of his way to revive their influence.

All this began to change during the 2016 Democratic primary, when the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to align with the neocons in the lead-up to its bout with Trump. Clinton herself had always been a hawk, and she had frequently seen eye-to-eye with Bush’s war cabinet, but the threat of a Trump presidency during the general election, and the Russiagate mania that followed Trump’s victory, propelled Clinton and the Democrats to make the alliance official. During the race, the Clinton team courted Robert Kagan and others from the Weekly Standard crowd, who were likely drawn to Clinton’s willingness to ratchet up the air war against the Putin-backed Assad government in Syria, arm anti-Russia elements in Ukraine, tighten relations with Israel and the Gulf states, and maintain a belligerent posture toward Iran. After the race, high-level associates of both Clinton and Obama joined forces with the neocons to form an advocacy group, Alliance for Securing Democracy, whose tag line now reads, “Putin Knocked. We Answered.” The bond has only grown more pronounced as the months have progressed, leading one of the only prominent Iraq War supporters to have learned his lesson, Peter Beinart, to conclude that “on foreign and defense policy, the [Democratic Party] barely exists.”

It is one thing to welcome investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and to push for electoral and anti-corruption reforms that might help prevent such interference in the future. It is quite another to allow some of the world’s most fervent jingoists to assume the vanguard of the anti-Trump opposition, and to allow their politics to influence and define the language of the liberal and progressive left. We are living in an ominous moment when it is Democrats who are the most inclined to charge those who disagree with them on the Russia media narrative of treason, and when it is Democrats who are the most inclined to accept declarations or demands made by a defense establishment that apparently can do no wrong.

I would like to think this ideological shift would have stunned me regardless, but my personal journey has made it all the more shocking. There is something surreal about watching so many Democrats and liberal or progressive pundits adopt the ugliest rhetorical tics of the very post-9/11 chauvinism I once found myself immersed in, from seeing anyone or anything inconvenient to the presiding account as fifth-columnist to treating the utterances of spies and other military-industrial propagandists as gospel. Most of all, there is the ostensible disregard for the consequences of their newfound animus toward the national-security state’s latest bogeyman.

When Obama left office, the defense budget was already higher, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than any other time since World War II. As Beinart notes, it was higher than at the peak of the Vietnam War or the Reagan expansion. In the past two years, however, both parties have managed to swell its size even further, with the Russian and Chinese threats serving as convenient pretexts. These budget increases represent hundreds of billions that could have been devoted to more effective and humane efforts. But whether it is through taxpayer-funded military assistance or taxpayer-funded subsidies to arms dealers, these increases, combined with an ever-increasing slew of US-approved arms deals, will almost certainly lead to more suffering and risk around the world.

This includes escalating tensions around Russia’s periphery, in large part by arming and funding governments and groups in Ukraine, Poland, and elsewhere that have extensive ties with white nationalists and fascists. It includes continuing to arm and fund Saudi Arabia’s massacre in Yemen or Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It includes more torment in Syria’s civil war, a war that experts thought was drawing to a tragic but necessary close in 2016, just before anti-Russian sentiment was kicked into high gear. It includes the additional feeding of an unparalleled US-led global arms trade that will likely instigate violent outbursts in unexpected corners of the world. It includes a related arms race in surveillance and cyber-technology that will probably put added strain on an already fraying liberal-democratic fabric. Most frightening of all, it includes an anteing up of the nuclear arsenal.

What is needed now is a clear alternative to the present course. Liberals and progressives should be insisting on diplomacy and partnerships with Russia, akin to the Iran deal or Nixon’s trip to China. They should be educating the public on how the United States and its allies violated a 1990 promise to Russia not to expand NATO eastward. They should be speaking about how the US government, following the end of the Cold War, trumpeted triumphalism, helped impose shock therapy, cheered the privatization and selling off of key industries to disastrous effect, eviscerated the economy, threw their weight behind their favored candidate in Russia’s 1996 presidential election, and laid the groundwork for the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. They should be quoting the economist John Maynard Keynes on the hazards of punitive politics or the diplomat George Kennan on the dangers of NATO-related hubris. They should be fleshing out a grand bargain that involves a mutual exit from Syria, cessation of hostilities in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, mutual noninterference on Russia’s periphery, the halting of NATO expansion (if not its rollback), and investment in a green Marshall Plan linked to the rebuilding of regional economies—all conditioned on staged movement toward nuclear disarmament, the dialing down of the arms race, substantive democratic reform, and the reining in of the global plutocracy. This approach toward Russia, finally, should be embedded within a wider left-internationalist agenda of shared peace, prosperity, and environmental stewardship.

This would all make for an ambitious (some might say quixotic) reversal, and there is no denying the inevitable obstacles, from institutional inertia to the shortsightedness of great-power politics. But to conclude the status quo offers the safest bet is to surrender to what the sociologist C. Wright Mills once dubbed “crackpot realism.” It is to forget the endless war already consuming us, and it is that very forgetfulness that constitutes our gravest threat. The left must counter such amnesia with thoughtful and bold geopolitical imagination.

A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers Socialists and other progressives are running for office on strong domestic programs. Here’s how their foreign policy platform can be just as strong.

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on September 8, 2018 at 11:49 pm

ACROSS THE COUNTRY, A NEW COHORT OF PROGRESSIVES IS RUNNING FOR—AND WINNING—ELECTIONS. The stunning victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic congressional primary in New York is perhaps the most well-known, but she is far from alone. Most of these candidates are young, more than usual are people of color, many are women, several are Muslims, at least one is a refugee, at least one is transgender—and all are unabashedly left. Most come to electoral politics after years of activism around issues like immigration, climate and racism. They come out of a wide range of social movements and support policy demands that reflect the principles of those movements: labor rights, immigrant and refugee rights, women’s and gender rights, equal access to housing and education, environmental justice, and opposition to police violence and racial profiling. Some, though certainly not all, identify not just with the policies of socialism but with the fundamental core values and indeed the name itself, usually in the form of democratic socialism.

Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman in Detroit, just won the Democratic primary for the legendary Congressman John Conyers’ seat. Four women, two of them members of Democratic Socialists of America and all four endorsed by DSA, beat their male incumbent opponents in Pennsylvania state house primaries. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud is running an insurgent campaign for Congress against a longstanding incumbent in western Massachusetts, keeping her focus on Medicare-for-All and civil rights. Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee, won endorsement from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and is running for Keith Ellison’s former congressional seat as an “intersectional feminist.” And there are more.


Many highlight their movement experience in their campaigns; they are champions of immigrant rights, healthcare, student debt organizing and the fight for $15. Intersectionality has grown stronger, as the extremism of Trump’s right-wing racist assault creates significant new gains in linking separate movements focused on racism, women’s rights, immigrant rights, climate, poverty, labor rights and more.

But mostly, we’re not seeing progressive and socialist candidates clearly link domestic issues with efforts to challenge war, militarism and the war economy. There are a few exceptions: Congressional candidate and Hawaii State Rep. Kaniela Ing speaks powerfully about U.S. colonialism in Hawaii, and Virginia State Rep. Lee J. Carter has spoken strongly against U.S. bombing of Syria, linking current attacks with the legacy of U.S. military interventions. There may be more. But those are exceptions; most of the new left candidates focus on crucial issues of justice at home.

A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war.

It’s not that progressive leaders don’t care about international issues, or that our movements are divided. Despite too many common assumptions, it is not political suicide for candidates or elected officials to stake out progressive anti-war, anti-militarism positions. Quite the contrary: Those positions actually have broad support within both our movements and public opinion. It’s just that it’s hard to figure out the strategies that work to connect internationally focused issues, anti-war efforts, or challenges to militarism, with the wide array of activists working on locally grounded issues. Some of those strategies seem like they should be easy—like talking about slashing the 53 cents of every discretionary federal dollar that now goes to the military as the easiest source to fund Medicare-for-all or free college education. It should be easy, but somehow it’s not: Too often, foreign policy feels remote from the urgency of domestic issues facing such crises. When our movements do figure out those strategies, candidates can easily follow suit.

Candidates coming out of our movements into elected office will need clear positions on foreign policy. Here are several core principles that should shape those positions.

A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war. That does not mean isolationism, but instead a strategy of diplomatic engagement rather than—not as political cover for—destructive U.S. military interventions that have so often defined the U.S. role in the world.

Looking at the political pretexts for what the U.S. empire is doing around the world today, a principled foreign policy might start by recognizing that there is no military solution to terrorism and that the global war on terror must be ended.

More broadly, the militarization of foreign policy must be reversed and diplomacy must replace military action in every venue, with professional diplomats rather than the White House’s political appointees in charge. Aspiring and elected progressive and socialist office-holders should keep in mind the distinction between the successes and failures of Obama’s foreign policy. The victories were all diplomatic: moving towards normalization with Cuba, the Paris climate accord and especially the Iran nuclear deal. Obama’s greatest failures—in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen—all occurred because the administration chose military action over robust diplomacy.

Certainly, diplomacy has been a tool in the arsenal of empires, including the United States. But when we are talking about official policies governing relations between countries, diplomacy—meaning talking, negotiating and engaging across a table—is always, always better than engaging across a battlefield.

A principled foreign policy must recognize how the war economy has distorted our society at home—and commit to reverse it. The $717 billion of the military budget is desperately needed for jobs, healthcare and education here at home—and for a diplomatic surge and humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to people of countries devastated by U.S. wars and sanctions.

A principled foreign policy must acknowledge how U.S. actions—military, economic and climate-related—have been a driving force in displacing people around the world. We therefore have an enormous moral as well as legal obligation to take the lead in providing humanitarian support and refuge for those displaced—so immigration and refugee rights are central to foreign policy.

For too long the power of the U.S. empire has dominated international relations, led to the privileging of war over diplomacy on a global scale, and created a vast—and invasive—network of 800-plus military bases around the world.

Now, overall U.S. global domination is actually shrinking, and not only because of Trump’s actions. China’s economy is rapidly catching up, and its economic clout in Africa and elsewhere eclipses that of the United States. It’s a measure of the United States’ waning power that Europe, Russia and China are resisting U.S. efforts to impose new global sanctions on Iran. But the United States is still the world’s strongest military and economic power: Its military spending vastly surpasses that of the eight next strongest countries, it is sponsoring a dangerous anti-Iran alliance between Israel and the wealthy Gulf Arab states, it remains central to NATO decision-making, and powerful forces in Washington threaten new wars in North Korea and Iran. The United States remains dangerous.

Progressives in Congress have to navigate the tricky task of rejecting American exceptionalism. U.S global military and economic efforts are generally aimed at maintaining domination and control. Without that U.S. domination, the possibility arises of a new kind of internationalism: to prevent and solve crises that arise from current and potential wars, to promote nuclear disarmament, to come up with climate solutions and to protect refugees.

That effort is increasingly important because of the rapid rise of right-wing xenophobic authoritarians seeking and winning power. Trump is now leading and enabling an informal global grouping of such leaders, from Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Victor Orban in Hungary and others. Progressive elected officials in the United States can pose an important challenge to that authoritarian axis by building ties with their like-minded counterparts in parliaments and governments—possibilities include Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, among others. And progressive and leftist members of Congress will need to be able to work together with social movements to build public pressure for diplomatic initiatives not grounded in the interests of U.S. empire.

In addition to these broad principles, candidates and elected officials need critical analyses of current U.S. engagement around the world, as well as nuanced prescriptions for how to de-escalate militarily, and ramp up a new commitment to serious diplomacy.

GEOPOLITICAL POWER PLAYS

RUSSIA: Relations with Russia will be a major challenge for the foreseeable future. With 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in U.S. and Russian hands, and the two powers deploying military forces on opposite sides of active battlefronts in Syria, it is crucial that relations remain open—not least to derail potential escalations and ensure the ability to stand down from any accidental clash.

Progressives and leftists in Congress will need to promote a nuanced, careful approach to Russia policy. And they will face a daunting environment in which to do so. They will have to deal with loud cries from right-wing war-mongers, mainly Republicans, and from neo-con interventionists in both parties, demanding a one-sided anti-Russia policy focused on increased sanctions and potentially even military threats. But many moderate and liberal Democrats—and much of the media—are also joining the anti-Russia crusade. Some of those liberals and moderates have likely bought into the idea of American exceptionalism, accepting as legitimate or irrelevant the long history of U.S. election meddling around the world and viewing the Russian efforts as somehow reaching a whole different level of outrageousness. Others see the anti-Russia mobilization solely in the context of undermining Trump.

But at the same time, progressive Congress members should recognize that reports of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 and 2018 elections cannot be dismissed out of hand. They should continue to demand that more of the evidence be made public, and condemn the Russian meddling that has occurred, even while recognizing that the most serious threats to our elections come from voter suppression campaigns at home more than from Moscow. And they have to make clear that Trump’s opponents cannot be allowed to turn the president’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin into the basis for a new Cold War, simply to oppose Trump.

CHINA: The broad frame of a progressive approach should be to end Washington’s provocative military and economic moves and encourage deeper levels of diplomatic engagement. This means replacing military threats with diplomacy in response to Chinese moves in the South China Sea, as well as significant cuts in the ramped-up military ties with U.S. allies in the region, such as Vietnam. Progressive and socialist members of Congress and other elected officials will no doubt be aware that the rise of China’s economic dominance across Africa, and its increasing influence in parts of Latin America, could endanger the independence of countries in those parts of the Global South. But they will also need to recognize that any U.S. response to what looks like Chinese exploitation must be grounded in humility, acknowledging the long history of U.S. colonial and neocolonial domination throughout those same regions. Efforts to compete with Chinese economic assistance by increasing Washington’s own humanitarian and development aid should mean directing all funds through the UN, rather than through USAID or the Pentagon. That will make U.S. assistance far less likely to be perceived as—and to be—an entry point for exploitation.

NATO: A progressive position on NATO flies straight into the face of the partisan component of the anti-Trump resistance—the idea that if Trump is for it, we should be against it. For a host of bad reasons that have to do with personal enrichment and personal power, Trump sometimes takes positions that large parts of the U.S. and global anti-war and solidarity movements have long supported. One of those is NATO. During the Cold War, NATO was the European military face of U.S.-dominated Western anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, peace activists from around the world called for the dissolution of NATO as an anachronistic relic whose raison d’etre was now gone.

Instead, NATO used its 50th anniversary in 1999 to rebrand itself as defending a set of amorphous, ostensibly “Western” values such as democracy, rather than having any identifiable enemy—something like a military version of the EU, with the United States on board for clout. Unable to win UN Security Council support for war in Kosovo, the United States and its allies used NATO to provide so-called authorization for a major bombing campaign—in complete violation of international law—and began a rapid expansion of the NATO alliance right up to the borders of Russia. Anti-war forces across the world continued to rally around the call “No to NATO”—a call to dissolve the alliance altogether.

But when Trump, however falsely, claims to call for an end to the alliance, or shows disdain for NATO, anti-Trump politicians and media lead the way in embracing the military alliance as if it really did represent some version of human rights and international law. It doesn’t—and progressives in elected positions need to be willing to call out NATO as a militarized Cold War relic that shouldn’t be reconfigured to maintain U.S. domination in Europe or to mobilize against Russia or China or anyone else. It should be ended.

In fact, Trump’s claims to oppose NATO are belied by his actions. In his 2019 budget request he almost doubled the 2017 budget for the Pentagon’s “European Deterrence Initiative,” designed explicitly as a response to “threats from Russia.” There is a huge gap between Trump’s partisan base-pleasing condemnation of NATO and his administration’s actual support for strengthening the military alliance. That contradiction should make it easier for progressive candidates and officeholders to move to cut NATO funding and reduce its power—not because Trump is against NATO but because the military alliance serves as a dangerous provocation toward war.


THE WAR ON TERROR

What George W. Bush first called “the global war on terror” is still raging almost 17 years later, though with different forms of killing and different casualty counts. Today’s reliance on airstrikes, drone attacks and a few thousand special forces has replaced the hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied ground troops. And today hardly any U.S. troops are being killed, while civilian casualties are skyrocketing across the Middle East and Afghanistan. Officials from the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have repeated the mantra that “there is no military solution” in Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq or against terrorism, but their actions have belied those words. Progressive elected officials need to consistently remind the public and their counterparts that it is not possible to bomb terrorism out of existence. Bombs don’t hit “terrorism”; they hit cities, houses, wedding parties. And on those rare occasions when they hit the people actually named on the White House’s unaccountable kill list, or “terrorist” list, the impact often creates more terrorists.

The overall progressive policy on this question means campaigning for diplomatic solutions and strategies instead of military ones. That also means joining the ongoing congressional efforts led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and others  to challenge the continued reliance on the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

In general, privileging diplomatic over war strategies starts with withdrawing troops and halting the arms sales that flood the region with deadly weapons. Those weapons too often end up in the hands of killers on all sides, from bands of unaccountable militants to brutally repressive governments, with civilians paying the price. Congress members should demand an end of massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other U.S. allies carrying out brutal wars across the Middle East, and they should call for an end to the practice of arming non-state proxies who kill even more people. They should call for a U.S. arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Israel (which presents a whole other set of arms-related challenges), while urging Russia to stop its arms sales to Syria, Iran and Pakistan. Given the power of the arms industries in the United States, arms embargoes are the most difficult—but perhaps the most important—part of ending the expanding Middle East wars.

Progressives in Congress should demand real support for UN-sponsored and other international peace initiatives, staffing whole new diplomatic approaches whose goal is political solutions rather than military victories—and taking funds out of military budgets to cover the costs. The goal should be to end these endless wars—not try to “win” them.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The most important thing for candidates to know is that there has been a massive shift in public opinion in recent years. It is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel. Yes, AIPAC and the rest of the right-wing Jewish, pro-Israel lobbies remain influential and have a lot of money to throw around. (The Christian Zionist lobbies are powerful too, but there is less political difficulty for progressives to challenge them.) But there are massive shifts underway in U.S. Jewish public opinion on the conflict, and the lobbies cannot credibly claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole.

Outside the Jewish community, the shift is even more dramatic, and has become far more partisan: Uncritical support for Israel is now overwhelmingly a Republican position. Among Democrats, particularly young Democrats, support for Israel has fallen dramatically; among Republicans, support for Israel’s far-right government is sky-high. The shift is particularly noticeable among Democrats of color, where recognition of the parallels between Israeli oppression of Palestinians and the legacies of Jim Crow segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa is rising rapidly.

U.S. policy, unfortunately, has not kept up with that changing discourse. But modest gains are evident even there. When nearly 60 members of the House and Senate openly skipped Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech when he came to lobby Congress to vote against President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the sky didn’t fall. The snub to the Israeli prime minister was unprecedented, but no one lost their seat because of it. Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to protect Palestinian children from Israel’s vicious military juvenile detention system (the only one in the world) now has 29 co-sponsors, and the sky still isn’t falling. Members of Congress are responding more frequently to Israeli assaults on Gaza and the killing of protesters, often because of powerful movements among their constituents. When Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz acknowledged the divide: “While members of the Republican Party overwhelmingly expressed support for the move, Democrats were split between those who congratulated Trump for it and those who called it a dangerous and irresponsible action.”

That creates space for candidates and newly elected officials to respond to the growing portion of their constituencies that supports Palestinian rights. Over time, they must establish a rights-based policy. That means acknowledging that the quarter-century-long U.S.-orchestrated “peace process” based on the never-serious pursuit of a solution, has failed. Instead, left and progressive political leaders can advocate for a policy that turns over real control of diplomacy to the UN, ends support for Israeli apartheid and occupation, and instead supports a policy based on international law, human rights and equality for all, without privileging Jews or discriminating against non-Jews.

To progress from cautiously urging that Israel abide by international law, to issuing a full-scale call to end or at least reduce the $3.8 billion per year that Congress sends straight to the Israeli military, might take some time. In the meantime, progressive candidates must prioritize powerful statements condemning the massacre of unarmed protesters in Gaza and massive Israeli settlement expansion, demands for real accountability for Israeli violations of human rights and international law (including reducing U.S. support in response), and calls for an end to the longstanding U.S. protection that keeps Israel from being held accountable in the UN.

The right consistently accuses supporters of Palestinian rights of holding Israel to a double standard. Progressives in Congress should turn that claim around on them and insist that U.S. policy towards Israel—Washington’s closest ally in the region and the recipient of billions of dollars in military aid every year—hold Israel to exactly the same standards that we want the United States to apply to every other country: human rights, adherence to international law and equality for all.

Many supporters of the new crop of progressive candidates, and many activists in the movements they come out of, are supporters of the increasingly powerful, Palestinian-led BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, that aims to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel until it ends its violations of international law. This movement deserves credit for helping to mainstream key demands—to end the siege of Gaza and the killing of protesters, to support investigations of Israeli violations by the International Criminal Court, to oppose Israel’s new “nation-state’ law—that should all be on lawmakers’ immediate agenda.

AFGHANISTAN: More than 100,000 Afghans and 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in a U.S. war that has raged for almost 17 years. Not-Yet-President Trump called for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but within just a few months after taking office he agreed instead to send additional troops, even though earlier deployments of more than 100,000 U.S. troops (and thousands more coalition soldiers) could not win a military victory over the Taliban. Corruption in the U.S.-backed and -funded Afghan government remains sky-high, and in just the past three years, the Pentagon has lost track of how $3.1 billion of its Afghanistan funds were spent. About 15,000 US troops are still deployed, with no hope of a military victory for the United States.

Progressive members of Congress should demand a safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, acting on the long-held recognition that military force simply won’t work to bring about the political solution all sides claim to want.

Several pending bills also would reclaim the centrality of Congress’ role in authorizing war in general and in Afghanistan in particular—including ending the 2001 AUMF. Funding for humanitarian aid, refugee support, and in the future compensation and reparations for the massive destruction the U.S.-led war has wrought across the country, should all be on Congress’ agenda, understanding that such funding will almost certainly fail while U.S. troops are deployed.

IRAN: With U.S. and Iranian military forces facing each other in Syria, the potential for an unintentional escalation is sky-high. Even a truly accidental clash between a few Iranian and U.S. troops, or an Iranian anti-aircraft system mistakenly locking on to a U.S. warplane plane even if it didn’t fire, could have catastrophic consequences without immediate military-to-military and quick political echelon discussions to defuse the crisis. And with tensions very high, those ties are not routinely available. Relations became very dangerous when Trump withdrew the United States from the multi-lateral nuclear deal in May. (At that time, a strong majority of people in the United States favored the deal, and less than one in three wanted to pull out of it.)

The United States continues to escalate threats against Iran. It is sponsoring a growing regional anti-Iran alliance, with Israel and Saudi Arabia now publicly allied and pushing strongly for military action. And Trump has surrounded himself with war-mongers for his top advisers, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who have both supported regime change in Iran and urged military rather than diplomatic approaches to Iran.

Given all that, what progressive elected officials need to do is to keep fighting for diplomacy over war. That means challenging U.S. support for the anti-Iran alliance and opposing sanctions on Iran. It means developing direct ties with parliamentarians from the European and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, with the aim of collective opposition to new sanctions, re-legitimizing the nuclear deal in Washington and reestablishing diplomacy as the basis for U.S. relations with Iran.

It should also mean developing a congressional response to the weakening of international anti-nuclear norms caused by the pull-out from the Iran deal. That means not just supporting the nonproliferation goals of the Iran nuclear deal, but moving further towards real disarmament and ultimately the abolition of nuclear weapons. Progressives in and outside of Congress should make clear that nuclear nonproliferation (meaning no one else gets to have nukes) can’t work in the long run without nuclear disarmament (meaning that the existing nuclear weapons states have to give them up). That could start with a demand for full U.S. compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for negotiations leading to “nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”


SYRIA: Progressive candidates and elected officials should support policies designed to end, not “win” the war. That means withdrawing troops, ceasing airstrikes and drone attacks, and calling for an arms embargo on all sides of the multiple proxy war. The civil war component of the multiple wars in Syria is winding down as the regime consolidates its control, but the sectarian, regional and global components of that war have not disappeared, so continuing a call for an arms embargo is still important. The first step is to permanently end the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s “arm and train” policies that have prolonged the war and empowered some of its most dangerous actors.

There will also need to be negotiations between the regional and global actors that have been waging their own wars in Syria, wars that have little to do with Syria itself, but with Syrians doing the bulk of the dying. That means support for the UN’s and other internationally-sponsored de-escalation efforts, and serious engagement with Russia towards a permanent ceasefire, as well as the arms embargo. U.S. policy should include absolute prohibitions on Washington’s regional allies—including Saudi Arabia and Turkey—sending U.S.-provided arms into Syria. And progressive supporters of diplomacy should also maintain pressure on the United States to back multi-lateral diplomatic processes organized by the UN and others—on humanitarian issues in Geneva, and political issues in Astana. Cutting the United States’ multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Turkey and other U.S. allies involved in the Syrian wars would also lend legitimacy to U.S. efforts within those diplomatic processes to press Russia to stop providing arms to the Assad regime.

IRAQ: Congress has largely abrogated its responsibilities even as the 15-year war initiated by the United States continues. Progressive policymakers would do well to join the existing efforts to end—not replace, but cancel—the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, and reopen congressional debate, with the goal of ending funding for war in Iraq once and for all. When President Obama withdrew the last troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, stating that “war in Iraq ends this month,” many assumed that the authorization ended as well. But it was never officially repealed and had no expiration date, and three years later Obama claimed that the then-12-year-old authorization justified the war against ISIS in Iraq. While Trump has relied primarily on the 2001 AUMF, the Iraq-specific authorization of 2002 remains in place and should be withdrawn.

In the meantime, progressives in Congress should support many of the same policies for Iraq as for Syria: withdraw the troops and special forces, stop the assassination program that is the heart of Washington’s “counter-terrorism” campaign and cease sending arms. Congress should end funding to force the closure of the network of small “forward operating bases” and other U.S. military bases that may remain in U.S. hands in Iraq despite earlier agreements to turn them over to the Iraqi government. The U.S. must figure out new ways to provide financial compensation and support to the people whose country and society has been shredded by more than a dozen years of crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions bookended by two devastating wars (Desert Storm, starting in 1991, and the Iraq War, starting in 2003)—while somehow avoiding the further empowerment of corrupt and sectarian political and military leaders.

YEMEN AND SAUDI ARABIA: The ongoing Saudi-led war against Yemen reflects the most deadly front of Saudi Arabia’s competition with Iran for regional hegemony. The United States is providing indirect and direct support, including U.S. Air Force pilots providing in-air refueling so Saudi and UAE warplanes can bomb Yemen more efficiently, and Green Berets fighting alongside Saudi troops on the border, in what the New York Times called “a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.”

The U.S.-backed Saudi war against Yemen has also created what the UN has declared the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis. Congress’ first action must be to immediately end all U.S. involvement in the war. Next, Congress must reject all approvals for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as long as they continue to bomb and blockade Yemen.

Ending these arms sales may be a serious challenge, given the power of the arms manufacturers’ lobby, Israel’s strong support of Saudi Arabia against Iran and the fact that Saudi Arabia remains the top U.S. arms customer. But recent efforts and relatively close votes in both the House and Senate, while not successful, indicate that challenging the longstanding process of providing the Saudis with whatever weapons they want may be closer to reality than anticipated. The House called the U.S. military involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen “unauthorized.” Reps. Ro Khanna, Marc Pocan and others have introduced numerous House bills in recent months aimed at reducing U.S. arms sales and involvement in the Saudi-led assault. In the Senate, a March resolution to end U.S. military involvement in the Yemen war failed by only 11 votes, a much narrower margin than anticipated. Progressive candidates and new members of Congress should support all those efforts, and move further with a call for ending the longstanding U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, especially military sales and support for the Saudi-Israeli partnership against Iran.


A QUICK GLANCE AT SOME OTHER POLICY QUESTIONS

NORTH KOREA: Progressive elected officials will need to support Trump’s diplomatic initiatives, challenging mainstream Democrats willing to abandon diplomacy because Trump supports it (however tactically or temporarily). Progressives will also need to condemn U.S. military provocations that undermine that same diplomacy, and build public and congressional support for the inter-Korean diplomatic moves already underway. That should include pushing for exemptions in the U.S.-imposed sanctions that would allow inter-Korean economic and other initiatives to go forward. Progressives in Congress can also play a major role in supporting people-to-people diplomacy with North Korea, and they can lead the way in replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War.

AFRICA: Across the continent, there is an urgent need to reverse the militarization of foreign policy, including reducing the size, breadth of responsibilities and theater of operations of AFRICOM.  The wide-ranging but unauthorized and largely secretive special operations and other military actions across the continent violate not only international law, but U.S. domestic law as well.

LATIN AMERICA: In Latin America, there is an urgent need for a new anti-interventionist policy, not least to stop the current attempts to take advantage of serious domestic crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and elsewhere. Progressives will need to challenge the U.S. economic and foreign policies that create refugees from Central America in particular (including the consequences of the U.S. wars of the 1980s), even while fighting to protect those migrants seeking safety in the United States as a result of those earlier policies. Regarding Mexico, Congress needs to fight for a U.S. position in trade negotiations that is not based on economic nationalism, but rather on making sure that Mexican workers and U.S. workers are both equally lifted up. Left policymakers will also have the chance to play a leading role in forging a new relationship with Mexico’s just-elected progressive President Lopez-Obrador.

All of the areas where U.S. wars are or were underway, as well as places where U.S. economic and climate policies have helped create crises threatening people’s lives, also become areas from which migrants are forced to flee their homes. U.S. policymakers must acknowledge that U.S. policies are direct causes of the refugee crises that exist in and around the war zones and climate crisis zones of the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere—and that the refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and the far fewer trying to come to the United States, are a consequence of those policies. So progressive candidates and policymakers should support massive expansion of funding for these victims of war, including humanitarian support in their home regions and acceptance of far greater numbers of refugees into the United States. They must directly challenge the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration that include the Muslim Ban, the separation of children from their families at the border and the vast reduction in refugees accepted into this country. In Congress, that might include introducing bills to cut funding for ICE or eliminate the institution altogether.

Finally, progressive candidates and elected officials will need to continue to craft policy proposals that recognize what happens when the U.S. wars come home. This requires more voices in Congress challenging the military budget because it’s used to kill people abroad andbecause the money is needed for jobs, health care and education at home. It means challenging Islamophobia rising across the United States because of how it threatens Muslims in the United States and because it is used to build support for wars against predominantly Muslim countries. It means exposing—on the floor of the House and beyond—the fact that the Muslim bans targeted primarily countries the United States was bombing, sanctioning or stationing soldiers in. And it means being clear that protecting refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants has to include ending the wars that create refugees in the first place.

Certainly, we shouldn’t expect every progressive or even every socialist running for national office to become an instant expert on every complicated piece of U.S. foreign policy. And for those running for state and local office, there may seem to be even less urgency. But we’ve seen how the Poor People’s Campaign, with its inclusion of militarism and the war economy as one of its four central targets (along with racism, poverty and environmental destruction), has demonstrated to all of our movements the importance of—and a model for—including an anti-war focus within multi-issue state and local mobilizations. The Movement for Black Lives has created one of the strongest internationalist and anti-war platforms we’ve seen in years—including calls for cutting the military budget, supporting Palestinian rights, stopping the Global War on Terror and the so-called War on Drugs, ending the militarized U.S. interventions across Africa, and linking U.S. military and economic policies with the rise in Haitian and other—predominantly Black—immigration.

Immigrant rights activists are linking movements for sanctuary (and against ICE) with opposition to the wars that create refugees. Campaigns are underway to reject the training of U.S. police by Israeli police and military forces. Battles are being waged to get local law enforcement agencies to refuse Pentagon offers of weapons and equipment left over from U.S. wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These campaigns all play out at the local and state level.

So especially for those running for Congress, but really for all candidates at every political level and venue in this country, there is a clear need for a strong, principled position on at least a few key foreign policy issues. And the key to making that happen still lies with our movements.

PHYLLIS BENNIS is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (Interlink, 2015).

It’s Time For a Little Perspective On Russia

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on July 25, 2018 at 9:53 am
Current Affairs
Lyle, Jeremy Rubin, ,July 20, 2018

Any Russian interference is only a small part of the “election meddling” we should care about…

I think we are due for a little perspective on Russia.

I was trained at NSA headquarters as a signals intelligence officer in the Marines. This was about a decade ago, and I was by no means an area specialist. That said, I was privy to relevant briefs. At the time I learned that U.S. cyber operations in Russia, across Russia’s periphery, and around the world already dwarfed Russian operations in size, capability, and frequency. It wasn’t even close, and the expectation was that the gap was about to grow a whole lot wider.

This should hardly come as a surprise. Just compare the defense budgets of the United States and Russia. The president recently signed a gargantuan $700 billion gift to the Pentagon, with marginal dissent from either party or their affiliated media outlets. The budget increase alone ($61 billion) exceeds Russia’s entire annual expenditure ($46). The U.S. military budget now equals more than the combined budgets of China, Russia, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. As Vice concluded, “it’s 14 times larger than the Kremlin’s budget.”

Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.

Electoral meddling in particular happens all the time, both to us and by us. The U.S. government rigged the Russian election for Yeltsin in 1996, and then they bragged about it in a cover story for Time. (You can still find the cover online.) This followed the disastrous capitalist “shock therapy” of the early nineties and preceded the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Putin’s brand of nationalist resentment grew out of this moment of extreme collective humiliation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is happily on record pushing for the tampering of Palestinian elections in 2006.

As the political scientist Dov H. Levin has shown, between 1946 and 2000, the United States government conducted at least 81 electoral interventions in other countries, while Russia conducted at least 36. This does not include the U.S. government’s violent overthrow of dozens of governments during this same period, including democratic governments in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973). As recent as 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department played a complicit role in the brutal deposition of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya’s government in Honduras. No other country, including Russia, even approaches this level of wanton disregard for the norms of sovereignty. Around the world, organizations that the U.S. “fund[s], support[s] and direct[s] are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating U.S.-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede U.S. interests worldwide.” In 1999, President Clinton sent three advisers to Israel to try to swing the country’s elections for Ehud Barak. The New York Times reported that they were “writing advertisements, plotting strategy and taking polls” for the candidate. Imagine what the reaction would be if Putin had literally dispatched three top deputies to join the Trump campaign.

Of course, a few dozen wrongs don’t make a right, and the fact that U.S. outrage over Russian interference is comically hypocritical doesn’t make tampering with our elections unobjectionable. But anyone who sees the Russian activity as an antidemocratic outrage should be condemning the United States just as loudly, and treating the Russia story as some kind of unprecedented act of covert control is laughable.

That said, just because the United States leads the world in meddling of all kinds, that doesn’t mean we are immune to it. In fact, meddling from abroad comes in many forms. Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for numerous other repressive governments beyond the Gulf. And then there are the defense contractorsWall Street banks, and Silicon Valley behemoths, all of which have joined such governments in capturing intellectual real estate in academia as well.

Our politicians, of course, are being flooded with cash from foreign-related interests. Pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have bought themselves outsized influence in both parties, with Adelson successfully financing Trump’s rise to power and Saban effectively blocking Keith Ellison’s bid for Democratic National Committee chair. The Turkish lobby, likewise, continues to prove itself another bipartisan force, with everyone from former House leader Dick Gephardt to disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn being enlisted to secure Ankara prerogatives while whitewashing various crimes against the Armenians and Kurds. As for explicit electoral interference, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been implicated in foul play in the 2016 election. Same goes for Ukraine. Same goes for Israel in 2012. And these are just the instances so brazen that they have made their way into Wikipedia.

Lastly, our entire corporate media is owned and run by a global capitalist elite who could care less about us and our schoolkid patriotism. There are essentially fivemultinational corporations that now own the news media. This is down from six just a few years ago. In 1983 it was 50. This rapid consolidation is thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, itself a bipartisan bill purchased by the donor class. The few dozen billionaires with the largest shares in these companies are almost all white men. They are also almost all tied up in business investments around the globe. And almost all their investments bear zero regard for the needs or desires of Americans or non-Americans alike.

For Russian interference to be a threat to our democracy, we would have to have a democracy to begin with. But our elections are already so heavily manipulated by corporations and foreign governments that it’s hard to take seriously anyone who sees Russia as a singular threat to our system of government. The issue needs to be kept in perspective, and seen in the context of both our country’s own actions and the other, even greater, barriers that prevent us from having a true democracy that reflects the will of the people rather than corporate and government interests.

Look, by all means, let’s protect the integrity of our voting systems. As Seth Ackerman just counseled in Jacobin, let’s follow Europe’s lead in a practical, guarded response to Putin’s authoritarian machinations, free of hysteria. Let’s keep pushing for independent investigations into Trump, his team, and their possibly criminal involvement with the Russian government and other unsavory entities. Let’s hold them accountable accordingly. But let’s also stop swallowing state and corporate propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Let’s stop being blind to military-industrial stakesin escalating U.S.-Russia tensions in SyriaYemenIranUkraine, and the Russian periphery, never mind the cyber arena altogether. Let’s spend more time exposing the ways the conversation around Russia points to liberal and progressive acquiescence toward (one might say collusion with) imperialist narratives that only guarantee further death and destruction for poor and working people everywhere.

Beyond all that, let’s finally start doing the hard work of fleshing out a left foreign policy. Aziz Rana has an urgent piece in N+1 arguing that the left lacks a coherent approach to international affairs, and needs to spend its time articulating a clear response to the “bipartisan cold war ideology that has shaped American elite thinking since the 1940s, organized around the idea that the US rightly enjoys military and economic primacy because its interests are the world’s interests.” Rana lays out a set of principles that can guide the creation of an alternative approach and answer difficult practical questions like “If the US should not be the enforcer of Saudi and Israeli led dictates in the Middle East, what are alternative regional orderings?” and “What would demobilizing significant elements of the national security state look like?” We should do our best to make sure that everyone reads Rana’s piece, and faces up to the challenge he poses. Doing so will require us to be thoughtful and consistent, and to make sure that instead of following the corporate media’s lead on what to be outraged about, we work it out for ourselves and keep things in perspective.

The Left’s Missing Foreign Policy: On the pressing need, fifteen years after the Iraq invasion, for a non-imperial vision of the US and the world.

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on July 25, 2018 at 9:44 am

Aziz Rana, N+1

At the outset of the 2003 Iraq War, I caught up after some years with a friend and professor of mine, who had close links with the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment. He was dismayed by the turn of events, and not only because of the collective insanity that seemed to grip the Bush White House. Despite the massive global protests, a surprisingly large number of people within Washington and the Democratic Party’s think tanks and policy circles backed the invasion, sometimes tacitly, often explicitly. He described the run-up to the war as being like finding yourself in an Ionesco play, watching your friends turn into rhinoceroses.

Thinking about the fifteenth anniversary of “shock and awe” and reading left-liberal reflections on the war’s beginning, I couldn’t help but recall that old conversation. While retrospectives have pushed back against efforts to resuscitate Bush and sought to remind readers of the war’s human cost, few have paid attention to just why so many Democrats were swept along by the drift to war.

Figuring this out is all the more pressing because the same figures who supported the war continue to direct the foreign policy framework of the Democratic Party. In 2008 Obama distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton as an antiwar candidate, but once in office his administration and foreign policy team were staffed by pro-war faces and their protégés, from Clinton herself to Joe Biden and Samantha Power, along with many of the exact people my professor lamented all the way back in 2003. And, as has been noted, Obama’s staffing decisions led to policies shaped by the same faulty logic that produced Iraq—the most obvious example being the American-led regime change in Libya, on supposedly humanitarian grounds, that left tens of thousands dead, with lingering devastation that continues to drive an enormous exodus of refugees.

Trump’s links to Russia have reenergized such national security voices. James Clapper, who lied to Congress about the warrantless surveillance programs he oversaw under Obama, now rails against Trump, calling him a “Russian asset.” He has gone from Snowden-era villain to liberal darling, enjoying a seemingly nightly perch on cable news as a purveyor of “reasonable” foreign policy and “true” patriotism.

For the first time in decades, recent leftist movements like Black Lives Matter or the  Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have pushed a critique of American imperialism out of the shadows and into the mainstream of political debate. But when it comes to the Beltway and to who, even now, would likely staff any future Democratic administration, there has never been a reckoning with this past.

This is partly due to the easy amnesia of the complicit: if everyone in the same milieu made the same mistake, your own error cannot be that objectionable. And for Biden and the war’s most vigorous Democratic defenders, the blame can always be laid at Bush’s feet—the war failed because of his incompetence rather than its inherent flaws. But the more surprising reason for a lack of reckoning may be that the new social democratic wing of the Democrats has yet to offer a comprehensive alternative on foreign policy. If a centrist candidate now opposes “Medicare for All,” there is clear blowback because of the way social democratic forces within the party have made economic populism a litmus test. But no equivalent exists when it comes to foreign policy—not even the general anti-intervention sentiments that defined the 2008 election. After eight years of Obama’s wars, the only policy positions in the Democratic Party continue to be those presented by the same national security establishment that acquiesced to the Iraq invasion.


Fifteen years later, the lessons of the Iraq War have still not been learned because the war was no accident, no random deviation from principle—it was the fulfillment of the worldview that has undergirded the Democratic Party’s foreign policy for decades. This is the bipartisan cold war ideology that has shaped American elite thinking since the 1940s, organized around the idea that the US rightly enjoys military and economic primacy because its interests are the world’s interests.1 On this view, the US has a right to intervene wherever and whenever anyone threatens to undermine the American-led liberal and capitalist global order. Moreover, precisely because American power is exceptional, the US—unlike other states—can legitimately move in and out of international legal constraints in the name of securing this overarching order.

In 2003, this shared ideology had a profound effect on the terms of internal Democratic Party debate. Even for those opposed to the war, the disagreement was limited to pragmatics. Both the Bush Administration and Democrats in general took as given the inherent goodness of American imperial power. For Biden as much as for Paul Wolfowitz, the security state’s violent means were legitimate ways to pursue universal human rights imperatives. This perspective was evident in Bill Clinton’s unilateral strikes in Sudan and Kosovo, his talk of the need for isolating and issuing sanctions against “rogue states,” his selective enforcement of or withdrawal from international agreements—all defended by the Democratic foreign policy establishment on the grounds that the US had a special role to play in maintaining the global order.

Bush-era neoconservatives simply appropriated the bipartisan playbook of their predecessors: whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein had to be toppled for the preservation of pax Americana. At the time, the Democratic response was a fractured one. Some officials and experts like Wesley Clark (the “doves”) questioned whether the US would indeed be greeted as “liberators” and doubted that the war would spur a liberalizing domino effect in the region. They would eventually repeat Colin Powell’s well-worn phrase “you break it, you own it.” Others, from human rights idealists to grizzled security “hawks,” concluded that though Bush and company might be odious removing a rogue actor was an inherently worthy American enterprise. Along with Clinton, Biden, and Power, this list was long, including everyone from Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman on the op-ed pages (especially in the New York Times, which for all its present-day status as Trump antagonist was practically the official organ of the war effort), to George Packer and Peter Beinart in the liberal magazines (may the records of the New Yorker and the New Republic on Iraq forever live in infamy) to Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid in Congress. What no one in the Democratic establishment questioned was the legitimacy of the larger vision that made such a folly seem reasonable—the necessity of American international police power.

Today, on right and left, that past cold war consensus has cracked. While Trump doubts whether there is much of an ethical distinction between the US and Russia, activists on the left have no trouble rejecting both capitalism and empire. What is desperately needed now is a fully developed non-imperial articulation of American foreign policy—one that could challenge the Democratic Party establishment in the same way that Sanders’s call for “Medicare for All” has done.

What would such an approach look like?  It would oppose American international police power—the presumptive right of intervention—and refuse to treat any community as an instrument in the service of state security ends. What follows are a non-exhaustive and initial set of principles.

The first is a global commitment to social democracy rather than free market capitalism (as embodied in austerity, neoliberal privatization, and trade agreements built on entrenching corporate property rights). When Trump attacks Merkel or questions the financial utility of NATO, the response among most democratic elites has been to wax poetic about the wisdom of the postwar order, no matter how much violence maintaining that order actually wrought throughout the world. Essentially, the options available seem to be Trump’s bellicose and dangerous ethno-nationalism or an old and failed cold war imperialism, backed by market dictates. But one might rightly question the austerity German leadership has imposed on Europe, or look to post-Soviet NATO expansion as over time promoting a tense and militarized relationship with Russia, one that has actually strengthened the hand of ethno-nationalist autocrats like Putin.

A necessary corollary of global social democracy is demilitarization. For Havel and Gorbachev after the fall of the Soviet Union, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact were outdated Cold War holdovers. The hope was to create new and inclusive multilateral regional and international institutions, premised on mutual disarmament and shared decision-making. But given their commitment to American hegemony, this was not the path that Republican and Democratic officials pursued. And as the US instead promoted privatization and the starving of state institutions in Europe and elsewhere, policies like NATO expansion funneled money yet again back into defense. Any left foreign policy would have to conceive of how to invert these trends—investing in social welfare and pushing back against military intensification. The ultimate goal should be some version of Havel’s and Gorbachev’s old ambition—a demilitarized and multilateral order—but getting from here to there will be much harder than it would have been in the early 1990s.

“Do no harm” would be another key principle. The impulse of the Democratic establishment is to see force (from boots on the ground to drone strikes to sanctions) as the go-to method of responding to perceived threats or humanitarian instability. Just as with Iraq, doing “something” often means using force, and the only choice is either confrontation or appeasement. Not only does this involve a systematic devaluing of diplomacy—something that despite the success of the Iran nuclear negotiations has been receding in both parties for decades—but it also ignores the extent to which the story of American international police power has been to generate even more violence and disorder. A non-imperial approach would instead begin with caution and skepticism. Its question would not be “What red lines will lead to US military intervention?” but “What are the likely effects of using coercive power—from sanctions to actual troops—and to what extent would such force add to the human cost?” Crucially, this principle would need to be be applied not only to direct US behavior but to those of presumptive allies, like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.

Such an approach would inevitably buttress a commitment to local self-determination and to legal self-constraint. With respect to the former, it would put into question the existing regional orderings that the US has for so long maintained with treasure and force of arms—including the current terms of the US–Israel relationship, whose rippling effects cannot simply be ignored. And with respect to the latter, it is impossible to take seriously a principle of “do no harm” when government actors enjoy absolute impunity for their own violence and are never held legally responsible—criminally or otherwise. In fact, the condition for the return of individuals like Trump’s new CIA director Gina Haspel, who oversaw torture, to the heights of power, is the longstanding and bipartisan tendency to treat domestic and international legal limits on national security as non-binding—to be avoided when necessary.

Finally, neither global social democracy nor an emphasis on “do no harm” are possible without a systematic transformation of the national security apparatus. The security state has fed American interventionism, criminalized dissent, and placed immigrant and Muslim communities under constant suspicion through institutions ranging from ICE to the FBI to the National Security Agency—a tendency that has grown under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and that Trump’s white nationalism has only further weaponized. The new social-democratic wing of the Democratic Party has been best at challenging this element of American policy, but more needs to be done. What should a left Administration do with the NSA? If the Department of Homeland Security is eliminated, how will immigration and security policy be implemented? And what will the ends of such policy be? These are the questions such principles seek to address—and they are only a start.


So far the first attempts to begin this conversation have been filtered through debates about Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. The Russia investigation is important—Americans should know if and how a foreign country sought to shape public opinion, and Trump and his cronies should be held accountable for whatever crimes (especially financial) they have committed. But the investigation has also amounted to a public rehabilitation tour for the national security establishment, from Clapper to Republican leaders of the FBI like Robert Mueller and James Comey to hawkish defenders of the war on terror in places like Lawfare. (Reading the New Yorker or watching MSNBC, one would be hard pressed to recall that Mueller—presented as the dashing and upright face of law and order—is the same man that ran the FBI after 9/11, the period when the bureau rounded up thousands of Muslims without cause. Mueller was a named defendant when many of those same wrongly detained individuals sued the government over their prison beatings and abuse.)

On television and in the press, these figures have been digging deep into the well of cold war rhetoric and belligerency as a way of reasserting an old and broken status quo, in no small part because it is all they ultimately have to offer. This is not 1948 or 1989, and such nostalgia cannot put the now fractured ideology of the cold war back together. Simply claiming that Russia embodies the external threat and ideological antagonist of the old Soviet Union does not make it so. And the great danger of this tendency is that nostalgia will produce yet more failed foreign policy whenever the Democrats next gain power.

To avoid this outcome, elected Democrats of the emerging social-democratic wing of the party must be forced to work out an authentically new foreign policy. The failure to do so had been one of the profound, systematic weaknesses of social democratic politics in the US since the early days of the cold war—and the next few years may prove to be a rare opportunity to make a different approach a serious contender in American politics.

The root of the problem has been the false belief that a hard separation exists between the foreign and the domestic. In the 1950s, American labor leaders accepted a cold war compromise that preserved their own hard-won victories while leaving to the state the right to direct foreign policy as it saw fit. But that foreign policy, built around pro-business market goals and continuous military intervention, intruded into the domestic sphere, whether through catastrophic events like the Vietnam War or by expanding corporate rights in ways that undermined the global position of labor. Taken together, these polices propelled precisely the cycle of conservative retrenchment and privatization that ate away at labor successes in the US. As everyone from Eugene Debs to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis have known, you cannot sustain freedom at home in a global context shaped by militarism, racialized conflict, and corporate power. A non-imperial orientation to the world is essential because it is the water within which domestic social democracy swims. One can see Sanders’s failure in 2016 to link his economic agenda together with a complementary foreign policy as part of why it has been so hard for many Trump-hating voters to resist the rehabilitation of Trump’s personal antagonists like Mueller or Bush-era warmongers such as David Frum—men whose primary sins do not concern Wall Street, but instead their complicity in the violence of the security state.

It is essential that the left develop an actual institutional infrastructure, whether in think tanks or universities, unions or churches, to work out a new coherent foreign policy. But, even before that, what is required in the immediate term is for activists to demand answers from social democratic politicians in the party. There are an array of issues that the security establishment has an approach to and the left, therefore, needs its own countervailing response: Can NATO in some revised form be repurposed to serve Havel’s and Gorbachev’s old hope, or does the US need new multilateral and regional arrangements?  How should the US oppose EU austerity and in what ways can the US align with social democratic forces in Europe? If the US should not be the enforcer of Saudi and Israeli led dictates in the Middle East, what are alternative regional orderings? And how should China’s emergence as a dominant economic and political force be conceived? More pointedly, what would demobilizing significant elements of the national security state (alongside the demobilization of the carceral state) look like? If post-9/11 institutions like Homeland Security must go, what about their more established cold war predecessors like the CIA? As new centers of power develop within the party, whether Our Revolution or Reverend Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, the resurgent DSA or the many offshoots of BLM, they must make clear that they cannot back national politicians without non-imperial and genuinely left answers to these kinds of questions. Otherwise, we will inevitably replay one of the critical outcomes of the Iraq War, where the antiwar Democratic candidate simply turned foreign policy over to the very people his victory was meant to repudiate.