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Trump’s Defense Spending Is Out of Control, and Poised to Get Worse

In Cost, Environment, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on November 20, 2018 at 8:26 am

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

18 November 18

Using a time-honored trick, a bipartisan congressional panel argues we should boost the president’s record defense bill even more

 

bipartisan commission has determined that President Trump’s recent record defense bill is insufficiently massive to keep America safe, and we should spend more, while cutting “entitlements.”

The National Defense Strategy Commission concluded the Department of Defense was too focused on “efficiency” and needed to accept “greater cost and risk” to search for “leap-ahead technologies” to help the U.S. maintain superiority.

The panel added that Defense is “not where most of the money is.” It said Congress should be focused on “domestic entitlement programs” and “interest payments on the national debt” as sources of savings.

The report even contains a graph that shows defense spending crawling sadly along the floor of the spending X-axis as mighty mandatory “entitlements” soar to great heights.

This is the same Department of Defense with a serious existing accounting problem. In 2016, before Trump was elected, its Inspector General said he could not properly track $6.5 trillion in defense spending. A later academic study claimed the number was $21 trillion, looking at the years 1998-2015.

Trump originally asked for over $730 billion in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2019, and last spring a budget setting spending at $716 billion passed 85-10 in the Senate. This would have meant an $82 billion spending hike, an increase that by itself was larger than the entire defense budget of every country on earth, save China.

Trump later called for an across-the-board budget cut of 5 percent, leaving the amount of the defense budget in confusion. He still claims he wants $700 billion. Whatever the final amount turns out to be, it will be massive — about 10 times the size of Russia’s defense budget, and four times the size of China’s.

The National Defense Strategy Commission was created as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s section 942 in this bill, and it requires that the majority and minority committee chiefs for Armed Services in both the House and the Senate to each name three people to the panel.

Eric Edelman, who was the senior policy official in the Defense Department from 2005-2009, chairs the panel. The co-chair, appointed by Democrat Adam Smith of Washington, is Admiral Gary Roughead, who was named chief of Naval operations in 2007 and now sits on the board of Northrup Grumman.

Other members include Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, who heads a defense consulting firm called Solarium and once authored a Foreign Policy article called How To Win in Iraq that called for a “protracted commitment of U.S. resources” in the Middle East (this was a precursor to the “surge” concept). Former acting head of the CIA Michael Morell is one of the Democratic appointees.

To recap: While spending record sums on a defense bill, Congress allocated still more money to a panel of current and former defense specialists whose purpose seems to have been to write a report asking for more money.

We regularly hear that our weapons systems are old, outdated and placing troops in harm’s way. It’s an ancient political device and it usually works.

Ronald Reagan was a master at this. In 1983, Reagan was giving speeches about how our last new nuclear missile system, the Minuteman, had been designed in 1969. Meanwhile, the Soviets since then had built five new classes and “upgraded five times.”

This appeal to national consumerist shame — we can’t be seen in public driving something old! ­— is effective. On a policy level, such appeals are usually couched in terms of needing to make American “hard power” a more “credible” foreign policy tool.

Any sober assessment of the challenges faced by the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union would have stressed human intelligence and data security at the expense of World War II-style arsenals designed to fight conventional wars. Aircraft carriers aren’t much help against terrorism or cyber-attacks.

But the companies that build ships and subs and fighter jets have huge lobbies in D.C., and the congressional pork system significantly revolves around defense allocations.

So instead of looking honestly at where we do and do not need to spend, the military mostly looks at existing weapons systems — even ones that work pretty well — and focuses on how long it’s been since we unveiled jazzy re-designs. That allows the endless cycle of patronage and political contributions to stay in place.

This is why we continue to spend on projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an infamous boondoggle that projects to cost over a trillion dollars over the life of the program. Even our president could see through it, once. Shortly after his election, Trump blasted the F-35 program as “out of control” and promised to save “billions” on it.

Then Trump met with Lockheed Martin chief executive Marilyn Hewson, and the president appeared to warm to the F-35. Among other things, he seems to believe “stealth” means the plane is literally invisible:

TRUMP: We buy billions and billions dollars worth of that beautiful F-35. It’s stealth, you cannot see it. Is that correct?

HEWSON: That’s correct, Mr. President.

Before long, Trump was speaking of the weapon in almost erotic, Conan The Barbarian-esque tones:

Now when our enemies hear the F-35’s engines, when they’re roaring overhead, their souls will tremble and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived.

Politicians inevitably fall in love with weapons and weapons-makers. They tend to have less interaction with the people we’re blowing up overseas, or with those who just want us to spend relatively more on schools and medicine. The Pentagon has a powerful lobby; the anti-Pentagon, not so much.

Along with jet fighters, the U.S. is spending a fortune trying to upgrade its aircraft carrier fleet. Trump is adding ships like the unfortunately named U.S.S. Gerald Ford.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, the Ford now projects to cost $12.9 billion, or about 25 percent above original estimates. Moreover, because it is replacing the proven technology of “steam catapults” with a new, glitchy “digital catapult,” it may take a while before the Ford class even matches the capability of the existing Nimitz carriers.

There have been arguments over the years that new developments in long-range anti-ship missiles would expose the carrier’s main weakness: it can be sunk rather quickly in modern warfare.

Which means we may find out just minutes into the next conventional war — if, God forbid, we ever have one — that we spent billions making obsolete forms of weaponry pillars of our defense strategy. But sure, free college tuition is a fairy tale.

Some other questions to consider: What has been the return on the trillions of dollars we’ve spent on wars around the globe since 9/11? Were those 480,000 deaths worth it? Why are we spending buckets of cash on questionable new weapons systems while leaving the VA system in disrepair?

Instead of any of these more sensible questions, which tend to come from academia or activist groups, the headlines in the larger press tend to focus on Reagan-esque themes of loss and decay.

The Hill’s headline about the report: “Defense strategy report warns of grave erosion in U.S. Military Superiority.” The Washington Post: “U.S. Military has eroded to ‘a dangerous degree,’ study for congress finds.’”

CNN was starker: “Experts warn U.S. at risk of losing war with China or Russia.”

The Pentagon doesn’t just spend money; it spends a lot of money asking for more money. And it has many friends in politics and the media to help them along. Its people may not be great at preparing for the next war, but, they know how to keep their budgets high, and they’re at it again.

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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

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.”

Why the World is Unravelling: What Happens When People Find Out Capitalism Was a Lie?

In Democracy, Justice, Politics on October 29, 2018 at 11:42 pm

Umair Haque, Oct. 2018, Eudaimonia & Co.

It’s hardly just America. In Canada, two provinces have fallen to extremism. In Britain, there is the spectacular folly of Brexit. In Germany, neo-Nazis are on the rise. Poland, Hungary, Italy, Turkey — the list is endless. The world is destabilizing, fracturing, unravelling, coming undone. Why? And what does the future hold?

The truth, my friends, may be grimmer — and yet a little more hopeful, in a strange and funny way — than you might think. Let me start at the beginning.

For the last few decades, the world has been held together with a lie. The lie that held the world together was capitalism. Like all lies, it was a tenuous thing, made of duct tape and string, dreams and prayers. The lie, which emerged after the great war, allowed liberals and conservatives to reach an uneasy peace — a temporary truce in the battles that they have been fighting for centuries, now, and imagine that it would it last forever.

Liberals pretended to believe that capitalism would make everyone better off — everyone, everywhere, always, period. They still do — even while life expectancy falls in the two most capitalist countries of all, the US and UK — capitalism is a theology now, an an article of faith, not a principle subject to reason. So for liberals, capitalism came to replace all aspects, more or less, of previous thought — thinking about progress. What was the answer to the great question of freedom? Capitalism. What about the one of justice? Capitalism! And what about equality? Why, capitalism. It was a lobotomy, of a kind — but it was also the alpha and omega, the totem and the shrine. All this came to be called neoliberalism, of course, which in a way hides the point: capitalism as the answer to every single concern of human existence, from moral to political to social to of course economic, was how liberals of an age reconciled with conservatives.

Conservatives, on the other hand, pretended to believe that capitalism would create something like a hierarchy of virtue. They have always been primarily interested in power and control, superiority and inferiority, in some people being masters, and others being slaves — and so their end of the compromise was imagining that capitalism would allow hierarchy to operate. Only this hierarchy would be one of the truly virtuous — the most resolute, the most honest, the most courageous, the wisest: all these would be the winners of capitalism. Of course, such people were what were once called “noble”, too — and so conservatism’s compromise was that capitalism would preserve yesterday’s tribal hierarchies — men over women, white over black, strong over weak, moneyed over poor — only by another name. We’d call them corporations or hedge funds or law firms — but their function and purpose would be just the same as it ever was.

Now, this strange, weird compromise — how could it ever really come to be true? How could people have better lives — but still be bound by the same old stifling hierarchies, which exploited and abused them? How could life improve for all — but only the virtuous and noble win? Why would capitalism bother to enrich anyone but capitalists, let alone give people a sense of meaning, purpose, belonging, and truth — when none of those things matter to it whatsoever? You have to go through severe contortions of thought — which would later be called American economics — to pretend all of that can be true. Touch it, and it falls apart.

This calculated, self-interested bargain between liberals and conservatives, which came to be called capitalism, could never realize itself as true. It was always a lie — and perhaps for that reason, it seems, no one thought very hard about the truth of it much at all. Don’t believe me? OK. Fast forward a few decades. Did capitalism make good on this bargain — of improving everyone’s life, while creating a hierarchy of the just and noble? LOL — of course not. It has done precisely the opposite.

Let us take America as the canonical example. The average American lives paycheck to paycheck, unable to muster $1000 for an emergency, perched right at the edge of perpetual ruin. One lost job, one unpaid bill, one step away from disaster — falling into homelessness, impoverishment, and disgrace, which can easily last a lifetime. And he lives that way until his dying day — because he will never retire.Is that because he is not virtuous and noble? Because he is sinful and lazy, indolent and slothful? Of course not. He works longer and harder hours than his parents and grandparents — and yet in real terms, he earns less, saves less, and is more indebted.

But to whom is he indebted? To the virtuous and noble, who are the winners of capitalism? Of course not. He is indebted to the winners of capitalism, that much is true — but they are vicious predators. They are the ones who raise the prices of life-savings drugs by thousands to profiteer upon his grief, who make him crowd fund insulin, who sell his kids bulletproof backpacks, who deny him the basics of a decent life, whether retirement, a pension, healthcare, or dignity. Capitalism exploit and uses him like he is an animal — he is not a human thing to it at all. It is no great surprise, then, that he has given up on capitalism — but what is he turning to instead? Fascism, authoritarianism, and extremism.

The lie that was capitalism, in truth, produced just the opposite of what it promised people. The prole never became a capitalist. The capitalist never became a civilized and democratic person. Everyone did not have a better life. Worst of all, the winners were not the noble and just. They were, and are, the indecent and obscene, the disgraceful and the predatory — the Trumps of the world. Hence, quite naturally, there are fewer and fewer people who believe in the foolish and childish lie of capitalism anymore. Now, once upon a time, before the great war, that would have been cause for rejoicing. “The glorious socialist revolution is here, now that capitalism is falling!!” cried the Marxist-Leninists. But they were wrong. The last time capitalism fell, it produced fascism, genocide, ruin, and world war, before it produced social democracy. And that is what is happening all over again, now too. Those who are falling, but expected to rise, are taking what they were told was rightfully theirs by force, because they cannot have it through consent.

Hence, as capitalism is revealed to be a lie, the temporary truce between liberals and conservatives is shattering with implosive force — and the same old war between them is breaking out. Because capitalism was the lie which was the common ground between them — liberals imagining a meritocratic utopia, conservatives imagining an aristocracy of the wise and true, both sides lost in their delusions — and now the lie has been revealed to be just that, how are these two sides to compromise now? The ground between them has fallen into the sea, and there they stand, on opposite continents, raising their fists at one another, in just the same old ways that they ever have.

So now that capitalism is dying — and it is a good thing it is dying — the problem is that the world is breaking down with it. Liberals and conservatives cannot agree anymore on the basic definitions of the fundamental things of society and political economy — without the now obviously false principles of capitalism (exploitation is wonderful, the rich are kind and wise, everyone must only ever rely on themselves, and so on) to give them a false common ground. What is freedom to a conservative? It is the right to dominate others, to stand above them, to abuse them, to punish them. What is freedom to people who reject such extremism? It is something more like the chance to realize one’s self. What is fairness to a conservative? It is being entitled to the superiority that comes with belonging to the dominant tribe. What is fairness to a person who rejects such tribalism? It is a society in which tribalism is not dominant.

Do you see how the basic definitions of the fundamental elements of political economy are now irreconcilable between conservatives and liberals? How one complete excludes and negates the other? But therefore, compromise between liberals and conservatives isn’t possible either — but that is exactly why both sides have been at war for centuries, because that is what has historically been the case — only recently did they agree on the truce of capitalism. And yet in a world where capitalism has been found out to be a lie — but the lie what just barely held the world together — the problem is then the world must come undone, too.

We are in a time when the following things are true. When the definition of freedom to a conservative is the privilege to abuse and prey on the less powerful with impunity, but the definition of freedom to a liberal is the end of just such privileges and such impunities. When the definition of fairness to a conservative is the right to deny others personhood, but the definition of fairness to a liberal is to expand it. When the meaning of equality to a conservative is my inherent superiority over you, but the meaning of equality to a liberal is inherent worth in all. When the idea of justice to a conservative is the rule of the strong over the weak, but the idea of justice to a liberal is shielding the vulnerable from just such a rule.

But these things have always been true — it was only the lie of capitalism which let us pretend there was a compromise, a reconciliation between them. Without the lie of capitalism to reconcile us together with happy illusions, we are reverting to a time when the fundamental, basic, naked, stark — and age-old — divisions between left and right are re-emerging and resurfacing. But now they are irreconcilable, too — because there is no lie left to pretend they can be glued together.

And so we are entering an age of disintegration. Because there is nothing gluing them together anymore, no lie left to pretend left and right can happily, peacefully live together, we are probably going into a time when societies simply break apart and shatter. If liberals (and I don’t mean neoliberal, I mean anyone from the center to the left) and conservatives can’t compromise anymore — if the fundamental, basic, elemental differences between them are irreconcilable all over again, as they always were — then they can’t live together, either. We already see the glimmerings of such a thing in many, many places. The EU threatened on all sides, which began with Brexit, which, ironically, will break up the UK. America exists at this point as a nation held together by the illusion of democracy. Quebec’s new nationalists — not democrats, like the old ones, but something more like tribalists. Fracture is rising, my friends.

So by age of disintegration, I mean a time of separationism, secessionism, breakup, fracture. Such an era will bring with it all kinds of upheaval, of course. Everything from peaceful departure to violent civil war. You can judge for yourself which one is likely in your society. I want to make the general point a little clearer.

We cannot seem to live together anymore now — the two sorts of people we are. Those who wish to be truly free, equal, and civilized — and those wish to be compete and strive in hierarchies of abuse and predation for status, power, and control. And the plain truth is this. We never could at all. Capitalism was an uncomfortable and clumsy lie — one that, in the end, brought us no closer together than we ever were.

Some of us remain tribalists, fascists, authoritarians — bigots, flunkies, bullies, abusers, climbing ladders of predation. Some of us wish to be free of just such people — to have nothing whatsoever to do with them, because they are beneath contempt. But the problem we have found out today is that no matter how those of who wish to be free of such people have tried to teach them any better, they have not grown or matured one inch. They are just the same as they always were. Democracies, in other words, have failed to civilize the predatory among them — no matter how hard they have tried. The ratio of these two sorts of people has not wavered one iota, it appears. What possibility then, is there, for coexistence between them?

Democracy, after all, is premised on a kind of myth: that we can educate everyone into being a democrat, into desiring equality over superiority, into cherishing liberation over predation, into prizing the public good over self interest. But can we? We have failed at just that. The lie of capitalism hid all this from us, for a few decades. But here we are — back at history’s ugliest truth.

What this age has really taught us then, is this: the two kinds of people we are cannot live together. Democracy is a failed experiment — because there are those of us who will reject it and refuse it, no matter how much or hard or by what means they are taught, educated, instructed, trained, nurtured to want, cherish, prize, and desire it. Therefore, democracy can only be preserved by rejecting and refusing such people. But that means societies as we know them are also coming to a swift and sudden end.

This war, between those who wish to live in tribes of predators, and those who wish to be truly free, equal, and sovereign, has always been fought — it is the oldest one of all. Perhaps though, in coming decades, we will see it finally resolved. Why should people with such different attitudes want to live together at all — if this age has finally revealed the futility of such an idea? Humanity is learning, perhaps, to let this foolish idea go.

Capitalism is the lie that broke the world. And yet the promise of this age, then, if you ask me, is a better kind of freedom. It is wiser for societies to break up, and jettison, at last the strange illusion, conjured by capitalism, that civilized people can coexist with people who do not want to coexist at all. Democracy can only be preserved among the democratic. And therefore by them, too. So let the abusers and tribalists and predators have their tribes — and let those of who wish to genuinely free, equal, and true have our democracies. History has already taught us which side will triumph, hasn’t it?

New U.S. Weapons Systems Are a Hackers’ Bonanza

In Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 12, 2018 at 7:06 am
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad

WASHINGTON — Authorized hackers were quickly able to seize control of weapons systems being acquired by the American military in a test of the Pentagon’s digital vulnerabilities, according to a new and blistering government review.

The report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that many of the weapons, or the systems that control them, could be neutralized within hours. In many cases, the military teams developing or testing the systems were oblivious to the hacking.

A public version of the study, published on Tuesday, deleted all names and descriptions of which systems were attacked so the report could be published without tipping off American adversaries about the vulnerabilities. Congress is receiving the classified version of the report, which specifies which among the $1.6 trillion in weapons systems that the Pentagon is acquiring from defense contractors were affected.

But even the declassified review painted a terrifying picture of weaknesses in a range of emerging weapons, from new generations of missiles and aircraft to prototypes of new delivery systems for nuclear weapons.

“In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals,” the report said. “They could see, in real time, what the operators were seeing on their screens and could manipulate the system” — a technique reminiscent of what Russian hackers did to a Ukrainian power grid two years ago.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, described “red team” hackers who were pitted against cyberdefenders at the Pentagon. The tested weapons were among a total of 86 weapons systems under development; many were penetrated either through easy-to-crack passwords, or because they had few protections against “insiders” working on elements of the programs.

Sometimes the testing teams toyed with their Pentagon targets. One team “reported that they caused a pop-up message to appear on users’ terminals instructing them to insert two quarters to continue operating.”

The searing assessment comes after years of warnings about the vulnerabilities of the military systems — some of which the Government Accountability Office said were ignored — and just as President Trump gives American commanders more flexibility to deploy cyberweapons without obtaining presidential approval.

It also suggests that the United States is vulnerable to cyberattacks when it seeks to disable enemy systems

The New York Times reported last year that former President Barack Obama had ordered accelerated cyberattacks on North Korea’s missile systems starting in 2014 — around the time, the report said, that the Pentagon belatedly began waking up to the holes in its own systems.

In recent years, the Pentagon has begun to install “intrusion alarms” to warn weapons operators of signs of attacks. But the Government Accountability Office suggested that those alarms were about as effective as car alarms going off on the streets of New York: an event so common that everyone assumed it was a false alarm.

“Intrusion detection systems correctly identified test team activities,” the report said. But, it added, the system “was always ‘red’” and “warnings were so common that operators were desensitized to them.”

The congressional auditors called their findings the first time they have examined vulnerabilities of major weapon systems that the federal government is acquiring.

That issue has become more urgent over the past decades. Older weapons used by the Pentagon, some dating to before the Vietnam War, were minimally dependent on computers or networks, making them naturally resistant to hacking.

As the report made clear — and as admirals and generals have been discussing for years — the move to update systems introduces new vulnerabilities.

“Today’s weapon systems are heavily computerized, which opens more attack opportunities for adversaries,” the review said.

It also found that the “increasingly computerized and networked nature” of the systems was not the only problem; so was the Defense Department’s “past failure to prioritize weapon systems cybersecurity.”

Compounding the problem are the millions of lines of software that are buried in parts and subsystems, creating vulnerabilities that weapons designers and contractors often do not fully grasp.

“Weapon systems have a wide variety of interfaces, some of which are not obvious, that could be used as pathways for adversaries to access the systems,” the study concluded.

Similar warnings have been sounded since 2013, when the government’s Defense Science Board raised the potential that sophisticated adversaries, led by Russia and China, would use cyberweapons to neutralize weapons systems even before battle.

In the five years since, the Pentagon has been reluctant to discuss the subject beyond vague generalities, insisting that any public airing of the issue would only invite attacks.

Included in the Government Accountability Office’s survey of vulnerabilities were submarines, missiles, cargo rockets, radars, fighter jets, refueling tankers, aircraft carriers, destroyers, satellites, helicopters and electronic jammers.

In interviews, office officials said the acquisition programs under review included two of the three major classes of nuclear-weapons delivery systems: the Columbia-class submarine and the replacement for the nation’s aging Minuteman missiles, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

 

Not part of the $1.6 trillion total was the B-21 bomber, a new generation of stealth jet that could drop nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons themselves were not included in the report; they are mostly controlled by the Energy Department, which oversees their design and testing. But nuclear weapons have become a focus of increasing scrutiny, both inside and outside the defense establishment.

Last month, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a group that studies nuclear threats, published a detailed report about the risks that nuclear weapons systems could be subject to cyberattacks. It warned that such attacks “could have catastrophic consequences,” including the risk that weapons could be used in response to “false warnings or miscalculation.”

“The world’s most lethal weapons are vulnerable to stealthy attacks from stealthy enemies — attacks that could have catastrophic consequences,” former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Defense Minister Des Browne of Britain wrote in that report.

“Today, that fact remains the chilling reality,” wrote the three Cold War veterans. “Cyberthreats are expanding and evolving at a breathtaking rate, and governments are not keeping pace. It is essential that the U.S. government and all nuclear-armed states catch up with — indeed, get ahead of and stay ahead of — this threat.”

 

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.