Archive for the ‘War’ Category

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.


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.


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.


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).

John McCain: Nuclear Disarmament, and What Might Have Been

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

world might have had far fewer nuclear weapons today.

John McCain wanted to ban the bomb. It is not the image one has of the late Arizona senator, but when he ran for president in 2008, he argued that “the United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament.”

It wasn’t just a throwaway line. McCain built it into a speech he gave to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that March. In between calls for robust U.S. global leadership and his defense of the Iraq War, he delivered this clarion call:

Forty years ago, the five declared nuclear powers came together in support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pledged to end the arms race and move toward nuclear disarmament. The time has come to renew that commitment. We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal. The United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament consistent with our vital interests and the cause of peace.

A few months later, speaking in Denver, McCain laid out a detailed plan that called for working with Russia and China to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and canceling the development of so-called nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs then underway in the George W. Bush administration. Advised by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, McCain embraced Ronald Reagan’s vision of a nuclear-free world with specific proposals that still resonate today:

A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” That is my dream, too. It is a distant and difficult goal. And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us. But the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals…

Our highest priority must be to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will ever be used. Such weapons, while still important to deter an attack with weapons of mass destruction against us and our allies, represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man. We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind. We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used…

Today we deploy thousands of nuclear warheads. It is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force…I would seriously consider Russia’s recent proposal to work together to globalize the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty…As president I will pledge to continue America’s current moratorium on testing, but also begin a dialogue with our allies, and with the U.S. Senate, to identify ways we can move forward to limit testing in a verifiable manner that does not undermine the security or viability of our nuclear deterrent. This would include taking another look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to see what can be done to overcome the shortcomings that prevented it from entering into force. I opposed that treaty in 1999, but said at the time I would keep an open mind about future developments.

I would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals. I would cancel all further work on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that does not make strategic or political sense.

McCain’s positions were so sweeping that they closely paralleled those advanced by his opponent, Barack Obama. There were plenty of areas of disagreement between the two, but nuclear policy was not really one of them. A debate that year between surrogates for the campaigns, Stephen Biegun for McCain and John Holum for Obama, was a fairly boring affair largely consisting of each side saying, “I agree.” Biegun (now President Donald Trump’s special envoy for North Korea) emphasized McCain’s long track record on nuclear reductions: “For his two decades in the United States Senate, he has been a strong supporter of treaty-based arms control.”


If McCain had become president, it is quite likely that he would have continued this support and implemented these shared policies. In fact, as a Republican, he likely would have been more successful than Obama in getting them enacted.

It is not that he was a better strategist than his Democratic opponent, but McCain would not have faced the fierce partisan opposition Obama encountered when he tried to enact the policies the two shared as candidates. McCain could have garnered Republican support in Congress for these policies, much as Ronald Reagan had done during his tenure. Conservatives would have trusted him; liberals would have applauded him. He very well could have guided us around a significant nuclear corner towards fewer arms, lower costs, and reduced risks.

But he never got the chance. Instead, much to his discredit, McCain himself became part of the opposition that blocked Obama’s efforts. Abandoning his principled positions, he voted against the modest 2010 New START agreement reducing U.S. and Russian strategic arms; as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he pushed billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons programs; he opposed verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program; and, in 2017, he called for a review of deploying nuclear weapons back to the Korean Peninsula.

Who was the real John McCain: 2008’s nuclear disarmer or 2018’s nuclear hawk? Likely both. As the Republican Party drifted away from Reagan’s vision, he drifted with it. He seemed to forget his own campaign-trail warning about “the folly of relying on policies that no longer keep us safe.” As defense budgets went up, he went from calls to slash nuclear arms to support for building more. As diplomacy faltered with Iran and North Korea, he went back to calls for regime change.

We will never know if, in time, he might have drifted back. But it was the 2008 McCain that offered the better hope, the better plan for reducing nuclear dangers rather than creating more.

An Air Force Stealth B-2 Spirit Just Test-Dropped a Nuclear Bomb

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, War on August 26, 2018 at 1:49 am

August 23, 2018

This is what it could do in battle.

by Kris Osborn, August 23, 2018


The Air Force’s B-2 Stealth bomber has test-dropped an upgraded,
multi-function B61-12 nuclear bomb which improves accuracy, integrates
various attack options into a single bomb and changes the strategic
landscape with regard to nuclear weapons mission possibilities.

Earlier this summer, the Air Force dropped a B61-12 nuclear weapon
from a B-2 at Nellis AFB, marking a new developmental flight test
phase for the upgraded bomb, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Hope Cronin
told Warrior Maven.

“The updated weapon will include improved safety, security and
reliability,” Cronin said.

The B61-12 adds substantial new levels of precision targeting and
consolidates several different kinds of attack options into a single
weapon. Instead of needing separate variants of the weapon for
different functions, the B61-12 by itself allows for earth-penetrating
attacks, low-yield strikes, high-yield attacks, above surface
detonation and bunker-buster options.

The latest version of the B61 thermonuclear gravity bomb, which has
origins as far back as the 1960s, is engineered as a low-to-medium
yield strategic and tactical nuclear weapon, according to
nuclearweaponsarchive.org, which also states the weapon has a
“two-stage” radiation implosion design.

“The main advantage of the B61-12 is that it packs all the gravity
bomb capabilities against all the targeting scenarios into one bomb.
That spans from very low-yield tactical “clean” use with low fallout
to more dirty attacks against underground targets,” Hans Kristensen,
Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American
Scientists, told Warrior Maven.

Air Force officials describe this, in part, by referring to the
upgraded B61-12 as having an “All Up Round.”

“The flight test accomplished dedicated B61-12 developmental test
requirements and “All Up Round” system level integration testing on
the B-2,” Cronin said.

The B61 Mod 12 is engineered with a special “Tail Subassembly” to give
the bomb increased accuracy, giving a new level of precision targeting
using Inertial Navigation Systems, Kristensen said.

“Right now the B-2 carries only B61-7 (10-360 kt), B61-11(400 kt,
earth-penetrator), and B83-1 (high-yield bunker-buster). The B61-12
covers all of those missions, with less radioactive fallout, plus very
low-yield attacks,” he added.

The evidence that the B61-12 can penetrate below the surface has
significant implications for the types of targets that can be held at
risk with the bomb.

By bringing an “earth-penetrating” component, the B61-12 vastly
increases the target scope or envelope of attack. It can enable more
narrowly targeted or pinpointed strikes at high-value targets
underground – without causing anywhere near the same level of
devastation above ground or across a wider area.

“A nuclear weapon that detonates after penetrating the earth more
efficiently transmits its explosive energy to the ground, thus is more
effective at destroying deeply buried targets for a given nuclear
yield. A detonation above ground, in contrast, results in a larger
fraction of the explosive energy bouncing off the surface,” Kristensen

Massive B-2 Upgrade:

The testing and integration of the B61-12 is one piece of a massive,
fleet-wide B-2 upgrade designed to sustain the bomber into coming
years, until large numbers of the emerging B-21 Raider are available.
A range of technical modifications are also intended to prepare the
1980s-era bomber for very sophisticated, high-end modern threats.

The B-2 is getting improved digital weapons integration, new computer
processing power reported to be 1,000-times faster than existing
systems and next-generation sensors designed to help the aircraft
avoid enemy air defenses.

One of the effort’s key modifications is designed to improve what’s
called the bomber’s Defensive Management System, a technology designed
to help the B-2 recognize and elude enemy air defenses, using various
antennas, receivers and display processors.

The Defensive Management System is to detect signals or “signatures”
emitting from ground-based anti-aircraft weapons, Air Force officials
have said. Current improvements to the technology are described by Air
Force developers as “the most extensive modification effort that the
B-2 has attempted.”

The modernized system, called a B-2 “DMS-M” unit, consists of a
replacement of legacy DMS subsystems so that the aircraft can be
effective against the newest and most lethal enemy air defenses. The
upgraded system integrates a suite of antennas, receivers, and
displays that provide real-time intelligence information to aircrew,
service officials said.

Upgrades consist of improved antennas with advanced digital electronic
support measures, or ESMs along with software components designed to
integrate new technologies with existing B-2 avionics, according to an
Operational Test & Evaluation report from the Office of the Secretary
of Defense.

The idea of the upgrade is, among other things, to inform B-2 crews
about the location of enemy air defenses so that they can avoid or
maneuver around high-risk areas where the aircraft is more likely to
be detected or targeted. The DMS-M is used to detect radar emissions
from air defenses and provide B-2 air crews with faster mission
planning information – while in-flight.

Air Force officials explain that while many of the details of the
upgraded DMS-M unit are not available for security reasons, the
improved system does allow the stealthy B-2 to operate more
successfully in more high-threat, high-tech environments – referred to
by Air Force strategists as highly “contested environments.”

Many experts have explained that 1980s stealth technology is known to
be less effective against the best-made current and emerging air
defenses – newer, more integrated systems use faster processors,
digital networking and a wider-range of detection frequencies.

The DMS-M upgrade does not in any way diminish the stealth properties
of the aircraft, meaning it does not alter the contours of the
fuselage or change the heat signature to a degree that it would make
the bomber more susceptible to enemy radar, developers said.

Many advanced air defenses use X-band radar, a high-frequency,
short-wavelength signal able to deliver a high-resolution imaging
radar such as that for targeting. S-band frequency, which operates
from 2 to 4 GHz, is another is also used by many air defenses, among
other frequencies.

X-band radar operates from 8 to 12 GHz, Synthetic Aperture Radar, or
SAR, sends forward and electromagnetic “ping” before analyzing the
return signal to determine shape, speed, size and location of an enemy
threat. SAR paints a rendering of sorts of a given target area. X-band
provides both precision tracking as well as horizon scans or searches.
Stealth technology, therefore, uses certain contour configurations and
radar-absorbing coating materials to confuse or thwart electromagnetic
signals from air defenses

These techniques are, in many cases, engineered to work in tandem with
IR (infrared) suppressors used to minimize or remove a “heat”
signature detectable by air defenses’ IR radar sensors. Heat coming
from the exhaust or engine of an aircraft can provide air defense
systems with indication that an aircraft is operating overhead. These
stealth technologies are intended to allow a stealth bomber to
generate little or no return radar signal, giving air dense operators
an incomplete, non-existent or inaccurate representation of an object
flying overhead.

Also, the B-2 is slated to fly alongside the services’ emerging B-21
Raider next-generation stealth bomber; this platform, to be ready in
the mid-2020s, is said by many Air Force developers to include a new
generation of stealth technologies vastly expanding the current
operational ranges and abilities of existing stealth bombers. In fact,
Air Force leaders have said that the B-21 will be able to hold any
target in the world at risk, anytime.

The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of
them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of
50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both
conventional and nuclear weapons.

The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions
over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as
many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from
Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego
Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.


The modern nuclear arsenal: A nuclear weapons expert describes a new kind of Cold War

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on August 24, 2018 at 11:26 pm

August 24, 2018

With the flurry of talks with North Korea and the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, nuclear weapons have become a major topic of discussion in recent months. But secrecy abounds: Who has what weapons? How many? How much damage could they do?

Hans Kristensen tries to answer those questions. As the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, Kristensen and his colleagues delve into open source data, analyze satellite imagery and file requests under the Freedom of Information Act to get the most accurate picture of the world’s nuclear-armed countries. The initiative produces reports on nuclear weapons, arms control and other nuclear matters, and gives recommendations on how to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Kristensen sat down with The Washington Post to discuss how the United States’s nuclear capabilities stack up with the rest of the world, and potential problems down the road. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Why do you have to come up with estimates about the stockpiles? Why don’t we have hard data?

KRISTENSEN: Countries like to keep nuclear weapons data secret. That’s the tendency. It varies from country to country a lot. In the United States, there’s a lot of information available. It wasn’t always like that. There has been a process in the United States where the government has gradually become more at ease, if you will, with disclosing a certain amount of information. There are still secrets, by all means. But a lot of information can come out.

In other countries, it’s not like that. So it varies tremendously from country to country. In some countries, even if you try to collect this information, you go to jail. So we find ourselves in a very interesting role where for countries like China, we can provide information to people in China that want to have a discussion about nuclear weapons, because they can use information coming from outside. They don’t have to do their own homework.

One thing that really sticks out on your bio was that in 2010 you almost completely accurately estimated the U.S. stockpile. How much were you off on that?

KRISTENSEN: 13 weapons out of a stockpile of 5,113. But of course that didn’t come about because of one person doing some work over six months. It came about because many, many people over the years have been digging in and gleaning information from congressional hearings, budget documents, declassified documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act. And so I was sort of standing on the shoulders of the giants that have created the methodology to do this and just happened to get really, really close to the real number, this top secret number, when the Obama administration in 2010 finally decided to declassify the actual number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. military stockpile.

So that was the number then, and now it has changed?

KRISTENSEN: That was the number then. Since then, they have reduced more. We’re down to about 4,000 now. There’s always been these fluctuations in the nuclear stockpile, but since the end of the Cold War, the trend has been very consistent going south. Fewer and fewer nuclear weapons. Now it’s sort of leveling out a bit and it’s sort of part of a broader trend, if you will, of nuclear reductions worldwide, where it is if the nuclear weapon states are sort of slowing down the disarmament process and are beginning to look at the long term and seeing, how do we want to exist as nuclear weapon states 20, 30 years from now? And what’s going to be the role of nuclear weapons in the world at that time? So there’s a lot more reluctance to progress toward zero these days than there was just 10 years ago.

There is a dilemma here for the countries to figure out the international security order as we progress down to deep cuts and eventual elimination, potentially. So that’s a really tough issue. But what we’re seeing now is also that we have an up-flare of an adversarial relationship again, most dramatically illustrated by the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. We are back in a real Cold War type adversarial relationship again. It’s not at the scale or intensity of the Cold War, but it has all the characteristics.

Could you talk about the nuclear triad, who still maintains it and why?

KRISTENSEN: The United States has a triad of strategic nuclear forces. That means we have a land-based ballistic missile force, long-range ballistic missiles. They are in silos in the Midwest. We have about 400 of those silos loaded right now with long-range ballistic missiles. Each of those missiles currently carries one nuclear warhead, but some of them can be uploaded to carry more if we need them to. They have such a long range, they can reach anywhere on the planet where they need to go. That means in Russia, China, North Korea, wherever.

Then we have a second leg, which is the ballistic missile submarine force at sea, on board strategic submarines, nuclear powered submarines, very big ships that dive and disappear in the ocean for three months. And their role, essentially, is ultimately to hide so that if an adversary decided to conduct a first strike and try to wipe out everything on land, there was no way they could avoid a devastating retaliatory strike from those submarines.

They also have a third leg, which is the air leg, which is long-range strategic bombers. They can carry a variety of weapons, gravity bombs of different kinds, but also long-range cruise missiles. So either they can fly all the way into their target and drop a gravity bomb on it, or they can loiter off the coast and employ their nuclear cruise missiles from those positions and they will they find their way into their targets.

They also have a fourth leg we don’t normally hear about when we talk about triads. There’s also a leg that is a nonstrategic leg, a tactical leg. It consists of shorter-range fighter aircraft and shorter-range missile systems that can for example go on ships and submarines. They may be designed to blow up other ships or attack land targets. Or the Russians, for example, today still have nuclear torpedoes for their submarines that could be used to shoot other submarines, but with nuclear explosives.

Is cost one reason that some countries don’t maintain nuclear triads, and how has that discussion gone in the U.S.?

KRISTENSEN: Cost is important, but by and large, countries make the sacrifice they need to make if they really think it’s important. The thing with nuclear forces is that they’re very expensive to develop: you have to go through a very long testing program, both for delivery systems and for the warheads themselves, command and control, all these elements that constitute a nuclear posture. And that costs a lot of money to develop. Once you have it, you can maintain it at much less of a cost. You need to overhaul it from time to time.

But if you look at the U.S. nuclear arsenal today compared with what the entire defense budget costs, it’s only a small portion of it. And so there are a lot of people who fall for the temptation to say, see, nuclear weapons are very cheap. So we shouldn’t worry about a modernization program. But that’s not exactly how it works. Any country doesn’t want just nuclear weapons. They want a full military, and nuclear weapons are not very useful because you can’t use them. So you need to have them in the background, so to speak. So you don’t want too much nuke and you don’t want too much nuke to eat up too much of the total defense budget, because then you have to take that money from other conventional programs that might actually be more usable and more vital for the military operations you’re planing to do.

So what we’re seeing right now is that, in the case of the United States, the share of nuclear weapons eat up something in the order of about 4 percent of the defense budget. Because of the modernization program we’ve set in motion, that might increase to about 6, 7, 8 percent in the next decade. So we hear this argument a lot that, oh, it’s not very cheap, but it actually creates some serious problems for defense planning.

In your analysis, is the path we’re on a sustainable one?

KRISTENSEN: The current modernization program, to the best we can see, is not sustainable economically. It’s not that the United States couldn’t pay for all of those modernizations if it really wanted to, of course it could. But it would have to take that money from somewhere else. So we’d have to cut some conventional programs and use that money on nuclear instead. And that’s a huge dilemma inside military planning.

So what’s happening now is that there are so many warning signs already that in the ’20s, the cost of the nuclear modernization program is going to force cuts elsewhere in the defense budget, if you want to pay for it. So right now there are people who are out saying, well, why don’t we adjust the nuclear modernization program now, so we don’t have to make these catastrophe cuts later in that may mess up a program or create confusion about our posture and all these types of things.

But we have a very die-hard nuclear advocacy group or community right now that, every time they go to Congress and testify about the nuclear modernization program, it’s like, “Oh no, this is the only one, this is all we can do. Oh no, we can pay for it, it’s only a small portion of defense budget.” They just keep perpetuating this and all the warning signs are out that there are going to be some nasty adjustments that have to be made.

A Review of the Book Losing Military Supremacy by Andrei Martyanov

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 30, 2018 at 12:35 am
Review by The Sake

The fact that the USA is facing a profound crisis, possibly the worst one in its history, is accepted by most observers, except maybe the most delusional ones. Most Americans definitely know that. In fact, if there is one thing upon which both those who supported Trump and those who hate him with a passion can agree on, it would be that his election is a clear proof of a profound crisis (I would argue that the election of Obama before also had, as one of its main causes, the very same systemic crisis). When speaking of this crisis, most people will mention the deindustrialization, the drop in real income, the lack of well-paid jobs, healthcare, crime, immigration, pollution, education, and a myriad of other contributing factors. But of all the aspects of the “American dream”, the single most resilient one has been the myth of the US military as “the finest fighting force in history”. In this new book, Andrei Martianov not only comprehensively debunks this myth, he explains step by step how this myth was created and why it is collapsing now. This is no small feat, especially in a relatively short book (225 pages) which is very well written and accessible to everyone, not just military specialists.

Martyanov takes a systematic and step-by-step approach: first, he defines military power, then he explains where the myth of US military superiority came from and how the US rewriting of the history of WWII resulted in a complete misunderstanding, especially at the top political levels, of the nature of modern warfare. He then discusses the role ideology and the Cold War played in further exacerbating the detachment of US leaders from reality. Finally, he demonstrates how a combination of delusional narcissism and outright corruption resulted in a US military capable of wasting truly phenomenal sums of money on “defense” while at the same time resulting in an actual force unable to win a war against anything but a weak and defenseless enemy.

That is not to say that the US military has not fought in many wars and won. It did, but in the words of Martyanov:

Surely when America fought against a third-rate adversary it was possible to rain death from the skies, and then roll over its forces, if any remained by that time, with very little difficulty and casualties. That will work in the future too against that type of adversary—similar in size and flimsiness of Iraqi Forces circa 2003. But Ledeen’s Doctrine had one major flaw—one adult cannot continue to go around the sandbox constantly fighting children and pretend to be good at fighting adults.

The main problem for the USA today is that there are very few of those third-rate adversaries left out there and that those who the USA is trying to bring to submission now are either near-peer or even peer adversaries. Martyanov specifically lists the factors which make that kind of adversary so different from those the USA fought in the past:

  1. Modern adversaries have command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities equal to or better than the US ones.
  2. Modern adversaries have electronic warfare capabilities equal to or better than the US ones
  3. Modern adversaries have weapon systems equal to or better than the US ones.
  4. Modern adversaries have air defenses which greatly limit the effectiveness of US airpower.
  5. Modern adversaries have long-range subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles which present a huge threat to the USN, bases, staging areas and even the entire US mainland.

In the book, all these points are substantiated with numerous and specific examples which I am not repeating here for the sake of brevity.

One could be forgiven for not being aware of any of these facts, at least if one considers the kind of nonsense written by the US corporate media or, for that matter, by the so-called “experts” (another interesting topic Martyanov discusses in some detail). Still, one can live in an imaginary world only as long as reality does not come crashing in, be it in the form of criminally overpriced and useless weapon systems or in the form of painful military defeats. The current hysteria about Russia as the Evil Mordor which is the culprit for everything and anything bad (real or imaginary) happening to the USA is mostly due to the fact that Russia, in total contradiction to all the “expert” opinions, not only did not crash or turn into a “gas station masquerading as a country” with her economy “in tatters”, but succeeded in developing a military which, for a small fraction of the US military budget, successfully developed armed forces which are in reality far more capable than the US forces. I realize that this last statement is quite literally “unthinkable” for many Americans and I submit that the very fact that this is so literally unthinkable greatly contributed to making this possible in the first place: when you are so damn sure that by some kind of miracle of history, or God’s will, or Manifest Destiny or any other supernatural reason, you are inherently and by definition superior and generally “better” than everybody else you are putting yourself in great danger of being defeated. This is as true for Israel as it is for the USA. I would also add that in the course of the West’s history this “crashing in of reality” in the comfy world of narcissistic delusion often came in the form of a Russian soldier defeating the putatively much superior master race of the day (from the Crusaders to the Nazis). Hence the loathing which western ruling elites always had for everything Russian.

In this book, Martyanov explains why, in spite of the absolutely catastrophic 1990s, the Russians succeeded in developing a modern and highly capable combat force in a record time. There are two main reasons for this: first, unlike their US counterparts, Russian weapons are designed to kill, not to make money and, second, Russians understand warfare because they understand what war really is. This latest argument might look circular, but it is not: Russians are all acutely aware of what war really means and, crucially, they are actually willing to make personal sacrifices to either avoid or, at least, win wars. In contrast, US Americans have no experience of real warfare (that is warfare in defense of their own land, family and friends) at all. For US Americans warfare is killing the other guy in his own country, preferably from afar or above, while making a ton of money in the process. For Russians, warfare is simply about surviving at any and all cost. The difference couldn’t be greater.

The difference in weapons systems acquisition is also simple: since US wars never really put the people of the USA at risk, the consequences of developing under-performing weapons systems were never catastrophic. The profits made, however, were immense. Hence the kind of criminally overpriced and useless weapons system like the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship or, of course, the fantastically expensive and no less fantastically vulnerable aircraft carriers. The Russian force planners had very different priorities: not only did they fully realize that the failure to produce an excellently performing weapons system could result in their country being devastated and occupied (not to mention their families and themselves either enslaved or killed), they also realized that they could never match the Pentagon in terms of spending. So what they did was to design comparatively much cheaper weapons systems which could destroy or render useless the output of the multi-trillion dollar US military-industrial complex. This is how Russian missiles made the entire US ABM program and the US carrier-centric Navy pretty much obsolete as well as how Russian air defenses turned putatively “invisible” US aircraft into targets or how Russian diesel-electric submarines are threatening US nuclear attack subs. All that at a tiny fraction of what the US taxpayer spends on “defense”. Here again, Martyanov gives plenty of detailed examples.

Martyanov’s book will deeply irritate and even outrage those for whom the US narcissistic culture of axiomatic superiority has become an integral part of their identity. But for everybody else this book is an absolute must-have because the future of our entire planet is at stake here: the question is not whether the US Empire is collapsing, but what the consequences of this collapse will be for our planet. Right now, the US military has turned into a “hollow force” which simply cannot perform its mission, especially since that mission is, as defined by US politicians, the control of the entire planet. There is a huge discrepancy between the perceived and the actual capabilities of the US military and the only way to bridge this gap are, of course, nuclear weapons. This is why the last chapter in the book is entitled “The Threat of a Massive American Military Miscalculation”. In this chapter, Martyanov names the real enemy of both the Russian and the American people – the US political elites and, especially, the Neocons: they are destroying the USA as a country and they are putting all of mankind at risk of nuclear annihilation.

The above summary does not do justice to Martyanov’s truly seminal book. I can only say that I consider this book as an absolutely indispensable “must read” for every person in the USA who loves his/her country and for every person who believes that wars, especially nuclear ones, must be avoided at all costs. Just like many others (I think of Paul Craig Roberts), Martyanov is warning us that “the day of reckoning is upon us” and that the risks of war are very real, even if for most of us such an event is also unthinkable. Those in the USA who consider themselves patriots should read this book with special attention, not only because it correctly identifies the main threat to the USA, but also because it explains in detail what circumstances have resulted in the current crisis. Waving (mostly Chinese made) US flags is simply not an option anymore, neither is looking away and pretending that none of this is real. Martynov’s book will also be especially interesting to those in the US armed forces who are observing the tremendous decline of US military power from inside. Who better than a former Soviet officer could not only explain, but also understand the mechanisms which have made such a decline possible?

You can also get both versions of the book (paper & electronic) here: http://claritypress.com/Martyanov.html

The book is also available on Amazon as a pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/Losing-Military-Supremacy-American-Strategic/dp/0998694754/

It is scheduled to become available on September 1st.

Get at least one copy and give more to your friends!

The Saker

It’s Time For a Little Perspective On Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aziz Rana, N+1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Helsinki, Can Trump and Putin Strike a Grand Bargain on Nukes?

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 24, 2018 at 6:54 am

Tom Z. Collina , The National Interest•July 23, 2018
Presidents Trump and Putin want to get nuclear arms control back on
track. Here’s how they can get it done.

The unforgettable Helsinki summit will be remembered for President
Donald Trump’s refusal to side with his own intelligence community
over Vladimir Putin on the issue of Russia’s meddling in the 2016
election. So it was easy to miss some of the less prominent but
important details—such as signals that U.S.-Russian talks on nuclear
arms control may resume—which have floundered since 2010. This may be
a significant opening for reducing the global risk of nuclear war that
the two leaders must quickly build on.

Before the summit, things were looking bleak for the future of
U.S.-Russian nuclear relations. Major arms reduction treaties are in
trouble and the United States and Russia are in a new nuclear arms
race, spending trillions on weapons they do not need. This could be
the end of arms control as we know it.

But in Helsinki, Trump said nuclear weapons are “the greatest threat
of our world today,” and that, “we have to do something about nuclear,
and so that was a matter that we discussed actually in great detail,
and President Putin agrees with me.” Putting more meat on the bone,
President Putin said Russia wanted to “work together…on the
disarmament agenda,” including the New START Treaty, U.S. anti-missile
systems, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and
weapons in space.

Time will tell if the two leaders are serious about these intentions.
But if they are, they could break through stale strategic dogma and
take a giant step toward reducing their excessive arsenals of these
dangerous weapons. Like President Ronald Reagan and Premier Mikhail
Gorbachev before them, Trump and Putin could use nuclear arms control
to forge a new, transformative partnership.

If Trump (for whatever reason) wants to build his relationship with
Putin and prove his diplomatic chops back home, there is no better
opportunity than right now on arms control. There is a grand bargain
in the offing, which would make both nations and the world safer and
save hundreds of billions of dollars. As Trump said last year, “Let’s
see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think
nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially.”

So let’s go. Here is what Trump and Putin need to do to make nuclear
arms control a centerpiece of an improved U.S.-Russian relationship:

First, the low-hanging fruit is to extend the 2010 New START treaty.
The agreement caps U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals at 1,550
strategic weapons each and allows for on-site inspections to verify
compliance. The treaty expires in 2021, but can be extended for five
years by a simple agreement. This should be ano-brainer.

But, alas, nothing is simple with President Trump, who may oppose
extending New START just because it is President Obama’s treaty. (As
similar illogic was applied to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.) To get
around that, Trump can do what Obama could not: strike a new deal with
Russia to reduce long-range nuclear forces on both sides to 1,000
warheads or less. This is the “big deal” that will get Trump into the
history books. But when Obama made this offer in 2013, Russia was not

Is Putin interested now? Maybe. In March, Putin gave a major speech
describing how President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This allowed the United States to
deploy missiles meant to intercept Russian missiles, which eventually
put a freeze on Moscow’s willingness to reduce its forces. As Putin
put it, “If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the
complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential. Meaning that all
of our missiles could simply be intercepted.”

Putin—showing unwarranted confidence in U.S. missile defense
technology, which has not worked as advertised—announced that Russia
would build a new generation of nuclear weapons to defeat U.S. missile
interceptors, including new land-based missiles, nuclear-powered
cruise missiles and underwater drones. But he also said he was open to
future arms talks.

“There is no need to create more threats to the world,” Putin said.
“Instead, let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together
a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable
development for human civilization.”

Of course, Moscow may be willing to discuss new nuclear arms
reductions only if Trump agrees to constrain U.S. missile
interceptors. This condition doomed Obama’s efforts for a New START
follow-on treaty, since Senate Republicans (for whom missile defense
is an article of faith) would never approve a Democratic treaty that
limited U.S. interceptors. But Trump, who apparently has complete
control of his party, could make history by striking a deal with Putin
that even a Republican Senate would approve.

Finally, Trump and Putin must also come to terms on the 1987 INF
Treaty, which banned all mid-range land-based missiles from Europe.
Russia is in violation of the INF, having deployed a prohibited cruise
missile. However, Russia claims that U.S. missile interceptor
deployments in Eastern Europe also violate the INF by providing a base
for U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In exchange for Putin scraping his prohibited cruise missile, Trump
should agree to remove U.S. missile interceptor bases from Romania and
Poland. They are not needed for their declared purpose—defending
against Iranian long-range nuclear-armed missiles, which do not exist.
This would also help meet Trump’s goal of reducing U.S. military
spending on NATO.

At Helsinki, Trump put politics over country and showed that he is
much more concerned about “Trump First” than “America First.” Trump
can now put country over politics by exploring a grand bargain on
nuclear arms control that no other president since Reagan has been
willing to touch. This would fit well with Trump’s desire to shake up
the international system, make transformational deals, and be a
statesman on the world stage. Unconventional as Trump may be, let’s
see if he can get us back on track to reducing these very
unconventional weapons.

Tom Z. Collina is the Policy Director at Ploughshares Fund in Washington DC.

Socialism is No Longer a Bad Word

In Democracy, Human rights, Peace, Politics, War on July 15, 2018 at 10:20 pm

By Dave Anderson

July 12, 2018, Boulder Weekly

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t expect to become a “Democratic giant
slayer” as the New York Times would call her. The 28-year-old
bartender and waitress from the Bronx was running in a primary against
Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and one of the most powerful
Democrats in the U.S. House. He was a leading contender to become the
next Speaker of the House.

Crowley outspent Ocasio-Cortez 10-to-1, burning up more than $3
million on the race. His donors included Facebook, Google, JP Morgan,
Citigroup, Viacom, Lockheed Martin and Blackrock. But Crowley would
lose by a 57-42 percent margin.

The main differences between them were on issues of economic and
racial justice. Ocasio-Cortez had been an organizer for the Bernie
Sanders campaign and a member of Democratic Socialists of America
(DSA). Crowley was a liberal, but the more corporate-friendly kind.

Ocasio-Cortez was recruited to run by the Bernie-inspired Brand New
Congress (BNC) after she returned from an encampment at Standing Rock
in late 2016, where she was demonstrating to protect Native rights and
stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. She had an army of door-knocking and
phone calling activists from DSA, Black Lives Matter and Muslims for
Progress as well as BNC and two other Bernie-inspired groups, Justice
Democrats and Our Revolution.

Her platform was refreshingly bold: Medicare for All, a Green New
Deal, a federal jobs guarantee, the human right to housing, free
public college, a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico, an end to for-profit
private prisons, demilitarizing the police and abolishing Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

All of a sudden, Ocasio-Cortez was on numerous TV shows and profiled
in magazine and newspaper articles. Stephen Colbert on The Late Show
asked her what she meant when she said she was a democratic socialist.
She explained:

“I believe that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in
America should be too poor to live. What that means to me is health
care as a human right, it means that every child, no matter where you
are born, should have access to a college or trade-school education if
they so choose it. I think that no person should be homeless if we
have public structures or public policy to allow for people to have
homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked if socialism was
“ascendant” in the Democratic Party. She said no. She paused and
added, “it’s ascendant in that district perhaps. But I don’t accept
any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans. So let
me reject that right now.”

Her reaction was understandable. For decades, even quite conservative
Democrats have been called “socialists.” The word has been used as a
swear word. But times are changing. Bernie is the most popular
politician in the country. A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 35 percent
of Americans had a favorable view of “socialism.”

Interestingly, Democrats in that poll viewed “socialism” just slightly
more favorably than “capitalism.” However, an overwhelmingly majority
of Democrats and Republicans were favorable to “free enterprise” and

In a different survey, nearly six in 10 Democratic primary voters in
2016 said socialism had a “positive impact on society,” and four in 10
Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa described themselves as socialists
(that included some Hillary Clinton supporters).

A number of polls show that socialism is increasingly popular among
younger Americans. That’s a big reason why DSA has grown from 6,000
members in 2015 to 43,000 today. There are 220 local chapters and at
least 35 DSA members have been elected to public office around the
country. They ran as Democrats.

Political scientist Corey Robin has noted that in the wake of
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, “there’s been a dramatic shift in mainstream
liberal opinion — in the media, on social media, among politicians,
activists and citizens — toward Bernie Sanders–style positions. People
who were lambasting that kind of politics in 2016 are now embracing it
— without remarking upon the change, without explaining it, leaving
the impression that this is what they believed all along.”

He says “this causes no end of consternation in certain precincts of
the Left.” But he argues that this change is good news and points out
that you build coalitions and mass movements by welcoming converts.

But the leftward shift in the Democratic Party began before
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. In September 2017, Bernie Sanders introduced
a Medicare for All bill, and he had 16 Democratic senators standing
with him as co-sponsors. A few months later, they joined Sanders in
calling for a government guarantee of full employment.

What’s going to happen next? Conflicts will continue between
Democratic Party factions over ideas and programs. It might be useful
to look back at another period of hard times. During the Great
Depression, the labor movement pushed the country — and the Democratic
Party — to the left through militant direct action. A fair number of
the activists in that movement called themselves Socialists,
Communists and Trotskyists.

Franklin Roosevelt borrowed many ideas from the Socialist Party to
create his New Deal. In 1954, a New York Times profile of Norman
Thomas, the six-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party,
described him as an influential figure who made “a great contribution
in pioneering ideas that have now won the support of both major
parties,” including “Social Security, public housing, public power
developments, legal protection for collective bargaining and other
attributes of the welfare state.”

Can something like this happen again? As a card-carrying member of
DSA, I sure hope so.