The Tyranny of Continual Warfare

Our Founding Fathers considered standing armies “instruments of tyranny.”  So, to defend us “against foreign danger” they drafted the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd is the only Amendment that states its purpose: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Two hundred and more years later, we have a standing army and there is no connection between a “well regulated militia being necessary” and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  But, as I discussed here, the downside of a standing army is greater than ever.  As James Madison explained:

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate.  Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency … Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Yet we are now in the midst of a “war on terror” that can by definition never end and, in our fear of terror, we are abandoning our freedom.

Comforting Lies

We have no Madison among this year’s Presidential candidates and never will get one if we don’t heed what he and more recently Eisenhower warned:

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Now, Presidential candidates and our media have, as this Gallup poll reveals, persuaded 24% of Republicans, 9% of Democrats and 15% of independents that terrorism is our most important problem.

But an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” would know car accidents kill far more of us.  Twice as many Americans die every year from texting or talking on the phone while driving as died even on 9/11.

An average of just 32 Americans per year died in terrorist attacks in the next twelve years, fewer of them killed by Islamic terrorists than by disgruntled workplace and school shooters.  Meanwhile, over 30,000 of us are killed by firearms every year, one thousand times as many as are killed by terrorists.

President Eisenhower spoke of the need for balance, for a sense of proportion.  He would be gravely disappointed in us.

We plan to spend $70B-$90B a year, over $1,100B in total, on new weapons in the next 15 years (see Defense Modernization Plans Through the 2020s) “59% of [it on] just 10 programs–all of which are … primarily intended to support high-end conventional and nuclear conflict.”

Defense Modernization Plans

Nuclear weapons are not usually considered appropriate against terrorists although one of our Presidential candidates did joke about nuking the Islamic State.

Our Unmanned Systems Roadmap FY2011-2036 to reduce American casualties will make warfare less troubling and more exciting for voters.

There will be few complaints about spending $1,100B+ on new weapons.  It is, after all, little more than our overall military spending every year.

So here we go.  We provoke hatred by killing innocents — of 2,500-4,000 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, 400-1,000 were civilians.  Some were “collateral damage,” some the result of a flawed algorithm that analyzes cellphone usage to assess likelihood of being a terrorist.

And we are provoking our only nuclear rival by building a new generation of nuclear weapons and quadrupling our forces on Russia’s border.

We’ve not just lost all sense of proportion — we’ve lost our senses altogether.

Excuse Me, My Car’s On Fire

Spring had come at last.  It wasn’t cold outside and it was good driving my convertible again, but it wasn’t really warm so after a while I turned on the heater.

A mile or two down the road I noticed wisps of steam.  I drove on.  The steam grew thicker.  “It would be good to get an oil change, anyway,” I thought.  “I’ll take it to the shop now in case this is smoke.”

The cabin was full of smoke as I turned into the lot so I shifted into neutral, turned off the ignition and cruised the rest of the way.  No flames were to be seen but as I opened the door I said to the mechanic standing outside the office, “Excuse me.  I think my car’s on fire.”

There never were any visible flames, perhaps because the fire truck came quickly, but sadly, the wiring harness was destroyed and the car was totaled.  Thinking about it all later, I decided not to get into such a situation again, and to get out of the car and call 911 if I ever did.

President Kennedy came to a similar conclusion soon after he succeeded President Eisenhower who in his January 17, 1961 farewell address warned (see page 15 of his annotated reading copy or watch him deliver the speech), “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

In President Kennedy’s September 25, 1961 address to the UN he said:  “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable.  Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”  (See the full speech here)

Then came the October 16–28, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  One thing had led to another until, very soon, the missiles would have been on their way.  Hundred of millions would have been killed outright.  Life of any kind could have become impossible.

A year earlier Kennedy had said at the UN, “a nuclear disaster, spread by wind and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike.  Mankind must put an end to war–or war will put an end to mankind.”

jfk war quote

Perhaps the prospect of nuclear disaster still seemed theoretical in 1961.  It became utter conviction after October 1962.  The situation in which he found himself haunted Kennedy from then on.  He strove, in secret dialog with Soviet premier Khrushchev, to wind down the arms race and end the Cold War.

Those of us who lived through the 1960s have not forgotten that lesson.  Well, many of us at least have not.  So it is bewildering and piercingly sad that presidential candidates saying things like the following could now be applauded:

Candidate Cruz: “We will carpet bomb [ISIS] into oblivion.  I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

Candidate Rubio “will destroy terrorists overseas by authorizing whatever tools our commanders need.”

Candidate Trump:  “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away …  I would bomb the shit out of them.”

That’s why we cannot ignore such things as President Obama’s approval of a plan to deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons, over a trillion dollars worth of them.

Perhaps we will not elect a President this year who is eager to launch such weapons.  But the way to bet is, one day we will.

I want my grandchildren and every other child to live long and happily.  That will not happen if we continue to manufacture and distribute weapons of mass destruction.

All We Need is — War?

President Obama’s $583B final military budget is being sold on the premise that we are in a “new strategic era” challenged by Russia, China, North Korea, “Iran’s malign influence” and Islamic State terrorism.

We will therefore increase our military spending in Europe from $789M to $3.4B with “more rotational US forces,” “pre-positioned” weaponry and “infrastructure improvements” in response to “Russian aggression” in Ukraine and Syria, and our $71B research budget will establish “arsenal planes” to overwhelm air defenses, swarming micro-drones to be deployed from high-altitude aircraft, and much, much more.  We will also spend $40B over five years to enhance our submarine fleet.

What?  We are the ones who provoked “Russian aggression in Ukraine”, we are deeply complicit in the Syrian nightmare and we are fighting alongside “malign Iran” against the Islamic State.

Quadrupling our forces near Russia’s borders will restart the Cold War.  Western military power has not been so close to Russia since Germany’s 1941 invasion that left 10 or 20 million Russians dead.  Russia must avert any risk of that happening again.  What will they do?  Move forces near their borders.  And presumably increase spending on nuclear arms to match our plan to spend $1,000B+ on them over the next three decades.

So why are we doing all this?  Because restarting the Cold War, perpetuating violence in the Middle East and fomenting it in the Far East will continue to grow the weapons market.

International Transfers of Major Weapons

And why are “we the people” willing to spend so much to counter threats whose reality we do not question?  Because the mainstream media swamps us in fear, politicians keep telling us to be afraid, and the economy of local communities like mine depends on military spending.

How much do we spend?  Our fiscal year 2015 federal budget totaled $3.8T or $12,000 per person.  Social Security and Medicare, which are funded by dedicated taxes, are each around 23% of the total.  Around 29% or $1.11T is for “discretionary” programs that are authorized by Congress each year.

New military spending of $598B accounted for 54% of the discretionary 2015 programs, a further $160B of the overall budget was for veterans benefits, half or more of the  $229B in payments on debt resulted from wars on Iraq and Afghanistan whose cost we borrowed, and it is estimated there is another $50B+ of covert action and surveillance spending hidden in other areas.

That’s almost $1T of military spending or $3,100+ per person every year.

discretionary spending 2015

I’m not saying we should eliminate military spending — we should spend less.  We would spend much less if we thought realistically about the threats we’re told necessitate this year’s spending.

We’ve been led to believe something very odd.  The Dalai Lama puts it well:  “Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal …  In fact, we have been brainwashed.  War is … tragedy and suffering.”  He continues:  “although I am deeply opposed to war … it is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression.”

How much less would you spend on our military, and how would you use those savings to make the world happier?

The State of Our Warfare Industry

Wars used to be fought for control of land, resources and people.  Some went on a long time, but they all ended.  Now, however, war is for the USA an industry.  Its goal is not peace and stability, but ever-growing war and instability.

Media bloviating about protecting the homeland, supporting allies, and spreading democracy is a well functioning distraction.  Industry leaders are expected to deliver growth, so warfare industry leaders are promoting terror.

Over the past decade the Middle East warfare market has been well penetrated to become a base for expansion throughout the area encircled by the “Functioning Core”:

Air_and_Space_MajGenMcDew [Compatibility Mode]

The GlobalFirePower project, which tracks defense spending around the world and shows our spending ($577B) to be four times higher than our closest competitor, China, and almost ten times higher than our former arch-rival, Russia, headlines its website: “Going to war is never a decision to be taken lightly, especially when considering the overall cost of such ventures.”

So how did it happen that we no longer consider the cost of wars, and why is it that we no longer decide whether to undertake them, only where we will make wars?

As these Federal Budget charts illustrate, we categorize military spending ($598B) as “discretionary” unlike Social Security and Medicare which are funded via dedicated taxes.  Discretionary means not mandatory, but no politician proposing big cuts in military spending is electable.

I’ve written before about Our Sacrosanct Jobs Program (“One man spoke of the mass unemployment of the 1930s and said that if we could attain full employment by killing Germans, we could have full employment by building houses, schools and hospitals”) and I’ve written about our arms export industry whose collapsing market after the Cold War was rejuvenated by President Bush’s War on Terror.

International Transfers of Major Weapons

It was only in President Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address, when he would never again seek election, that he warned:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Two years later, in 1963, President Kennedy tried again.  Condemning the demonization of Soviet leaders, he warned against the Pax Americana we still seek to enforce today:

“What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war … I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … let us not be blind to our differences – but let us direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved.”

President Kennedy was soon assassinated, his successor, President Johnson, led us into the Vietnam nightmare, in the next decades we greatly increased our military spending while fighting only small wars, and then President Bush hoodwinked us into a War on Terror that can by definition never end.

Now, when President Obama endorses spending $1,000B+ over the next three decades to enhance our ability to fight nuclear war using weapons with more flexible targeting and a range of yields even down to that of large conventional weapons, Ike is not among Obama’s potential successors.

Ike, Trump and Cruz

Let’s take stock.  How is Pax Americana going?

Late last month Iraqi forces retook the provincial capital, Ramadi, from the Islamic State.  That was possible primarily due to US airstrikes which, as a side-effect, destroyed over 80% of the city.  Victories like that destroy peoples’ means of existence.

As I wrote here when I began researching the Middle East:  “We have come to believe it is not only right but good to send our children to kill, and we revel in the destruction our media presents.”

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Mali are already failing or failed states, we will drop another 23,000 bombs on them and others this year, and our drones will go on creating “collateral damage” there, in Pakistan and beyond.

Back when I was a Senior Vice President of a large global enterprise, I sometimes imagined my colleagues’ decisions that would have bad results to be stupid.  They were not.  I was the stupid one, not recognizing those results were desired.  Now, our warfare industry leaders and I want different results.

The War on Terror will continue to grow our market.  The state of our warfare industry is strong.

Beyond the Media Hype: Arms Exports

Most of us think beheading is barbaric and are horrified by 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for a website advocating free speech.  We abhor child marriages and are appalled that women anywhere should need permission from a male guardian even to travel.

Sweden’s foreign minister recently denounced those policies and acts by Saudi Arabia as extreme violations of human decency.

She went on to say it would be wrong for Sweden to continue military cooperation with such a regime.  European Union countries had after all in 2008 established a Common Position on arms exports making “respect for human rights in the country of final destination” a precondition.

The Saudi regime’s response was to withdrew its ambassador and stop issuing visas to Swedish businessmen.  Its allies condemned Sweden’s ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.’  The United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassador, too.

How would the Swedish government respond?  Sweden sold more than half a billion dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia from 2011 to 2014 and the Saudi regime is expected to buy 52% more arms this year than last.  Would Sweden give up such a huge opportunity?

And the impact could be much broader than Sweden’s arms exporters alone.  Denmark was hit with a major international boycott when a Danish newspaper published Muhammed cartoons in 2005.

Lobbying by Sweden’s business leaders began immediately.  Thirty chief executives signed an open letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardize Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner.’

Sweden’s king called the foreign minister to his palace and told her to back off.  The Constitution grants him no power, but…

And the Saudi regime positioned the minister’s denunciation of their human rights abuses as anti-Muslim hatred.

It looked like business priorities would trump human decency.  But, after no doubt agonized debate, the Swedish government announced the cancellation of its military cooperation with Saudi Arabia.  And a couple of weeks later Saudi Arabian media published a fabricated apology by Sweden along with the news that its ambassador would return.

This is a heartening story for anyone who thinks beheading and so forth is barbaric.  But it was little reported in Europe and almost not at all here.  So we must also note a couple of other things.

First, our US government supports the Saudi regime not just because we want their oil but because since we destroyed Iraq, it alone balances Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Middle East Map

Americans fear Iran.  We do not remember overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 and replacing it with the Shah’s dictatorship.  All we remember is the theocratic regime that overthrew our friend the Shah holding our Embassy staff hostage.  We imagine an Iran that we have always treated well but which is our mortal enemy for religious reasons.  And our ally Israel considers Iran an existential threat because it supports its Shia fellows, Hezbollah and Hamas, working for the Palestinian State that Israel’s newly re-elected leader declared he will resist to the end.

Second, Sweden’s admirable decision removes a competitor for Saudi Arabia’s arms purchases.

Arms Exporters

This March 2015 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report notes that we delivered major weapons to at least 94 countries in 2010-14.

The world’s largest importer, India, increased its purchases by 140% from 2005-2009, chiefly from Russia.  The second largest, Saudi Arabia, increased its purchases  by 400%, supplied chiefly by the UK (36%) and the USA (35%).Arms ImportersWe delivered $8.4 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and their Iran-facing neighbor United Arab Emirates last year, up from $6 billion the previous year.

A growing share of big fast-growing markets is what every business leader wants.

The Swedish government decided human rights trump what arms business leaders want.  My government is sticking with the opposite decision.

Beyond the Media Hype: Syria

Centuries of violence underlie the civil war that has so far killed over a hundred thousand Syrians, driven out two million refugees, and displaced six and a half million internally, and it is just part of a war where we and other powers are fighting for our own conflicting aims.

Syria is where agriculture and cattle breeding began in Mesopotamia around 10,000 BC.  It has been under empires of Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Turkey.  It was held a thousand years ago by French, English, Italian and German Crusaders.  After WW1 when Iraq was taken by the British, it fell under France.  Britain later offered not to establish a Jewish state in Palestine in return for hegemony over a Greater Syrian state but France retained control until 1946.  Independent Syria made a chaotic start and was stable for only forty years.

Mesopotamia and Syria

Syria’s population includes Arabs, Greeks, Kurds, Turks and others.  Roughly three quarters of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, including Kurds who make up 9% of the overall population.  Shia Alawites (12%) and Christians (10%) make up the rest along with small numbers of Druze and others.

Although Sunni Arabs are by far the majority, Syria is ruled by Shia Alawites from the narrow coastal region that is separated by a mountain range from a semiarid steppe zone that covers three-quarters of the country and which is bisected by the Euphrates valley where cereals and cotton thrive.  The east is desert.  In the extreme northeast there is oil and natural gas.

Syria Topography

Newly independent Syria had military coups, twenty different cabinets and four constitutions in its first decade.  Martial law was in place for more than half a century after Israeli, British and French forces invaded Egypt in 1956 to regain the Suez Canal.  Syria signed a pact with the USSR when they were forced to withdraw then united with socialist pan-Arab Egypt from 1958-61.  The Arab Republic of Syria came into being in 1963 in a Ba’ath Party coup emulating one just before that in Iraq.

The Ba’ath Party was established in 1947 by a Christian, a Sunni Muslim and an Alawite Shia Muslim, anti-imperialists who aimed to replace religion with socialism and social reform.

In 1966 traditional Ba’athists were overthrown by Alawite army leaders.  In 1970, air force leader Hafez al-Assad seized control and ruled Syria as a strongman until his death in 2000.  He was succeeded by the present ruler, his son Bashar al-Assad.

In 1967 Syria lost half the Golan Heights when Israel also captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. After losing more of the Golan Heights in 1973 when Syria and Egypt invaded Israel, Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 and remained there until 2005 supporting proxies like Hezbollah to prevent Israel from taking southern Lebanon.  Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

Yom Kippur War map

Syria’s current Ba’athist Alawite regime is based in what was an Alawite State when Syria was ruled by France.  Under the Ottomans, the head of each ethno-religious group — Arab Shia, Arab Sunni, Greek Christian, Assyrian Christian, etc —  administered the laws of his community.  France defined Lebanon’s borders to put Sunni Muslims under Christians who were allied with France, and divided Syria into the State of Damascus at the heartland of the Sunni Arab majority, the State of Aleppo at the trading center of Kurds, Arab Christians, Armenians, and others who felt closer to Baghdad than Damascus, and the Druze and Alawite States where people are “sort of” Shia.

Alawites celebrate many Christian festivals, use bread and wine in their ceremonies, and believe they originated as divine light but were cast out of heaven for disobedience and must expiate their sin over many lifetimes.  Their God has three emanations that manifest in human form, most recently as father of the Shia faith, Ali, the prophet Muhammed and Salman the Persian who was born into a Zoroastrian priestly family, converted to Christianity, heard of the coming of another prophet and found Muhammed.  Salman was the first Persian convert to Islam and the first translator of the Quran.

For political reasons, the Alawites have been recognized as true Shias by Iran’s supreme leader.

French Mandate Syria and Lebanon

The US view of Syria has changed greatly since the civil war began in 2011.  In the early years of our War on Terror we were quite approving.  The Dept of State’s 2006 International Religious Freedom Report noted that Syria’s Government “suppresses extremist forms of Islam [and] made affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood punishable by death [in] 1980.”

We thought Bashar al-Assad was, like his father, keeping his people under firm control: “The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom; however, there were occasional reports of minor tensions between religious groups mainly attributable to economic rivalries rather than religious affiliation.”

Syria

But when Saudi Arabia recognized the Syrian National Coalition formed in Qatar in 2012 as “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people and France and Turkey declared it the “only representative of the Syrian people” our State Dept issued a press release saying: “We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve.”

The State Dept’s 2013 Human Rights Reports: Syria said: “Syria is a republic ruled by the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Asad … The Asad regime continued to use indiscriminate and deadly force to quell protests and conducted air and ground-based military assaults on cities, residential areas, and civilian infrastructures, including schools and hospitals throughout the country.”

Our media said nothing about the issues, just demonized Bashar al-Assad, the same playbook they used for Nicaragua’s Ortega, Panama’s Noriega and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

The State Dept report continued: “on August 21, the regime used sarin gas and artillery to target […] suburbs of Damascus, and killed over 1,000 persons.”  President Obama asked Congress to approve the use of military force “to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.”

But just as there was no evidence for the “weapons of mass destruction” President Bush used to justify invading Iraq, there is no evidence that al-Assad’s regime was responsible for the sarin gas atrocity or has any weapons of mass destruction.

We did supply sarin gas that Saddam Hussein used on Iraq’s Kurds, but the gas used in Syria was not weapons-grade.  It appears to have been used by rebels who hoped to provoke us into helping them topple al-Assad’s government.

Now, four years into the civil war, Syria looks much as it did under the French Mandate except that the government still at this time controls a large part of what was the State of Damascus as well as the Alawite and Druze States.  Most of what was the State of Aleppo is now controlled by the Islamic State while the northeast is held by Rojavan forces.

Syrian Civil War

The Rojavan, aka Western Kurdistan, manifesto says: “The democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a State system, it is the democratic system of a people without a State… It takes its power from the people.”  Kurds want Kurdistan to include parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, too.  Kurds following Ottoman policy in the early 20th century massacred Christians throughout that area and were rewarded with their land.  More than half Syria’s poor are of Kurdish origin.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which controls territory in Iraq as well as Syria began operating under a different name in Jordan in 1999.  When we invaded Iraq in 2003 they attacked our forces, made suicide attacks on civilan targets and beheaded hostages.  They pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004 with the intent: “to free Iraq’s Sunnis from Shia and foreign oppression, and to further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory.”  Early in 2014 al-Queda disavowed loose-cannon ISIL.

The al-Nusra Front is an al-Queda branch formed in Syria and Lebanon in 2012 that aims to overthrow the al-Assad government and replace it with a fundamentalist Sunni state.  They are focused on that alone and have warned against Western intervention.  ISIL announced its merger with al-Nusra in mid-2013 but fighting broke out between them a year later.

ISIL now controls much of Syria and Iraq while Syrian and Iraqi Kurds dominate the northeast.

Military Situation Iraq Syria

I will delve deeper into Iraq, Kurdistan and the Islamic State which in mid-2014 claimed religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.

So… our air strikes are now leading the battle against the Islamic State, but we destroyed Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime in Iraq and say we will also end Bashar al-Assad’s in Syria, which clears the path toward a fundamentalist Sunni regime like the Islamic State.

Does what we’re doing make sense?  Our military can destroy, but will we like what comes next?

This 1993 article by Robert Kaplan is excellent.

Beyond Media Hype: No Time for Peace

My mom and dad liked to remember how, as I lay in my crib in wartime London, I would coo happily to the wailing air raid sirens.  Only babies should be so innocent.

We have come to believe it is not only right but good to send our children to kill, and we revel in the destruction our media presents.

Just this century, we’ve been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, Yemen since 2002, Iraq since 2003, NW Pakistan since 2004, and now against ISIL.

I’m working to understand that part of the world.  I’ll post about Syria later this week then Iraq, the Kurds, ISIL and more.  But meantime, I want to make an overview comment about our appetite for war.

We borrowed almost $1,000bn for our war in Afghanistan and must borrow several hundred billion dollars more for medical and other costs that continue.

Adjusted for inflation, we spent more just on reconstruction in Afghanistan than on the entire Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe after WW2.

We borrowed close to $2,000bn for our war in Iraq.

We have already paid interest of $260bn on what we borrowed for those wars and our medical spending on veterans from them is already more than $130bn.

The results?  The Taliban are ready to take over again in Afghanistan, we left Iraq in chaos and that war led to the rise of our latest enemy, ISIL.

Why do we keep doing this?  Because it has become our habit.

We no longer question our need for enormous armed forces.  We spend enormously every year to make them ever stronger.

It seems natural to use our force, our weapons manufacturers urge us to do so, and there are always opportunities against alleged threats or when others are killing each other.

President Eisenhower, who knew the agony of sending people to be killed, famously warned us about our “military-industrial complex.”

Here’s a less well known statement from Secretary of State William Marcy about why we would not sign an 1856 Treaty to ban privately owned ships in war:

The United States consider powerful navies and large standing armies as permanent establishments to be detrimental to national prosperity and dangerous to civil liberty. The expense of keeping them up is burdensome to the people; they are in some degree a menace to peace among nations. A large force ever ready to be devoted to the purposes of war is a temptation to rush into it. The policy of the United States has ever been, and never more than now, adverse to such establishments, and they can never be brought to acquiesce in any change in International Law which may render it necessary for them to maintain a powerful navy or large standing army in time of peace.

Our policy changed.  We now believe we must at all times maintain by far the world’s largest armed forces.  Since 2001, our defense department’s base budget has increased by $1,300bn more than its pre-9/11 forecasts.

Our current policy has brought an end to our “times of peace.”

Beyond the Media Hype: Yemen

Yemen, a crossroad of cultures where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, was always important for trade between Europe, Africa, India and further east.  Shipping along its coasts is among the world’s most active and strategic.  It has been ruled by sun worshipers, all three Abrahamic religions — Jews, Christians and Muslims, its location has several times enabled its rulers to control most of the Arabian Peninsula, and it has forever been bedeviled by tribal rivalry.

Only 2% of Yemen is arable land.  Its mountainous interior is ringed by narrow coastal plains and in the north and east by desert.  The western highlands reach 10,000 feet, have relatively fertile soil and get enough rain for sorghum, coffee, bananas and such (coffee is first known to have been cultivated in 15th century Sufi monasteries in north Yemen.)  The central plateau gets enough rain for wheat and barley in wet years.  The northeastern desert gets little to no rain at any time.

Yemen Topography

Yemen’s sun god worshiping rulers for a thousand years were conquered around 270 AD by the Himyarite whose king a century later converted to Judaism, seemingly to maintain good relations with both Roman Christian and Persian Zoroastrian empires.  The Himyarites were defeated in 525 by Aksumites from Ethiopia whose king converted to Christianity around 350 when the Roman emperor also began trying to convert Yemen to Christianity.  Fighting between Jewish and Christian warlords continued for centuries, then in 630 Mohammed introduced Islam in the person of his cousin, Ali.

Ali is considered by Sunnis nothing more than the fourth of Mohammed’s elected successors as leader of all Muslims.  Shias, however, consider him Mohammed’s rightful successor.  That disagreement plunged the Muslim community into violent conflict that still persists 1,400 years later.

Muslim Yemen was ruled by a Shia dynasty founded in the north around 1040, then Sunni ones of Kurdish origin that invaded from the south.

Yemen Ethnography

When Portuguese merchant ships arrived in the early 16th century, the governor of Egypt began conquering Yemen to protect the Ottoman trade route with India.

Then the British entered three centuries later wanting a base to stop pirate attacks on their trade with India.  They were in 1838 granted by a local Sultan 75 acres around the ocean port of Aden.  After the Suez Canal was opened in 1869 cutting 4,300 miles off the sea voyage between Europe and India, Aden became a coaling station. and Britain expanded inland from there.

While Britain gained control of south Yemen, the Turkish Ottoman empire retained nominal control in the north although tribal chiefs there made real control impossible.  In 1918 when the Ottomans fell, a kingdom was established as North Yemen that in 1962 became the Yemen Arab Republic.

South Yemen continued to be ruled as part of British India until 1937.  It remained a British protectorate until armed struggles that began in 1963 resulted in its independence in 1967 when Britain was also forced by Egypt to relinquish control of the Suez Canal.

Marxists gained power in South Yemen in 1969, established the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and formed close ties with the Soviet Union, China, East Germany and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  The Soviet Union gave them strong support for which in return they got access to South Yemen’s ports.

North and South Yemen united in 1990 with North Yemen’s leader as President.  He outraged our government later that year by opposing military intervention from non-Arab states when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Saudi Arabia supported us by expelling 800,000 Yemenis.

South Yemen seceded in 1994 with active support from Saudi Arabia but was defeated in a brief civil war.  There is still substantial support in south Yemen for an independent state.

When rebellion by Shia Houthis began in the north in 2004, the weak government tried allying with al Queda in unsuccessful counter attacks.  Then we began drone attacks on al Queda when in 2009 the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches merged to form al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) based in Yemen.  Yemen’s government was now trying to defend itself against Shia rebels in the north, separatists and AQAP in the south.

Yemen never had effective government institutions.   Since it was unified, leaders of competing tribal, regional, religious and political groups have collaborated just enough to make it the 164th most corrupt of 182 countries in Transparency International’s 2009 survey, and it was ranked last of 135 countries in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report for violence against women.

Pagan, Jewish and Christian influences from before Islam’s arrival are long gone.  For a thousand years the former North Yemen has been Shia, the former South Yemen Sunni and the two have been proxies in great empires’ wars to control trade routes.  Yemen’s history of never-ending struggles for power and wealth make it hard to see how a stable, unified, modern form of government can be established.  

The latest development is, a few days ago Yemen’s President Hadi, who replaced the previous leader in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising and was trying to end secessionist and tribal unrest, resigned in frustration.  Al Queda forces already controlled much of the south.  Now Houthi rebels had taken control of the capital, Sana’a.  Warriors from north Yemen always have been formidable and their latest incarnation, the Houthi, were doing better against al Queda than the government forces.  They seemed set to take over. 

Yemen War 2015

Yemen War legend

 

So what should our government do? We have spent nearly $1 billion on military, economic and humanitarian assistance in Yemen since 2011.  Who should we support now?  Who are the good guys?  Who, for that matter, are the bad ones?

Can Yemen’s government survive and will its next leader, like ex-President Hadi, support our drone attacks on AQAP?  Or will the next government turn back to AQAP to counter the Houthi?

Who are the local great powers supporting?  Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist regime supports the Sunni in south Yemen, and AQAP is supported by Saudi Arabians.   Iran’s fundamentalist regime supports the Shia Houthi in the north, which borders Saudi Arabia.

We support the Saudi regime and have opposed Iran since its 1979 revolution.  President Bush branded Iran in 2002 part of “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”   We have been placing ever-tighter economic sanctions on Iran.

Echoing President Bush, National Security Adviser Rice said, “Iran’s direct support of regional and global terrorism and its aggressive efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, belie any good intentions it displayed in the days after the world’s worst terrorist attacks in history.”  In 2003, we invaded Iraq on the pretext that it already had weapons of mass destruction.

So should we continue to support Yemen’s weak government, should we instead support the Houthi  who have been more successful than the government against al Queda, or should we join Israel in supporting Saudi Arabia and its proxies who include al Queda in south Yemen?

Our government is deeply divided.  President Obama is engaging in diplomacy with Iran.  Congress just invited Israel’s leader to address them for a third time on why we should support Saudi Arabia and cripple Iran whose leaders support Hezbollah, the Shia force Iran established in 1982 to resist Israeli occupation in Lebanon.

We have no good allies in this part of the world.  The forces in north and south Yemen are on opposite sides of a 1,400 year-long battle that never had much to do with religion, was always about power, and is now amplified by rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Battles for power in the Middle East now are much like those between Protestant and Catholic nations in medieval Europe.

Our military actions in the Middle East lead only to more suffering (as well as dependable sales of weapons.)  Instead of continuing to make war, we should support UN peace-keeping forces.

And what about terrorism?   No matter how horrific and whether committed in the name of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion, or whether committed in the name of communism, anti-communism, anarchism or any other ideology, terrorism is a crime of violence.  Crime cannot be ended by war.

Crime cannot be ended at all, in fact, but it can be minimized when the rule of law is supported by an effective system of justice and policing.  After exploring more of the Middle East, I will consider how international justice and policing could more effectively counter al Queda and other terrorists.

Beyond the Media Hype: Fear and Loathing

It is traditional to express a wish around this time of year.  Mine is that all of us will come to feel this truth more — we are all the same.

It is also traditional to make a personal resolution.  Mine is to continue diligently training myself to act on this truth.  If all of us did, we would “save the world” — we would end suffering.

All the sameThat’s what motivated all these posts I originally titled “Fear and Loathing of…”  Someone I love said, “I wish you’d stop with the fear and loathing” and I knew it was a distressing title but it highlighted what is so dangerous, the fear and loathing our media stimulates.  On reflection, I think it amplifies the emotion so now I’ve renamed them “Beyond the Media Hype…”

Progressives fume about Fox News.  They’re right because 60% of Fox’s statements are mostly or completely false, less than 10% are true and less than 20% are even mostly true.  But it’s not just Fox News.

Politifact Fox

Conservatives fulminate about MSNBC.  They’re also right.  Almost half (44%) of statements there are mostly or completely false, again less than 10% are true, and although the percentage is better than with Fox News, less than 30% are mostly true.

Fox News and MSNBC give us stories to feed our hatred.  Better to watch CNN because fewer than 20% of their statements are mostly or completely false and 60% are true or mostly true.

Politifact MSNBC

But nonetheless, 18% of the statements on CNN are mostly or completely false.  We must not believe everything there.

Politifact CNN

Democracy cannot work when 3 of every 5 statements on Fox News are mostly or completely false, more than 2 of 5 statements on MSNBC are mostly or completely false, and even on CNN, only 3 of 5 statements are true or mostly true.

This is not a theoretical issue.  Falsehoods in the media persuade us that we have enemies, people who are fundamentally different from us, people we must destroy.

We are so easily led  to imagine those who seem different from us in some way are our enemies.  That’s why I originally titled these posts “Fear and Loathing Of/In …”

We fear being swept aside by immigrants, especially Muslims, we fear who knows what violence from Iran, Saudis are beset by conflict with each other that exacerbates our mutual suspicion, and so on and so on and so on.

I will continue to explore Middle Eastern nations and the ethnic, religious and other rivalries that transcend their arbitrarily imposed borders to set the context for a deeper exploration of what is really going on.

But please don’t wait.  We really are all the same — we all want to be more happy.  We all will be more happy if we become more kind, and we will grow more kind as we become more happy.

Beyond the Media Hype: Saudi Arabia

Where next to combat my ignorance about the Middle East?  Here.  We Americans fear and loathe Arabs in general but we imagine Saudis to be our friends.

Saudi Arabia is mostly inhospitable desert that covers 80% of the Arabian Peninsula.  The prophet Muhammed united nomadic tribes here in the early 7th century and established an Islamic state that his followers rapidly expanded.   The center of the Muslim world soon moved to better lands and most of what is now Saudi Arabia reverted to tribal rule.

In the 16th century, Ottoman rulers of Turkey north of Iraq added the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula to their empire.  Their control of the area varied over the next four centuries.  In 1916, tribal leaders encouraged by Britain mounted a failed revolt then the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of WW I.  Ibn Saud, who founded today’s Saudi Arabia and avoided the revolt, continued his three decades long campaign against his regional rivals.

He established the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 as an absolute monarchy governed under a puritanical form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabi that is practiced by 85–90% of Saudis.  The other 10-15%, who face systematic discrimination, are Shi’a.   No faith other than Islam is permitted, conversion by Muslims to other religions is outlawed and so is proselytizing by non-Muslims.

The royal family controls all the kingdom’s important posts.  Around 200 of more than 7,000 princes occupy the  key ministries and regional governorships.  The country in effect belongs to the Ibn Saud family.

Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north with Egypt, Israel and Palestine to Jordan’s west.  Syria is in the northwest and Iran is a few miles east over the Persian Gulf.  These borders were drawn up by the British and French at the end of WW I with little regard for tribal, religious or ethnic realities.

Saudi_Arabia_map(Map created by Norman Einstein, February 10, 2006)

Saudi Arabia is interesting to two communities.  Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammed and the site of his first revelation of the Quran, is Islam’s holiest city.  Non-Muslims are prohibited from it and a pilgrimage to it is mandatory for Muslims.  That Saudi Arabia is the world’s dominant oil producer and exporter and has the world’s second largest proved petroleum reserves motivates our interest.

Oil was struck in Pennsylvania in 1859, Russia found it in the Caucasus in 1873, then the British found it in Iraq in 1903.  They promptly declared they would “regard the establishment of a naval base or a fortified port in the Persian Gulf by any other power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal.”  Five years later, they struck oil in Iran.

Three years after that, the British began converting their navy from coal, of which they had ample supplies, to oil, of which they had none.  They landed forces in Iraq in 1914, captured Baghdad and began projecting power from there.  More oil was found in the Persian Gulf, starting in Bahrain in 1931 and followed by Kuwait and Qatar.  Then in 1933, Americans found oil in Saudi Arabia.

American businessmen were cautiously welcomed by the Saudi king as less threatening than Britain or other colonial powers.  He negotiated well with Aramco executives, the business established to export the oil, and later with the US government, trading oil for infrastructure development that transformed Saudi Arabia in a very short time from a medieval fiefdom to a 20th century one that became leader of the petroleum exporters, OPEC.

Oil_Reserves_Top_5_Countries

Saudi Arabia gained control of 20% of Aramco in 1972, full control in 1980 and was by 1976 the largest oil producer in the world.  In 1973, Saudi Arabia led an oil boycott against Western countries that supported Israel in its war against Egypt and Syria.

The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 led Saudi Arabia’s king to fear rebellion by the Shi’a minority in the east where the oil is located, and in the same year protesters against laxity and corruption in his government seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.  These events led to enforcement of much stricter religious observance and a greater role in government for Muslim legal scholars.

The royal family’s relations had been primarily with Aramco leaders until the reign of King Khalid starting in 1975.  After 1975 was when Saudi and US foreign policy grew closely aligned.

Saudi Arabia provided $25B to Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran, which we supported.  It condemned Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and allowed US and coalition troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia.  But it did not support or participate in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  The US by then no longer seemed a dependable ally.

There is significant opposition in Saudi Arabia both to US influence, and to the absolute monarchy.  The strongest opposition comes from Sunni religious leaders who want a stricter form of Islamic rule.  Others want the opposite.  The Saudi government was rated the 5th most authoritarian government out of 167 in 2012.  Women have almost no rights, it’s the only country in the world that bans them from driving.  There is also opposition from the Shi’a minority as well as tribal and regional opponents.

The Saudi royal family’s greatest fear, however, until the recent rise of the Islamic State whose stated goal is leadership of an Islamic world, has been Iran’s growing influence.  They are more alarmed now the US and Iran seem to be inching closer to a rapprochement.

So the Saudi royal family needs US military support but is at odds with us among other reasons because, like every other nation in the Middle East, they opposed the creation of Israel and are supportive of the Palestinians.  They have condemned the Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, but the Saudi royal family is Sunni and Hezbollah are Shi’a.

The royal family must also deal with anti-American feeling among the Saudi people.   Osama Bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and it is widely believed, in former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s words, that: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Very recently, the king criminalized “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” fearing that Saudis taking part in Syria’s civil war will return knowing how to overthrow a monarchy.  Syria now defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”  One of the groups they have named as a terrorist organization is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fear of its neighbors motivates Saudi Arabia to spend more than 10% of its GDP on its military, among the highest percentage of military expenditure in the world.  The kingdom has a long standing military relationship with Pakistan.  Some believe it funded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and could purchase such weapons from them for itself.

A good representative of what the Saudi government fears is Safar al-Hawali, a scholar who was a leader of the 1991 movement opposing the presence of US troops on the Arabian peninsula and a leader of a 1993 group that was the first to openly challenge the monarchy.

No surprise that al-Hawali is also a critic of the US government.

In 2005, al-Hawali wrote in An Open Letter to President Bush “the Roman Empire claimed to be the symbol of freedom and civilized values, just as you referred to America in your first statement after the incidents of September 11.  It was the greatest world power of its day, the heir of Greek civilization.  It had a Senate and a façade of democracy.  The Roman citizen had freedom of religion and personal behavior.  All this made it superior to other Empires throughout the world, and yet history does not speak well of this Empire because of the repulsive crime with which it stained its reputation: the persecution of the Christians.”

Elsewhere, al-Halawi wrote: “Since World War II, America has not been a democratic republic: it has become a military empire after the Roman model … the American way can be discerned and defined in one word: war.  America unhesitatingly enters into war anywhere in the world … Thus we notice that America is always seeking an enemy, and if it does not find one it creates one and inflates it using its terrible media to persuade its people’s conscience that the war it has declared is necessary and for a just cause.”  (“Inside the Mirage” Thomas A. Lippman, p. 328)

We imagine Saudi Arabia is our friend, but our thirst for oil provokes their memories of colonial powers.  Saudis and others in the Middle East don’t understand our unquestioning support for Israel.  Their Muslim leaders are as suspicious of American Christians as we are of them.  Inside Saudi Arabia the Shi’a minority is oppressed by their Sunni rulers, Wahhabi fundamentalists battle progressives, and nobody except the royal family can have a role in government.

Preconceptions like the ones we and Saudis hold about each other are not a dependable basis for friendship.  Instead, they fuel hatred.