Tomgram: Chris Hedges: War and Occupation, American-style

Dandelion Salad

by Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch
June 3, 2008

American soldiers have long scrawled messages to the enemy on the bombs they were about to deliver. In the The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes reminds us, for instance, that “Little Boy,” the bomb that would inaugurate a new age over Hiroshima, “was inscribed with autographs and messages, some of them obscene. ‘Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis,’ one challenged.” (The Indianapolis, a cruiser which had transported parts of Little Boy to the island of Tinian for assembly, had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine only a week earlier and most of its crew had died at sea under gruesome circumstances.) Continue reading

Tomgram: Kill Them! We Are Going to Wipe Them Out!

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
ICH
TomDispatch
June 1, 2008

Presidential Bloodlust
The Movie-Made War World of George W. Bush

Here’s a memory for you. I was probably five or six and sitting with my father in a movie house off New York’s Times Square — one of the slightly seedy theaters of that dawn of the 1950s moment that tended to show double or triple feature B-westerns or war movies. We were catching some old oater which, as I recall, began with a stagecoach careening dramatically down the main street of a cow town. A wounded man is slumped in the driver’s seat, the horses running wild. Suddenly — perhaps from the town’s newspaper office — a cowboy dressed in white and in a white Stetson rushes out, leaps on the team of horses, stops the stagecoach, and says to the driver: “Sam, Sam, who dun it to ya?” (or the equivalent). At just that moment, the camera catches a man, dressed all in black in a black hat — and undoubtedly mustachioed — skulking into the saloon.

My dad promptly turns to me and whispers: “He’s the one. He did it.”

Believe me, I’m awed. All I can say in wonder and protest is: “Dad, how can you know? How can you know?”

But, of course, he did know and, within a year or two, I certainly had the same simple code of good and evil, hero and villain, under my belt. It wasn’t a mistake I was likely to make twice.

Above all, of course, you couldn’t mistake the bad guys of those old films. They looked evil. If they were “natives,” they also made no bones about what they were going to do to the white hats, or, in the case of Gunga Din (1939), the pith helmets. “Rise, our new-made brothers,” the evil “guru” of that film tells his followers. “Rise and kill. Kill, lest you be killed yourselves. Kill for the love of killing. Kill for the love of Kali. Kill! Kill! Kill!”

“Wipe Them Out!”

Kill! Kill! Kill! That was just the sort of thing the native equivalent of the black hat was likely to say. Such villains — for a modern reprise, see the latest cartoon superhero blockbuster, Iron Man — were not only fanatical, but usually at the very edge of madness as well. And their language reflected that.

I was brought back with a start to just such evil-doers of my American screen childhood last week by a memoir from a once-upon-a-time insider of the Bush presidency. No, not former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who swept into the headlines by accusing the President of using “propaganda” and the “complicit enablers” of the media to take the U.S. to war in 2002-2003. I’m thinking of another insider, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. He got next to no attention for a presidential outburst he recorded in his memoir, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, so bloodthirsty and cartoonish that it should have caught the attention of the nation — and so eerily in character, given the last years of presidential behavior, that you know it has to be on the money.

Let me briefly set the scene, as Sanchez tells it on pages 349-350 of Wiser in Battle. It’s April 6, 2004. L. Paul Bremer III, head of the occupation’s Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as the President’s colonial viceroy in Baghdad, and Gen. Sanchez were in Iraq in video teleconference with the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Assumedly, the event was recorded and so revisitable by a note-taking Sanchez.) The first full-scale American offensive against the resistant Sunni city of Fallujah was just being launched, while, in Iraq’s Shiite south, the U.S. military was preparing for a campaign against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

According to Sanchez, Powell was talking tough that day: “We’ve got to smash somebody’s ass quickly,” the general reports him saying. “There has to be a total victory somewhere. We must have a brute demonstration of power.” (And indeed, by the end of April, parts of Fallujah would be in ruins, as, by August, would expanses of the oldest parts of the holy Shiite city of Najaf. Sadr himself would, however, escape to fight another day; and, in order to declare Powell’s “total victory,” the U.S. military would have to return to Fallujah that November, after the U.S. presidential election, and reduce three-quarters of it to virtual rubble.) Bush then turned to the subject of al-Sadr: “At the end of this campaign al-Sadr must be gone,” he insisted to his top advisors. “At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out.”

Not long after that, the President “launched” what an evidently bewildered Sanchez politely describes as “a kind of confused pep talk regarding both Fallujah and our upcoming southern campaign [against the Mahdi Army].” Here then is that “pep talk.” While you read it, try to imagine anything like it coming out of the mouth of any other American president, or anything not like it coming out of the mouth of any evil enemy leader in the films of the President’s — and my — childhood:

“‘Kick ass!’ [Bush] said, echoing Colin Powell’s tough talk. ‘If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal. “There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!'”

Keep in mind that the bloodlusty rhetoric of this “pep talk” wasn’t meant to rev up Marines heading into battle. These were the President’s well-embunkered top advisors in a strategy session on the eve of major military offensives in Iraq. Evidently, however, the President was intent on imitating George C. Scott playing General George Patton — or perhaps even inadvertently channeling one of the evil villains of his onscreen childhood.

American Mad Mullahs

Let’s recall a little history here: In the nineteenth century, Third World leaders who opposed Western imperial control were often not only demonized but imagined to be, in some sense, mad simply for taking on Western might. Throughout the latter part of that century, for instance, the British faced down various “mad mullahs” in North Africa.

Later, such imagery migrated easily enough to imperial Hollywood and thence into American movie houses. But here was the strange thing: In the Vietnam years, that era of reversals, a president of the United States privately expressed, for the first time, a desire to take on the mantle of madness previous reserved for the enemy in American culture (and undoubtedly many other cultures as well). It was not just that President Richard Nixon’s domestic critics were ready to label him a madman, but that, in his desire to end the Vietnam War in a satisfyingly victorious fashion, he was ready to label himself one.

“I call it the madman theory, Bob,” Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman reported the President saying. “I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ — and [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser, was equally fascinated with the possible bargaining advantage of having the enemy imagine the President as an evil, potentially world-obliterating madman. “Henry talked about it so much,” according to Lawrence Lynn, a Kissinger aide, “… that the Russians and North Vietnamese wouldn’t run risks because of Nixon’s character.” What made this fascination with the idea of a mad president more curious was that it fused with fears held by White House aides and advisers that Nixon, finger on the nuclear button, might indeed be impaired or nearing the edge of derangement. “My drunken friend,” “that drunken lunatic,” “the meatball mind,” or “the basket case,” was the way Kissinger referred to him after receiving his share of slurred late night phone calls.

So, in a historic moment almost four decades ago, a desperate president suddenly found it strategically advisable to present himself to his enemies as a potential nation slaughterer, a world incinerator (and his aides were privately ready to think of him as such); the leader of what was then commonly termed “the Free World,” that is, was considering revealing himself as a mad emperor, a veritable Ming the Merciless.

Skip ahead these several decades and, presidentially, things have only gotten stranger. After all, we now have a president who has openly, even eagerly, faced the world as the Commander-in-Chief of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Extraordinary Rendition, and Offshore Imprisonment; a Vice President who appeared openly on Capitol Hill to lobby against a bill banning torture; and key cabinet members who, from a White House conference room, micromanaged torture, down to specific techniques in specific cases. Talk about Ming the Merciless.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, you had one president whose critics would call him a “baby killer” — “that horrible song” was the way President Lyndon Baines Johnson referred to the antiwar chant, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” — and another ready to take on the mantle of madness for purposes of private diplomacy; and each was reportedly brought to the edge of private madness while in office. But both were also uncomfortable with imagery of themselves and exceedingly awkward in the televisual world of politics that was already starting to surround them; neither imagined himself “in the movies.”

Last Screen Appearance?

Usually Ronald Reagan, an actual actor, is seen as the president who spent his time in office playing the role of a lifetime, but, as it happens, he had nothing on George W. Bush. From the moment the attacks of September 11, 2001 gave him his “calling” as a “wartime” president, he has been deeply embroiled in acting out his cartoonish version of the role of the century. In fact, he has often seemed like little more than an overgrown boy plunged into his own war movie and war-play memories.

Let’s remember that, soon after 9/11, this President launched his “crusade, this war on terrorism” with an image of a poster from some generic Western of his childhood. (“Bush offered some of his most blunt language to date when he was asked if he wanted bin Laden dead. ‘I want justice,’ Bush said. ‘And there’s an old poster out West… I recall, that said, Wanted, Dead or Alive.'”) For years, he visibly glowed when publicly dressing up in a way that was redolent of the boy version of war (that is, doll… er, action figure) play. While Abraham Lincoln never put on a uniform and an actual general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, put his in the closet in his years as president, Bush uniquely and repeatedly appeared in public togged out in military wear, looking for all the world like a life-sized version of the original 12-inch G.I. Joe action figure — whether “landing” a jet on the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and stepping out in a nifty flight suit, or appearing before massed hooah-ing troops in specially tailored jackets with “George W. Bush, Commander In Chief” carefully stitched across the breast. (In fact, more than one toy company did indeed produce G.I. Joe-style Bush action figures.)

Evident above all, from September 14, 2001 — when he climbed that pile of rubble at “Ground Zero” in New York City and, bullhorn in hand, to “USA! USA!” cheers, wiped out the ignominy of his actions on the actual day of the attacks — was just how much he enjoyed his role as resolute leader of a wartime America. While his Vice President and top advisors were grimly, if eagerly, preparing to whack Saddam Hussein and taking the opportunity to create a permanent commander-in-chief presidency, the President was visibly having the time of his life, perhaps for the first time since he gave up those “wild parties” of his youth.

A rivulet of telling details about his behavior has flowed by us in these years. We know from Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, for instance, that, after 9/11, Bush kept “his own personal scorecard for the war” in a desk drawer in the Oval Office — photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. In July 2003, frustrated by signs that the Sunni insurgency in Iraq wasn’t going away, he impulsively offered this bit of bluster to reporters (as if he were the one who would take the brunt of future attacks): “There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ’em on.

In those moments when he spoke or acted spontaneously, there are plentiful clues that Bush took deep pleasure in finding himself in the role of commander-in-chief, and that he has been genuinely thrilled to do commander-in-chief-like things, at least as once pictured in the on-screen fantasy world of his youth. He was thrilled, for example, to receive from some of the troops who captured Saddam Hussein the pistol that the dictator had with him in his “spiderhole.” Back in 2004, TIME Magazine’s Matthew Cooper reported: “‘He really liked showing it off,’ says a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. ‘He was really proud of it.’ The pistol’s new place of residence is in the small study next to the Oval Office where Bush takes select visitors.” Similarly, he returned from one of his brief trips to Iraq “inspired” by a meeting with the pilot who shot off the missile that incinerated Bin Laden wannabe Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

On and off throughout these years, you could glimpse just what a cartoon-like white-hat/black-hat persona he imagined himself to be playing. This was true whether he was in his blustery tough-guy mode, as when, in September 2007, he arrived in Australia publicly proclaiming that the U.S. was “kicking ass” in Iraq; or when, as commander-in-chief, he regularly teared up with genuine (movie) emotion as he handed out medals, some posthumous, for bravery; or even when he discussed his own wartime version of “sacrifice” — he claimed to have given up golf for his war. As he told Mike Allen of Politico.com: “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin has pointed out that even Bush’s callow sacrifice of golf wasn’t real — he kept on playing — but that hardly matters. What’s crucial is that all this real life play-acting still moves, even thrills, him. Recently, for instance, he gave a graduation speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he once again compared Iraq to World War II (and so, implicitly, himself to President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a bust of whom he has kept in the Oval Office all these years). As Associated Press reporter Ben Feller commented: “Bush noted it was his last military academy commencement speech, and he seemed to savor it. He personally congratulated each cadet as cheers bounded across the stadium.” Note that word “savor,” when linked to the military and his commander-in-chief role. It’s been a quality evident in the President’s ongoing performance these last seven years. The photos of him goofing around with Air Force Academy graduates after his speech tell the story well.

In all this, you can sense a man in his own bubble world, engrossed in, and satisfied with, his own performance — both as actor and, as in childhood, audience. What Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has added to this is the picture of a man who, even in 2004, was already dreaming Vietnam disaster (“This Vietnam stuff… We can’t send that message.”); who, perhaps sensing that his blockbuster was busting, like Richard Nixon before him, proved willing to mix the white-hat and black-hat codes of his movie childhood in remarkable ways. Under the strain of a failing war, in private and among his top officials, he didn’t hesitate to take on that “guru” role and rally his closest followers with a call to kill, kill, kill!

A confused pep talk indeed. Even if Bush is still exhorting his top officials not to “blink,” Americans should. After all, there are almost eight months left to his presidency, and a man of such stunning immaturity, who confuses fantasy with real life, and is given to outbursts of challenge, bluster, and bloodlust should be taken seriously. Nixon’s “mad mullah” stayed private until transcripts of the Watergate tapes and memoirs started coming out. For us, the question remains, will this President be able to take a final turn on-screen before his term ends, playing the “mad mullah” in relation to Iran?

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture, has recently been updated in a newly issued edition. He edited, and his work appears in, the first best of Tomdispatch book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso), which is being published this month.

[Note for Readers: As far as I know, the key passage in Sanchez’s memoirs quoted in this piece was first noticed and commented upon by that indefatigable Iraq reporter, Patrick Cockburn. Unlike the key passages in Scott McClellan’s memoir, this one from Sanchez’s book has been little attended to. However, Dan Froomkin (cited in this piece), who does the Washington Post’s online column, White House Watch, also noted its existence. That’s not surprising. He seems never to miss any important development when it comes to the Bush administration. I link to his invaluable column often. As far as I’m concerned, it may be the most striking example of the sort of service a sharp columnist for a major paper can offer in the online world. I find it a daily must-read and recommend it strongly. Finally, if you want to know more about Mad Mullahs, American war movies, and a host of other subjects from World War II through the Iraq War, check out my recently updated book, The End of Victory Culture.]

Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt

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Tomgram: Mark Engler, How to Rule the World After Bush

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch (Tom Engelhardt)
May 18, 2008

A mere eight months to go until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office — though, given the cast of characters, it could seem like a lifetime. Still, it’s a reasonable moment to begin to look back over the last years — and also toward the post-Bush era. What a crater we’ll have to climb out of by then!

My last post, “Kiss American Security Goodbye,” was meant to mark the beginning of what will, over the coming months, be a number of Bush legacy pieces at Tomdispatch. So consider that series officially inaugurated by Foreign Policy in Focus analyst Mark Engler, who has just authored a new book that couldn’t be more relevant to our looming moment of transition: How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy.

The question Engler is curious to have answered is this: If Bush-style “imperial globalization” is rejected in January, what will American ruling elites try to turn to — Clinton-style economic globalization? Certainly, as Engler points out, many in the business and financial communities are now rallying to the Democrats. After all, while John Edwards received the headlines this week for throwing his support behind Barack Obama, that presidential candidate also got the nod from three former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmen — William Donaldson, David Ruder, and Clinton appointee Arthur Levitt Jr. The campaign promptly “released a joint statement by the former SEC chiefs, as well as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that praised Obama’s ‘positive leadership and judgment’ on economic issues.”

The United States, however, is a very different creature than it was in the confident years when these men rode high. Now, the world is looking at things much differently. Let Engler explain… Tom

Globalizers, Neocons, or…?

The World After Bush

By Mark Engler

Picture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.

It’s easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% — historic lows — it would not surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.

More surprising, however, might be the number of people in the crowd drinking finer brands of champagne. Amid the populist gala, one might well spot figures of high standing in the corporate world, individuals who once would have looked forward to the reign of an MBA president but now believe that neocon bravado is no way to run an empire.

…continued

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Tomgram: Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch (Tom Engelhardt)
May 15, 2008

Kiss American Security Goodbye

15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of Insecurity

Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi — until, that is, I realized I would never locate my “chi.” At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me — that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath — and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke — that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.

Before that fateful day, the Bush administration had considered terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda subjects for suckers and wusses. What they were intent on was pouring money into developing an elaborate boondoggle of a missile defense system against future nuclear attacks by rogue states. Those Cold War high frontiersmen (and women) couldn’t get enough of the idea of missiling up. That, after all, was where the money and the fun seemed to be. Nuclear was where the big boys — the nation states — played. “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.…,” the CIA told the President that August. Yawn.

After 9/11, of course, George W. Bush and his top advisors almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their various wars, all under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. (As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, “We have a choice — either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.”) By then, they were already heading out to “drain the swamp” of evil doers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveill, and listen in on America. All this to prevent “the next 9/11.”

In the process, they would treat bin Laden’s scattered al-Qaeda network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers “Islamofascists”). In the blinking of an eye, and in the rubble of two enormous buildings in downtown Manhattan, bin Laden and his cronies had morphed from nobodies into supermen, a veritable Legion of Doom. (There was a curious parallel to this transformation in World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, American experts had considered the Japanese — as historian John Dower so vividly documented in his book War Without Mercy — bucktoothed, near-sighted military incompetents whose war planes were barely capable of flight. On December 8, 1941, they suddenly became a race of invincible supermen without, in the American imagination, ever passing through a human incarnation.)

…continued

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The Last War & the Next One By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch
May 4, 2008

Descending into Madness in Iraq — and Beyond

The last war won’t end, but in the Pentagon they’re already arguing about the next one.

Let’s start with that “last war” and see if we can get things straight. Just over five years ago, American troops entered Baghdad in battle mode, felling the Sunni-dominated government of dictator Saddam Hussein and declaring Iraq “liberated.” In the wake of the city’s fall, after widespread looting, the new American administrators dismantled the remains of Saddam’s government in its hollowed out, trashed ministries; disassembled the Sunni-dominated Baathist Party which had ruled Iraq since the 1960s, sending its members home with news that there was no coming back; dismantled Saddam’s 400,000 man army; and began to denationalize the economy. Soon, an insurgency of outraged Sunnis was raging against the American occupation was raging.

After initially resisting democratic elections, American occupation administrators finally gave in to the will of the leading Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and agreed to sponsor them. In January 2005, these brought religious parties representing a long-oppressed Shiite majority to power, parties which had largely been in exile in neighboring Shiite Iran for years.

Now, skip a few years, and U.S. troops have once again entered Baghdad in battle mode. This time, they’ve been moving into the vast Sadr City Shiite slum “suburb” of eastern Baghdad, which houses perhaps two-and-a-half million closely packed inhabitants. If free-standing, Sadr City would be the second largest city in Iraq after the capital. This time, the forces facing American troops haven’t put down their weapons, packed up, and gone home. This time, no one is talking about “liberation,” or “freedom,” or “democracy.” In fact, no one is talking about much of anything.

And no longer is the U.S. attacking Sunnis. In the wake of the President’s 2007 surge, the U.S. military is now officially allied with 90,000 Sunnis of the so-called Awakening Movement, mainly former insurgents, many of them undoubtedly once linked to the Baathist government U.S. forces overthrew in 2003. Meanwhile, American troops are fighting the Shiite militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, a cleric who seems now to be living in Iran, but whose spokesman in Najaf recently bitterly denounced that country for “seeking to share with the U.S. in influence over Iraq.” And they are fighting the Sadrist Mahdi Army militia in the name of an Iraqi government dominated by another Shiite militia, the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, whose ties to Iran are even closer.

Ten thousand Badr Corps militia members were being inducted into the Iraqi army (just as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was demanding that the Mahdi Army militia disarm). This week, an official delegation from that government, which only recently received Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with high honors in Baghdad, took off for Tehran at American bidding to present “evidence” that the Iranians are arming their Sadrist enemies.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Bush-Cheney Israel Disinformation Campaign to Justify an Attack on Iran

Secret Bush “Finding” Widens War on Iran-Democrats OK Funds for Covert Ops

Is War With Iran Imminent? This time, it’s more than a rumor…

Tomgram: Petraeus, Falling Upwards By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch
April 27, 2008

Selling the President’s General

The Petraeus Story

You simply can’t pile up enough adjectives when it comes to the general, who, at a relatively young age, was already a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007. His record is stellar. His tactical sense extraordinary. His strategic ability, when it comes to mounting a campaign, beyond compare.

I’m speaking, of course, of General David Petraeus, the President’s surge commander in Iraq and, as of last week, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) for all of the Middle East and beyond — “King David” to those of his peers who haven’t exactly taken a shine to his reportedly “high self-regard.” And the campaign I have in mind has been his years’ long wooing and winning of the American media, in the process of which he sold himself as a true American hero, a Caesar of celebrity.

As far as can be told, there’s never been a seat in his helicopter that couldn’t be filled by a friendly (or adoring) reporter. This, after all, is the man who, in the summer of 2004, as a mere three-star general being sent back to Baghdad to train the Iraqi army, made Newsweek’s cover under the caption, “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (The article’s subtitle — with the “yes” practically etched into it — read: “Mission Impossible? David Petraeus Is Tasked with Rebuilding Iraq’s Security Forces. An Up-close Look at the Only Real Exit Plan the United States Has — the Man Himself”).

And, oh yes, as for his actual generalship on the battlefield of Iraq… Well, the verdict may still officially be out, but the record, the tactics, and the strategic ability look like they will not stand the test of time. But by then, if all goes well, he’ll once again be out of town and someone else will take the blame, while he continues to fall upwards. David Petraeus is the President’s anointed general, Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.

Launching Brand Petraeus

Recently, in an almost 8,000 word report in the New York Times, David Barstow offered an unparalleled look inside a sophisticated Pentagon campaign, spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in which at least 75 retired generals and other high military officers, almost all closely tied to Pentagon contractors, were recruited as “surrogates.” They were to take Pentagon “talking points” (aka “themes and messages”) about the President’s War on Terror and war in Iraq into every part of the media — cable news, the television and radio networks, the major newspapers — as their own expert “opinions.” These “analysts” made “tens of thousands of media appearances” and also wrote copiously for op-ed pages (often with the aid of the Pentagon) as part of an unparalleled, five-plus year covert propaganda onslaught on the! American people that lasted from 2002 until, essentially, late last night. Think of it, like a pod of whales or a gaggle of geese, as the Pentagon’s equivalent of a surge of generals.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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The neoconning of a nation: Vice-President, shilling troupe of retired generals, deliver fantastic tales for their cause

PBS: TV Generals Pentagon Propagandist & It’s Illegal!

Max and the Marginalized: Whose Face Can You Save

NYT on the Pentagon’s Puppets (video)

Pentagon pundits jeopardize America’s Free Press (Action Alert; vid)

Pentagon Propaganda & Antiwar Analysts

Major revelation: US media deceitfully disseminates government propaganda

Tomgram: Steve Fraser, The Two Gilded Ages

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch
April 23, 2008

Think of it as gilding the pain. Last year, hedge fund manager John Paulson of Paulson & Co. hauled in a nifty $3.7 billion. (Yes, you read that right.) Mainly, he did so, according to the Wall Street Journal, “by shorting, or betting against, subprime mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations.” And he wasn’t alone. Hedge fund money-maker Philip Falcone of Harbinger Capital Partners raked in a comparatively measly $1.7 billion in 2007, also by shorting subprime mortgages. These are fortunes beyond imagining, made in no time at all by betting on the pure misery of others. Think of them as Las Vegas with a mean streak a mile wide.

In a week in which Citibank released news of quarterly losses of $5.1 billion and sweeping job cuts, food riots dotted the planet, oil hit $117 a barrel, and regular gas prices averaged $3.47 a gallon at the pump (with another 30 cents likely to be tacked on in the next month), Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine released its list of the 50 top hedge fund managers. In 2007, they “made” a cumulative $29 billion. (Even to slip in among the top 25, you had to take in at least $360 million.) To put this in perspective, Paulson alone made $1.6 billion dollars more than it is going to cost J.P. Morgan Chase to pick up the tanking Bear Stearns; in one hour, he made 30 times what the median American family earned all last year. And here’s a little tidbit to go with that: Income inequality in 2007 was, according to the Associated Press, “at the highest level since 1928, the year before the Great Depression began.”

And still, a New York Times piece on the gains of Paulson and crew described the hedge fund managers with genuine awe as “those masters of a secretive, sometimes volatile financial universe.” Master of the Universe (a label originally attached to an over-muscled action figure of the 1980s by the name of He-Man) — such descriptions have been with us since the beginning of our new Gilded Age and no one knows this better than Steve Fraser. His book on our financial “masters of the universe” from the eighteenth century to the present, Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, has just been published. As he writes, “Beginning with the merger and acquisition mania of the mid-1980s, the media were overrun with depictions of Wall Street ‘gunslingers,’ ‘white knights’ and ‘black knights,’ ‘killer bees,’ ‘hired guns,’… and ‘barbarians at the gates,! ‘ warrior appellations borrowed helter-skelter from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and America’s mythologized West.” The language brought to bear always had that requisite edge of awe, part of an ethos that added up to a cult of the Titan. Fraser, whose book is simply superb (and, in this age of information onslaught, mercifully short), offers a brief history of key images of Wall Street movers and shakers — the aristocrat, the confidence man, the hero, and the immoralist — taking you on a concise tour of America’s love/hate relationship with Wall Street from the founding of the republic to late last night.

Now, as the gilding on our present age begins to peel and flake, Fraser turns back to the last Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century, to ask a few questions germane to our moment, especially why, today, unlike in the late nineteenth century, the protests over the Paulsons of our world aren’t rising to the heavens. Tom

The Great Silence

Our Gilded Age and Theirs
By Steve Fraser

Google “second Gilded Age” and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: it’s a matter of déjà vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened “gilded” in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?

Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in The Gilded Age, is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsized as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroad’s chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, to loot the federal treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policy-making. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq was conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand-strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

12 Reasons to Get Out of Iraq – Unraveling Iraq

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch
April 20, 2008

12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq

Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here’s the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the “success” of the President’s surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans “say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties” and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq — and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military’s worst Iraq nightmare: Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single overriding nightmare — not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein, they feared, would lure American forces into “Fortress Baghdad,” as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that make up the Iraqi capital’s poorest districts.

When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however, even Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So, mission accomplished — the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.

2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave — and still doesn’t: Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an “exit strategy.” In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn’t “permanent base,” but the more charming and euphemistic “enduring camp.” (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio’s defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as “one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.”

These mega-bases, like “Camp Cupcake” (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn’t changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for “an open-ended military presence” and “no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able ! to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries.”

3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly effectively): In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then ruling the country, officially turned over “sovereignty” to an Iraqi government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough, remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called “extraterritoriality” — the freedom not to be in any ! way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever. And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000 troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country, whatever the legalities might be (including a UN mandate and the claim that we are part of a “coalition”). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S. is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive of Iraq’s proliferating militias — and outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops actually occupy at any moment.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn: Petraeus’s Ghost

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
April 08, 2008

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who emerged triumphant from an Iraqi government assault on his Mahdi Army militia in Basra (and Baghdad) has called for a “million-strong” march in Baghdad tomorrow to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The demonstration just happens to fall on one of the days that General David Petraeus is to report to Congress on post-surge “progress” in Iraq. This is unlikely to be pure happenstance. Despite being regularly labeled “hot-headed,” a “firebrand,” and the like in the American press, Sadr, as Patrick Cockburn shows in his new book Muqtada, is a canny, cautious, strategically savvy political leader. In fact, he has turned out to play the life-and-death game of Iraqi politics better than any of the teams of American and Iraqi officials sent up against him, including most recently Gen. Petraeus, American Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As you watch Petraeus and Crocker go through their paces today and tomorrow, don’t imagine them alone at that table in front of a Senate committee. There’s a ghostly figure beside them, that “hot-headed” “radical cleric,” who has made a mockery of their plans for a pacified Iraq. For those of us who don’t know enough about that shadowy figure, Patrick Cockburn is, at this second, riding to the rescue. When it comes to timing, you couldn’t ask for better. His book on Sadr, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq is being published this very day as the cleric fights for news space with the general. As with so much else in these last years in Iraq, Cockburn was taking Sadr’s true measure while others, including actual hot-headed figures like that Bush administration viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, continued to look elsewhere or radically underestimate him.

Seymour Hersh has called Cockburn, who writes for the British paper, The Independent, “quite simply, the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today.” It’s hard to disagree with that. In a war of reportorial embedment, he’s been a unilateral, an almost recklessly, daringly free agent. He’s had some good company over the years: Robert Fisk in looted Baghdad amid the ashes of the royal archives of Iraq in April 20003 (“…and the Americans did nothing…”); Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post wandering the backstreets of Baghdad in somewhat better days; freelancer Nir Rosen in Fallujah in 2004; the British Guardian’s correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad with the Sunni resistance and recently in embattled Baghdad; various correspondents for Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy), including Leila Feidel, and a host of barely credited or uncredited Iraqi reporters working for Western outfits (whose normal journalists can hardly circulate in Iraq). But Cockburn, who never seems to stop circulating, is still sui generis.

The following piece on Muqtada al-Sadr is the final chapter of Cockburn’s new book and appears at Tomdispatch.com thanks to his publisher, Scribner, and his fine editor Colin Robinson. It’s the perfect antidote to Petraeus’s assessment of the Iraqi situation. Too bad our senators won’t hear Muqtada al-Sadr’s version of the same. Cockburn’s book, by the way, is eye-opening. Tom

Riding the Tiger

Muqtada al-Sadr and the American Dilemma in Iraq

By Patrick Cockburn

Muqtada al-Sadr is the most important and surprising figure to emerge in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. He is the Messianic leader of the religious and political movement of the impoverished Shia underclass whose lives were ruined by a quarter of a century of war, repression, and sanctions.

From the moment he unexpectedly appeared in the dying days of Saddam Hussein’s regime, U.S. emissaries and Iraqi politicians underestimated him. So far from being the “firebrand cleric” as the Western media often described him, he often proved astute and cautious in leading his followers.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Tomgram: Ira Chernus: The General and the Trap

Dandelion Salad

by Ira Chernus
TomDispatch (Tom Engelhardt)
April 6, 2008

They came, they saw, they… deserted.

That, in short form, is the story of the Iraqi government “offensive” in Basra (and Baghdad). It took a few days, but the headlines on stories out of Iraq (“Can Iraq’s Soldiers Fight?”) are now telling a grim tale and the information in them is worse yet. Stephen Farrell and James Glanz of the New York Times estimate that at least 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, or more than 4% of the force sent into Basra, “abandoned their posts” during the fighting, including “dozens of officers” and “at least two senior field commanders.”

Other pieces offer even more devastating numbers. For instance, Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post suggest that perhaps 30% of government troops had “abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached.” Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times offers 50% as an estimate for police desertions in the midst of battle in Baghdad’s vast Sadr City slum, a stronghold of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

In other words, after years of intensive training by American advisors and an investment of $22 billion dollars, U.S. military spokesmen are once again left trying to put the best face on a strategic disaster (from which they were rescued thanks to negotiations between Muqtada al-Sadr and advisors to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, brokered in Iran by General Qassem Suleimani, a man on the U.S. Treasury Department’s terrorist watch list). Think irony. “From what we understand,” goes the lame American explanation, “the bulk of these [deserters] were from fairly fresh troops who had only just gotten out of basic training and were probably pushed into the fight too soon.”

This week, with surge commander General David Petraeus back from Baghdad’s ever redder, ever more dangerous “Green Zone,” here are a few realities to keep in mind as he testifies before Congress:

1. The situation in Iraq is getting worse: Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. The surge-ified, “less violent” Iraq that the general has presided over so confidently is, in fact, a chaotic, violent tinderbox of city states, proliferating militias armed to the teeth, competing regions armed to the teeth, and competing religious factions armed to the teeth. Worse yet, under Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. has been the great proliferator. It has armed and funded close to 100,000 Sunnis organized into militias reportedly intent on someday destroying “the Iranians” (i.e. the Maliki government). It has also supported Shiite militias (aka the Iraqi army). In the recent offensive, it took sides in a churning Shiite civil war. As Nir Rosen recently summed matters up in a typically brilliant piece in the Nation magazine, Baghdad today is but a set of “fiefdoms run by warlo! rds and militiamen,” a pattern the rest of the country reflects as well. “The Bush administration,” he adds, “and the U.S. military have stopped talking of Iraq as a grand project of nation-building, and the U.S. media have dutifully done the same.” Meanwhile, in the little noticed north of the country, an Arab/Kurdish civil war over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly Mosul as well is brewing. This, reports Pepe Escobar of Asia Times, could be explosive. Think nightmare.

2. The Bush administration has no learning curve. Its top officials, military and civilian, are unable to absorb the realities of Iraq (or the region) and so, like the generals of World War I, simply send their soldiers surging “over the top” again and again, with minor changes in tactics, to the same dismal end. Time.com’s Tony Karon, at his Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, caught this phenomenon strikingly, writing that Maliki’s failed offensive “shared the fate of pretty much every similar initiative by the Bush Administration and its allies and proxies since the onset of the ‘war on terror.'”

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Petraeus Testimony Next Week Will Signal Iran Attack By Paul Craig Roberts

Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects By Nick Turse

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
March 30, 2008 4:40 pm

Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon’s Battle Bugs

We at Tomdispatch love anniversaries. So how could we have forgotten DARPA’s for so many months? This very year, the Pentagon’s research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), turns 50 old. Happy birthday, DARPA! You were born as a response to the Soviet Union’s launching of the first earth-girdling satellite, Sputnik, which gave Americans a mighty shock. To prevent another “technological surprise” by the Soviets — or anybody else, anytime, ever — the agency has grown into the Pentagon’s good right arm, always there to reach into the future and grab another wild idea for weaponization. Each year, DARPA now spends about $3 billion on a two-fold mission: “to prevent technological surprise for us and to create technological surprise for our adversaries.”

Next month, the agency will celebrate its anniversary with a conference that aims to “reflect on [its] challenges and accomplishments… over the past 50 years and to consider the Agency’s goals for the next 50 years.” What a super idea! Think of that. The next 50! If only Tomdispatch is still around — my brain well preserved and renewed (thanks to some nifty cutting-edge science from the TD Advanced Research Projects Lab) — to see War 2058 arrive and blow out those 100-year anniversary candles on the planet.

In the meantime, the future is now and Pentagon expert Nick Turse is at work — see below — on the latest developments in DARPA’s plans to help an overstretched military by reaching into the insect kingdom for its newest well weaponized recruits. The first larval Marines, perhaps. Ten-HUT! Unlike Americans at present, they should simply swarm to the recruiting offices.

It’s a strange (not to say hair-raising) subject for a journalist who has lately been covering the air war in Iraq and elsewhere for Tomdispatch. But the Pentagon’s urge to weaponize the wild kingdom is a topic Turse has long been familiar with and that he deals with powerfully in his remarkable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It is — believe me — the single most powerful look yet at all the subtle and complicated ways American lives have been militarized during the last decades. (For a short video discussion I had with Turse, click here.)

Oh, and here’s a suggestion for DARPA from a New Yorker. When you’re recruiting those bugs, don’t forget the roaches in my kitchen. They’ve been idle too long. Tom

***

Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects

A Futuristic Nightmare That Just Might Come True

By Nick Turse

Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They’re creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.

Today, many people fear U.S. government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia. Imagine a world in which any insect fluttering past your window may be a remote-controlled spy, packed with surveillance equipment. Even more frightening is the prospect that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with “bio weapons.”

For the past 50 years, work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the Pentagon’s blue skies research outfit — has led to some of the most lethal weaponry in the U.S. arsenal: from Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones and stealth fighters and bombers to Tomahawk cruise missiles and Javelin portable “fire and forget” guided missiles. For the last several years, DARPA has funneled significant sums of money into a very different kind of guided missile project, its Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS) program. This project is, according to DARPA, “aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems [MEMS] inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis.” Put simply, the creation of cyborg insects: part bug, part bot.

Bugs, Bots, Borgs and Bio-Weapons

This past August, at DARPA’s annual symposium — DARPATech — HI-MEMS program manager Amit Lal, an associate professor on leave from Cornell University, explained that his project aims to transform “insects into unmanned air-vehicles.” He described the research this way: “[T]he HI-MEMS program seeks to grow MEMS and electronics inside the insect pupae. The new tissue forms around the insertions, making the bio-electronic interface long-lasting and reliable.” In other words, micro-electronics are inserted at the pupal stage of metamorphosis so that they can be integrated into the insects’ bodies as they develop, creating living robots that can be remotely controlled after the insect emerges from its cocoon.

According to the latest reports, work on this project is progressing at a rapid pace. In a recent phone interview, DARPA spokesperson Jan Walker said, “We’re focused on determining what the best kinds of MEMS systems are; what the best MEMS system would be for embedding; what the best time is for embedding.”

This month, Rob Coppinger, writing for the aerospace trade publication Flight International, reported on new advances announced at the “1st US-Asian Assessment and Demonstration of Micro-Aerial and Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology” — a Pentagon-sponsored conference. “In the latest work,” he noted, “a Manduca moth had its thorax truncated to reduce its mass and had a MEMS component added where abdominal segments would have been, during the larval stage.” But, as he pointed out, Robert Michelson, a principal research engineer, emeritus at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, laid out “on behalf of DARPA” some of the obstacles that remain. Among them were short insect life-spans and the current inability to create these cyborgs outside specialized labs.

DARPA’s professed long-term goal for the HI-MEMS program is the creation of “insect cyborgs” capable of carrying “one or more sensors, such as a microphone or a gas sensor, to relay back information gathered from the target destination” — in other words, the creation of military micro-surveillance systems.

In a recent email interview, Michelson — who has previously worked on numerous military projects, including DARPA’s “effort to develop an ‘Entomopter’ (mechanical insect-like multimode aerial robot)” — described the types of sensor packages envisioned, but only in a minimalist fashion, as a “[w]ide array of active and passive devices.” However in “Insect Cyborgs: A New Frontier in Flight Control Systems,” a 2007 article in the academic journal Proceedings of SPIE, Cornell researchers noted that cyborg insects could be used as “autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles” with on-board “[s]ensory systems such as video and chemical.”

Surveillance applications, however, may only be the beginning. Last year, Jonathan Richards, reporting for The Times, raised the specter of the weaponization of cyborg insects in the not-too-distant future. As he pointed out, Rodney Brooks, the director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, indicated that the Pentagon is striving toward a major expansion in the use of non-traditional air power — like unmanned aerial vehicles and cyborg insects — in the years ahead. “There’s no doubt their things will become weaponized,” he explained, “so the question [is]: should they [be] given targeting authority?” Brooks went on to assert, according to The Times, that it might be time to consider rewriting international law to take the future weaponization of such “devices” into account.

But how would one weaponize a cyborg insect? On this subject, Robert Michelson was blunt: “Bio weapons.”

Cyborg Ethics

Michelson wouldn’t elaborate further, but any program using bio-weapons would immediately raise major legal and ethical questions. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention outlawed the manufacture and possession of bio-weapons, of “[m]icrobial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin… that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” and of “[w]eapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” In fact, not only did President George W. Bush claim that Iraq’s supposed production and possession of biological weapons was a justification for an invasion of that nation, but he had previously stated, “All civilized nations reject as intolerable the use of disease and biological weapons as instruments of war and terror.”

Reached for comment, however, DARPA’s Jan Walker insisted that her agency’s focus was only on “fundamental research” when it came to cyborg insects. Although the focus of her agency is, in fact, distinctly on the future — the technology of tomorrow — she refused to look down the road when it came to weaponizing insect cyborgs or arming them with bio-weapons. “I can’t speculate on the future,” was all she would say.

Michelson is perfectly willing to look into future, especially on matters of cyborg insect surveillance, but on the horizon for him are technical issues when it comes to the military use of bug bots. “Surveillance goes on anyway by other means,” he explained, “so a new method is not the issue. If there are ethical or legal issues, they are ones of ‘surveillance,’ not of the ‘surveillance platform.'”

Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights and civil liberties group, sees that same future in a different light. Cyborg insects, he says, are an order of magnitude away from today’s more standard surveillance technologies like closed circuit television. “CCTV is mostly deployed in public and in privately owned public spaces. An insect could easily fly into your garden or sit outside your bedroom window,” he explained. “To make matters worse, you’d have no idea these devices were there. A CCTV camera is usually an easily recognizable device. Robotic surveillance insects might be harder to spot. And having to spot them wouldn’t necessarily be good for our mental health.”

Does Michelson see any ethical or legal dilemmas resulting from the future use of weaponized cyborg insects? “No, not unless they could breed new cyborg insects, which is not possible,” he explained. “Genetic engineering will be the ethical and legal battleground, not cybernetics.”

Battle Beetles and Hawkish Hawkmoths

Weaponized or not, moths are hardly the only cyborg insects that may fly, creep, or crawl into the military’s future arsenal. Scientists from Arizona State University and elsewhere, working under a grant from the Office of Naval Research and DARPA, “are rearing beetle species at various oxygen levels to attempt to produce beetles with greater-than-normal size and payload capacity.” Earlier this year, some of the same scientists published an article on their DARPA-funded research titled “A Cyborg Beetle: Insect Flight Control Through an Implantable, Tetherless Microsystem.” They explained that, by implanting “multiple inserted neural and muscular stimulators, a visual stimulator, a polyimide assembly and a microcontroller” in a 2 centimeter long, 1-2 gram green June beetle, they were “capable of modulating [the insect’s] flight starts, stops, throttle/lift, and turning.” They could, that is, drive an actual beetle. However, unlike the June bug you might find on a porch screen or in a garden, these sported on-board electronics powered by cochlear implant batteries.

DARPA-funded HI-MEMS research has also been undertaken at other institutions across the country and around the world. For example, in 2006, researchers at Cornell, in conjunction with scientists at Pennsylvania State University and the Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile, received an $8.4 million DARPA grant for work on “Insect Cyborg Sentinels.” According to a recent article in New Scientist, a team led by one of the primary investigators on that grant, David Stern, screened a series of video clips at a recent conference in Tucson, Arizona demonstrating their ability to control tethered tobacco hawkmoths through “flexible plastic probes” implanted during the pupal stage. Simply stated, the researchers were able to remotely control the moths-on-a-leash, manipulating the cyborg creatures’ wing speed and direction.

Robo-Bugs

Cyborg insects are only the latest additions to the U.S. military’s menagerie. As defense tech-expert Noah Shachtman of Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog has reported, DARPA projects have equipped rats with electronic equipment and remotely controlled sharks, while the military has utilized all sorts of animals, from bomb-detecting honeybees and “chickens used as early-warning sensors for chemical attacks” to guard dogs and dolphins trained to hunt mines. Additionally, he notes, the DoD’s emphasis on the natural world has led to robots that resemble dogs, monkeys that control robotic limbs with their minds, and numerous other projects inspired by nature.

But whatever other creatures they favor, insects never seem far from the Pentagon’s dreams of the future. In fact, Shachtman reported earlier this year that “Air Force scientists are looking for robotic bombs that look — and act — like swarms of bugs and birds.” He went on to quote Colonel Kirk Kloeppel, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s munitions directorate, who announced the Lab’s interest in “bio-inspired munitions,” in “small, autonomous” machines that would “provide close-in [surveillance] information, in addition to killing intended targets.”

This month, researcher Robert Wood wrote in IEEE Spectrum about what he believes was “the first flight of an insect-size robot.” After almost a decade of research, Wood and his colleagues at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory are now creating small insect-like robots that will eventually be outfitted “with onboard sensors, flight controls, and batteries… to nimbly flit around obstacles and into places beyond human reach.” Like cyborg insect researchers, Wood is DARPA-funded. Last year, in fact, the agency selected him as one of 24 “rising stars” for a “young faculty awards” grant.

Asked about the relative advantages of cyborg insects compared to mechanical bugs, Robert Michelson noted that “robotic insects obey without innate or external influences” and “they can be mass produced rapidly.” He cautioned, however, that they are extremely limited power-wise. Insect cyborgs, on the other hand, “can harvest energy and continue missions of longer duration.” However, they “may be diverted from their task by stronger influences”; must be grown to maturity and so may not be available when needed; and, of course, are mortal and run the risk of dying before they can be employed as needed.

The Future is Now

There is plenty of technical information about the HI-MEMS program available in the scientific literature. And if you make inquiries, DARPA will even direct you to some of the relevant citations. But while it’s relatively easy to learn about the optimal spots to insert a neural stimulator in a green June beetle (“behind the eye, in the flight control area of the insect brain”) or an electronic implant in a tobacco hawkmoth (“the main flight powering muscles… in the dorsal-thorax”), it’s much harder to discover the likely future implications of this sci-fi sounding research.

The “final demonstration goal” — the immediate aim — of DARPA’s HI-MEMS program “is the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located a hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS).” Right now, DARPA doesn’t know when that might happen. “We basically operate phase to phase,” says Walker. “So, it kind of depends on how they do in the current phase and we’ll make decisions on future phases.”

DARPA refuses to examine anything but research-oriented issues. As a result, its Pentagon-funded scientists churn out inventions with potentially dangerous, if not deadly, implications without ever fully considering — let alone seeking public or expert comment on — the future ramifications of new technologies under production.

“The people who build this equipment are always going to say that they’re just building tools, that there are legitimate uses for them, and that it isn’t their fault if the tools are abused,” says the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Eckersley. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen that governments are more than willing to play fast-and-loose with the legal bounds on surveillance. Unless and until that changes, we’d urge researchers to find other projects to work on.”

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Adbusters, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published in Metropolitan Books’ American Empire Project series. His website is NickTurse.com

Copyright 2008 Nick Turse
FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Military Builds Robotic Insects by David Hambling (Israel; MAVs)

Robot Army in the Holy Land (bionic insects)

Will Israel’s Bionic Hornet Fulfill Prophecy? By Thomas Horn

Pentagon plans cyber-insect army By Gary Kitchener

DARPA

Tomgram: Greg Mitchell, Getting It Right on Iraq By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
Mar 18, 2008

Just imagine: You run a flagship national newspaper, the New York Times. It’s the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq. Your own record of reportage in the period leading up to the invasion was not exactly sterling. So, for a change of pace, you decide to turn most of your double op-ed page in your Sunday “Week in Review” over to people who can look back thoughtfully on the misapprehensions of that moment.

But who? Now, that’s a tough one. You want “nine experts on military and foreign affairs” who can consider “the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.” Hmm, sounds like an interesting idea. Of course, one option would be to gather together an involved crew who, even before the invasion began, saw in one way or another that problems, possibly disaster, lay ahead. That would be a logical thought…

Unsung Heroes and Alternate Voices

Some of The Best of Five Years of Iraq War Coverage

By Greg Mitchell
In the five years since the tragic U.S. intervention in Iraq began, many journalists for mainstream news outlets have certainly contributed tough and honest reporting. Too often, however, their efforts have either fallen short or been negated by a cascade of pro-war views expressed by pundits, analysts, and editorial writers at their own newspapers or broadcast/cable networks. This sorry record is detailed in my new book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.

But allow me — for once — to focus on the positive by suggesting that many of the most critical and important journalistic voices exposing the criminal nature of, and the many costs of, this war have emerged from an “alternative” universe that includes former war correspondents, reporters for small newspapers or news services, comedians, aging rock ‘n rollers, and bloggers, among others.

We can all name our favorite not-famous reporters or online scribes who have covered the war in Iraq in ways that should have been far more common, or offered biting commentary here at home. A full list would be long indeed, but here, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is my modest tip of the hat to just a few of my own favorites, based on what, to some, might seem an idiosyncratic definition of “journalist”:

…continued

see

FAIR: No Antiwar Voices in NYT ‘Debate’

How to Destroy a Country & Get Off Scot-Free By Linda Heard

Mosaic News – 3/17/08: World News from the Middle East

Winter Soldier 1971 Clip + Soldiers Testify About the Horrors of War (videos)

Baghdad: City of walls + Death, destruction & fear + Shabby, tired & scared

Tomgram: Philip K. Dick Meet George W. Bush By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
Mar 16, 2008

Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Globalization Bush-style

Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a small town somewhere near the Southern California coast. You’re going about your daily life, trying to scrape by in hard times, when the missile hits. It might have come from the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — its pilot at a base on the outskirts of Tehran — that has had the village in its sights for the last six hours or from the Russian sub stationed just off the coast. In either case, it’s devastating.

In Moscow and Tehran, officials announce that, in a joint action, they have launched the missile as part of a carefully coordinated “surgical” operation to take out a “known terrorist,” a long-term danger to their national security. A Kremlin spokesman offers the following statement:

“As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them. We share common goals with respect to fighting terrorism. We will continue to seek out, identify, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations or seek safe harbor.”

A family in a ramshackle house just down the street from you — he’s a carpenter; she works at the local Dairy Queen — are killed along with their pets. Their son is seriously wounded, their home blown to smithereens. Neighbors passing by as the missile hits are also wounded. As it happens, there are no terrorists in the vicinity. Outraged, you organize your neighbors and march angrily in protest through the town, shouting anti-Russian, anti-Iranian slogans. But, of course, there is nothing you can really do. Iran and Russia are far away, their weaponry powerful, your arms nonexistent. The state of California is incapable of protecting you. This is, in fact, at least the fourth time in recent months that a “terrorist” has been declared “taken out” from the air or by a ship-based cruise missile, when only innocent Californians have died.

As news of the “collateral damage” from the botched operation dribbles out, the Russian and Iranian media pay next to no attention. There are no outraged editorials. Official spokesmen see no need to comment further. No one is held responsible and no promises are made in either Tehran or Moscow that similar assassination strikes won’t be launched in the near future, based on “actionable intelligence,” possibly even on the same town. In fact, the next day, seeing UAVs once again soaring overhead, you load your pick-up and prepare to flee.

…continued

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Silent Scream: Anguish Grows in the Terror War’s Forgotten Victim by Chris Floyd

The U.S. Military’s Assassination Problem By David Case

Carnage from the Air and the Washington Consensus By Tom Engelhardt

Bombs Away Over Iraq by Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

by Tom Engelhardt
Global Research, January 31, 2008
TomDispatch – 2008-01-29

Normalizing Air War From Guernica to Arab Jabour

A Jan. 21
Los Angeles Times Iraq piece by Ned Parker and Saif Rasheed led with an inter-tribal suicide bombing at a gathering in Fallujah in which members of the pro-American Anbar Awakening Council were killed. (“Asked why one member of his Albu Issa tribe would kill another, Aftan compared it to school shootings that happen in the United States.”) Twenty-six paragraphs later, the story ended this way:

“The U.S. military also said in a statement that it had dropped 19,000 pounds of explosives on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. The strikes targeted buried bombs and weapons caches.

“In the last 10 days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives on the area, which has been a gateway for Sunni militants into Baghdad.”

And here’s paragraph 22 of a 34-paragraph Jan. 22 story by Stephen Farrell of the New York Times:

“The threat from buried bombs was well known before the [Arab Jabour] operation. To help clear the ground, the military had dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of bombs to destroy weapons caches and IEDs.”

Farrell led his piece with news that an American soldier had died in Arab Jabour from an IED that blew up “an MRAP, the new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the American military is counting on to reduce casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq.”

Note that both pieces started with bombing news – in one case a suicide bombing that killed several Iraqis; in another a roadside bombing that killed an American soldier and wounded others. But the major bombing story of these last days – those 100,000 pounds of explosives that U.S. planes dropped in a small area south of Baghdad – simply dangled unexplained off the far end of the Los Angeles Times piece, while, in the New York Times, it was buried inside a single sentence.

Neither paper has (as far as I know) returned to the subject, though this is undoubtedly the most extensive use of air power in Iraq since the Bush administration’s invasion of 2003 and probably represents a genuine shifting of American military strategy in that country. Despite, a few humdrum wire service pieces, no place else in the mainstream has bothered to cover the story adequately either.

For those who know something about the history of air power, which, since World War II, has been lodged at the heart of the American Way of War, that 100,000 figure might have rung a small bell.

On April 27, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (a prelude to World War II), the planes of the German Condor Legion attacked the ancient Basque town of Guernica. They came in waves, first carpet bombing, then dropping thermite incendiaries. It was a market day, and there may have been as many as 7,000-10,000 people, including refugees, in the town, which was largely destroyed in the ensuing fire storm. More than 1,600 people may have died there (though some estimates are lower). The Germans reputedly dropped about 50 tons or 100,000 pounds of explosives on the town. In the seven decades between those two 100,000 figures lies a sad history of our age.

Arab Jabour, the Sunni farming community about 10 miles south of the Iraqi capital that was the target of the latest 100,000-pound barrage, has recently been largely off-limits to American troops and their Iraqi allies. The American military now refers generically to all Sunni insurgents who resist them as “al-Qaeda,” so in situations like this it’s hard to tell exactly who has held this territory.

At Guernica, as in Arab Jabour 71 years later, no reporters were present when the explosives rained down. In the Spanish situation, however, four reporters in the nearby city of Bilbao, including George Steer of the Times of London, promptly rushed to the scene of destruction. Steer’s first piece for the Times (also printed in the New York Times) was headlined “The Tragedy of Guernica” and called the assault “unparalleled in military history.” (Obviously, no such claims could be made for Arab Jabour today.) Steer made clear in his report that this had been an attack on a civilian population, essentially a terror bombing.

The self-evident barbarism of the event – the first massively publicized bombing of a civilian population – caused international horror. It was news across the planet. From it came perhaps the most famous painting of the last century, Picasso’s Guernica, as well as innumerable novels, plays, poems, and other works of art.

As Ian Patterson writes in his book, Guernica and Total War:

“Many attacks since then, including the ones we have grown used to seeing in Iraq and the Middle East in recent years, have been on such a scale that Guernica’s fate seems almost insignificant by comparison. But it’s almost impossible to overestimate the outrage it caused in 1937. … Accounts of the bombing were widely printed in the American press, and provoked a great deal of anger and indignation in most quarters….”

Those last two tag-on paragraphs in the Parker and Rasheed Los Angeles Times piece tell us much about the intervening 71 years, which included the German bombing of Rotterdam and the blitz of London as well as other English cities; the Japanese bombings of Shanghai and other Chinese cities; the Allied fire-bombing of German and Japanese cities; the U.S. atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Cold War era of mutually assured destruction (MAD) in which two superpowers threatened to use the ultimate in airborne explosives to incinerate the planet; the massive, years-long U.S. bombing campaigns against North Korea and later North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; the American air power “victories” of Gulf War I and Afghanistan (2001); and the Bush administration’s shock-and-awe, air-and-cruise-missile assault on Baghdad in March 2003, which, though meant to “decapitate” the regime of Saddam Hussein, killed not a single Iraqi governmental or Ba’ath Party figure, only Iraqi civilians. In those seven decades, the death toll and damage caused by war – on the ground and from the air – has increasingly been delivered to civilian populations, while the United States has come to rely on its Air Force to impose its will in war.

One hundred thousand pounds of explosives delivered from the air is now, historically speaking, a relatively modest figure. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a single air wing from the USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier stationed in the Persian Gulf, did that sort of damage in less than a day and it was a figure that, as again last week, the military was proud to publicize without fear of international outrage or the possibility that “barbarism” might come to mind:

“From Tuesday afternoon through early Wednesday the air wing flew 69 dedicated strike missions in Basra and in and around Baghdad, involving 27 F/A-18 Hornets and 12 Tomcats. They dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of ordnance, said Lt. Brook DeWalt, Kitty Hawk public affairs officer.”

As far as we know, there were no reporters, Iraqi or Western, in Arab Jabour when the bombs fell and, Iraq being Iraq, no American reporters rushed there – in person or by satellite phone – to check out the damage. In Iraq and Afghanistan, when it comes to the mainstream media, bombing is generally only significant if it’s of the roadside or suicide variety; if, that is, the “bombs” can be produced at approximately “the cost of a pizza,” (as IEDs sometimes are), or if the vehicles delivering them are cars or simply fiendishly well-rigged human bodies. From the air, even 100,000 pounds of bombs just doesn’t have the ring of something that matters.

Some of this, of course, comes from the Pentagon’s success in creating a dismissive, sanitizing language in which to frame war from the air. “Collateral damage” stands in for the civilian dead – even though in much of modern war, the collateral damage could be considered the dead soldiers, not the ever rising percentage of civilian casualties. And death is, of course, delivered “precisely” by “precision-guided” weaponry. All this makes air war seem sterile, even virginal. Army Col. Terry Ferrell, for instance, described the air assaults in Arab Jabour in this disembodied way at a Baghdad news conference:

“The purpose of these particular strikes was to shape the battlefield and take out known threats before our ground troops move in. Our aim was to neutralize any advantage the enemy could claim with the use of IEDs and other weapons.”

Reports – often hard to assess for credibility – have nonetheless seeped out of the region indicating that there were civilian casualties, possibly significant numbers of them; that bridges and roads were “cut off” and undoubtedly damaged; that farms and farmlands were damaged or destroyed. According to Hamza Hendawi of the Associated Press, for instance, Iraqi and American troops were said to have advanced into Arab Jabour, already much damaged from years of fighting, through “smoldering citrus groves.”

But how could there not be civilian casualties and property damage? After all, the official explanation for this small-scale version of a “shock-and-awe” campaign in a tiny rural region was that American troops and allied Iraqi forces had been strangers to the area for a while, and that the air-delivered explosives were meant to damage local infrastructure – by exploding roadside bombs and destroying weapons caches or booby traps inside existing structures. As that phrase “take out known threats before our ground troops move in” made clear, this was an attempt to minimize casualties among American (and allied Iraqi) troops by bringing massive amounts of firepower to bear in a situation in which local information was guaranteed to be sketchy at best. Given such a scenario, civilians will always suffer. And this, increasingly, is likely to be the American way of war in Iraq.

The ABCs of Air War in Iraq

So let’s focus, for a moment, on American air power in Iraq and gather together a little basic information you’re otherwise not likely to find in one place. In these last years, the Pentagon has invested billions of dollars in building up an air-power infrastructure in and around Iraq. As a start, it constructed one of its largest foreign bases anywhere on the planet about 50 miles north of Baghdad. Balad Air Base has been described by Newsweek as a “15-square-mile mini-city of thousands of trailers and vehicle depots,” whose air fields handle 27,500 takeoffs and landings every month.

Reputedly “second only to London’s Heathrow Airport in traffic worldwide,” it is said to handle congestion similar to that of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. With about 140,000 tons a year of cargo moving through it, the base is “the busiest aerial port” in the global domains of the Department of Defense.

It is also simply massive, housing about 40,000 military personnel, private contractors of various sorts, and Pentagon civilian employees. It has its own bus routes, fast-food restaurants, sidewalks, and two PXs that are the size of K-Marts. It also has its own neighborhoods including, reported the Washington Post‘s Thomas Ricks, “KBR-land” for civilian contractors and “CJSOTF” (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force), “home to a special operations unit [that] is hidden by especially high walls.”

Radar traffic controllers at the base now commonly see “more than 550 aircraft operations in just one day.” To the tune of billions of dollars, Balad’s runways and other facilities have been, and continue to be, upgraded for years of further wear and tear. According to the military press, construction is to begin this month on a $30 million “state-of-the-art battlefield command and control system [at Balad] that will integrate air traffic management throughout Iraq.”

National Public Radio’s Defense Correspondent Guy Raz paid a visit to the base last year and termed it “a giant construction site. … [T]he sounds of construction and the hum of generators seem to follow visitors everywhere. Seen from the sky at night, the base resembles Las Vegas: While the surrounding Iraqi villages get about 10 hours of electricity a day, the lights never go out at Balad Air Base.”

This gargantuan feat of construction is designed for the military long haul. As Josh White of the Washington Post reported recently in a relatively rare (and bland) summary piece on the use of air power in Iraq, there were five times as many U.S. air strikes in 2007 as in 2006; and 2008 has, of course, started off with a literal bang from those 100,000 pounds of explosives dropped southeast of Baghdad. That poundage assumedly includes the 40,000 pounds of explosives, which got modest headlines for being delivered in a mere 10 minutes in the Arab Jabour area the previous week, but not the 16,500 pounds of explosives that White reports being used north of Baghdad in approximately the same period; nor, evidently, another 15,000 pounds of explosives dropped on Arab Jabour more recently. (And none of these numbers seem to include Marine Corps figures for Iraq, which have evidently not been released.)

Who could forget all the attention that went into the president’s surge strategy on the ground in the first half of last year? But which media outlet even noticed, until recently, what Bob Deans of Cox News Service has termed the “air surge” that accompanied those 30,000 surging troops into the Iraqi capital and environs? In that same period, air units were increasingly concentrated in and around Iraq. By mid-2007, for instance, the Associated Press was already reporting:

“[S]quadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq. … Early this year, with little fanfare, the Air Force sent a squadron of A-10 ‘Warthog’ attack planes – a dozen or more aircraft – to be based at al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. At the same time it added a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons … at Balad.”

Meanwhile, in the last year, aircraft-carrier battle groups have been stationed in greater numbers in the Persian Gulf and facilities at sites near Iraq like the huge al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar continue to be upgraded.

Even these increases do not tell the whole story of the expanding air war. Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press reported recently that “the military’s reliance on unmanned aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents has soared to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq.” The use of such unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including Hellfire-missile armed Predators, doubled in the first ten months of 2007 – with Predator air hours increasing from 2,000 to 4,300 in that period. The Army alone, according to Baldor, now has 361 drones in action in Iraq. The future promises much more of the same.

(American military spokespeople and administration officials have, over the years, decried Iraqi and Afghan insurgents for “hiding” behind civilian populations – in essence, accusing them of both immorality and cowardice. When such spokespeople do admit to inflicting “collateral damage” on civilian populations, they regularly blame the guerrillas for making civilians into “shields.” And all of this is regularly, dutifully reported in our press. On the other hand, no one in our world considers drone warfare in a similar context, though armed UAVs like the Predators and the newer, even more heavily armed Reapers are generally “flown” by pilots stationed at computer consoles in places like Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas. It is from there that they release their missiles against “anti-Iraqi forces” or the Taliban, causing civilian deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

As one American pilot, who has fired Predator missiles from Nellis, put it:

“I go from the gym and step inside Afghanistan, or Iraq. … It takes some getting used to it. At Nellis you have to remind yourself, ‘I’m not at the Nellis Air Force Base. Whatever issues I had 30 minutes ago, like talking to my bank, aren’t important anymore.'”

To American reporters, this seems neither cowardly nor in any way barbaric, just plain old normal. Those pilots are not said to be “hiding” in distant deserts or among the civilian gamblers of Caesar’s Palace.)

Anyway, here’s the simple calculus that goes with all this: Militarily, overstretched American forces simply cannot sustain the ground part of the surge for much longer. Most, if not all, of those 30,000 troops who surged into Iraq in the first half of 2007 will soon be coming home. But air power won’t be. Air Force personnel are already on short, rotating tours of duty in the region. In Vietnam back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as ground troops were withdrawn, air power ramped up. This seems once again to be the pattern. There is every reason to believe that it represents the American future in Iraq.

From Barbarism to the Norm

The air war is simply not visible to most Americans who depend on the mainstream media. In part, this is because American reporters, who have covered every other sort of warfare in Iraq, simply refuse to look up.

It should be no surprise then that news of a future possible escalation of the air war was first raised by a journalist who had never set foot in Iraq and so couldn’t look up. In a December 2005 piece entitled “Up in the Air,” New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh suggested that “a key element of [any] drawdown plans, not mentioned in the president’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. … The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.”

After Hersh broke his story, the silence was deafening. Only one reporter, as far as I know, has even gone up in a plane – David S. Cloud of the New York Times, who flew in a B-1 from an unnamed “Middle Eastern airfield” on a mission over Afghanistan. Thomas Ricks traveled to Balad Air Base and did a superb report on it in 2006, but no reporter seems to have bothered to hang out with American pilots, nor have the results of bombing, missile-firing, or strafing been much recorded in our press. The air war is still largely relegated to passing mentions of air raids, based on Pentagon press releases or announcements, in summary pieces on the day’s news from Iraq.

Given American military history since 1941, this is all something of a mystery. A Marine patrol rampaging through an Iraqi village can, indeed, be news; but American bombs or missiles turning part of a city into rubble or helicopter gunships riddling part of a neighborhood is, at best, tag-on, inside-the-fold material – a paragraph or two, as in this AP report on the latest fighting in an undoubtedly well-populated part of the city of Mosul:

“An officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said three civilians were wounded and helicopters had bombarded buildings in the southeastern Sumar neighborhood, which has seen frequent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces that have led to a series of raids.”

The predictably devastating results of helicopters “bombarding” an urban neighborhood in a major Iraqi city, if reported at all, will be treated as just the normal “collateral damage” of war as we know it. In our world, what was once the barbarism of air war, its genuine horror, has been transformed into humdrum ordinariness (if, of course, you don’t happen to be an Iraqi or an Afghan on the receiving end), the stuff of largely ignored Air Force news releases. It is as unremarkable (and as American) as apple pie, and nothing worth writing home to mom and the kids about.

Maybe then, it’s time for Seymour Hersh to take another look. Or for the online world to take up the subject. Maybe, sooner or later, American mainstream journalists in Iraq (and editors back in the U.S.) will actually look up, notice those contrails in the skies, register those “precision” bombs and missiles landing, and consider whether it really is a ho-hum, no-news period when the U.S. Air Force looses 100,000 pounds of explosives on a farming district on the edge of Baghdad. Maybe artists will once again begin pouring their outrage over the very nature of air war into works of art, at least one of which will become iconic, and travel the world reminding us just what, almost five years later, the “liberation” of Iraq has really meant for Iraqis.

In the meantime, brace yourself. Air war is on the way.

Note on Air-War Readings: The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a study in December 2007 on the air war in Iraq, which can be read by clicking here [.pdf]. Figures on the rising intensity of air power in that country can be found there – of a sort that the Washington Post only recently reported on. For some historical background on U.S. air power and the bombing of noncombatants, I suggest checking out Mark Selden’s “A Forgotten Holocaust.”

Those who, in these years, wanted to find out something substantive about the air war in Iraq had to look to independent sites on line. At TomDispatch, I began writing on the air war in 2004. See, for instance, “Icarus (armed with Vipers) Over Iraq“; others have taken up the subject at this site since: See Dahr Jamail’s “Living Under the Bombs“; Nick Turse’s “Bombs Over Baghdad, The Pentagon’s Secret Air War in Iraq” and “Did the U.S. Lie about Cluster Bomb Use in Iraq” (both of which involved the sort of reporting, long distance, that American journalists should have been doing in Iraq); and Michael Schwartz’s “A Formula for Slaughter: The American Rules of Engagement from the Air,” among other pieces. On the air war in Afghanistan, see my “‘Accidents of War,’ The Time Has Come for an Honest Discussion of Air Power.”

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How to Sink Americä: Why the Debt Crisis Is Now the Greatest Threat to the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson

Dandelion Salad

by Chalmers Johnson
Global Research, January 24, 2008
Tomgram

Within the next month, the Pentagon will submit its 2009 budget to Congress and it’s a fair bet that it will be even larger than the staggering 2008 one. Like the Army and the Marines, the Pentagon itself is overstretched and under strain — and like the two services, which are expected to add 92,000 new troops over the next five years (at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion per 10,000), the Pentagon’s response is never to cut back, but always to expand, always to demand more. Continue reading