Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken


The Pentagon has never been audited. That’s astonishing

The president proposes a $52bn increase in military spending while reports of waste and abuse pile up. An investigation must scrutinise spending

A portion of President Donald Trump's first proposed budget, focusing on the Department of Defense
The gap between lawmakers’ calls to blindly increase spending at DoD versus those of internal auditors to curtail its waste isn’t a new problem.’ President Trump’s budget proposals focusing on the Department of Defense. Photograph: Jon Elswick/APMonday 20 March 2017 Last modified on Monday 20 March 2017
On Thursday, Donald Trump released a preliminary budget proposal that calls for a $52bn increase in military spending. But just last December, a Washington Post investigation found that the Pentagon had buried a report that outlines $125bn in waste at the Department of Defense. That gap between lawmakers’ calls to blindly increase spending at DoD versus those of internal auditors to curtail its waste isn’t a new problem, and it’s one that, without pressure, won’t be resolved any time soon.

That’s because although it’s required to by law, the DoD has never had an audit, something every American person, every company and every other government agency is subject to. The result is an astounding $10tn in taxpayer money that has gone unaccounted for since 1996.

“Over the last 20 years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when an audit would be completed,” the director of the Audit the Pentagon coalition, Rafael DeGennaro, told the Guardian. “Meanwhile, Congress has more than doubled the Pentagon’s budget.”

Legislation in the early 1990s demanded that all government agencies had annual audits, but the Pentagon has exempted itself without consequence for 20 years now, telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that collecting and organizing the required information for a full audit is too costly and time-consuming.

In the meantime, the GAO and Office of the Inspector General (IG) have published an endless stream of reports documenting financial mismanagement: $500m in aid to Yemen lost here, $5.8bn in supplies lost there, $8,000 spent on helicopter gears that really cost $500.

As reports and news articles about waste and abuse at the Pentagon pile up, prominent voices from across the political spectrum – from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz to Grover Norquist – are expressing support for a full audit of DoD. In a 2013 video message to the whole of the defense department, then secretary of defense Chuck Hagel told employees that the department’s non-compliance was “unacceptable”. During this past election cycle, both the Democratic and Republican platforms called for the Pentagon’s audit.

But despite broad support, the issue has remained stagnant in Washington. “I really can’t figure it out,” Democratic party representative for California Barbara Lee told the Guardian. When legislators get around to tackling waste, they “go after domestic agencies and community organizations, but they never go after the Pentagon,” she said. Since 2013, she has introduced bipartisan legislation that would financially penalize DoD for not receiving a clean audit.

“Quite frankly, they should have been audit-ready decades ago, after Congress passed the initial audit law in the early 90s,” Republican representative for Texas Michael Burgess, co-sponsor of the Audit the Pentagon Act along with Lee, told the Guardian. People have “accepted that the Department of Defense is expensive and that that’s how business has to be done. But I don’t accept that.”

Others say the problem goes beyond bureaucracy. William Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and he says private contractors have found a way to make use of the Pentagon’s struggle to get its books in order. Contractors, he says, will “periodically intervene to try to stop practices that would make them more accountable”.

Specifically, the defense industry has sought to weaken the office of the director, operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) at the Department of Defense, which evaluates weapons systems before they’re manufactured on a larger scale. “It’s one of the few places that’s revealed a lot of problems,” says Hartung. The DOT&E, for example, has uncovered flaws in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program among a slew of other contracts. “The concept is: benefit from a dysfunctional system because they can charge however much they want and there’s not a lot of quality control,” says Hartung.

Another issue is the proximity between DoD and the private sector, something that appears to touch even the department’s inspector general’s office. In 2014, the Pentagon celebrated the Marine Corps’s success at being the first military agency to pass an audit. But a year later it was found that the private accounting firm hired to carry out the audit, Grant Thornton, had not been thorough. The Marine Corps had desperately wanted to achieve a “clean” status, due to pressure from then defense secretary Leon Panetta to get its books in order.

In a scathing response to the debacle, Republican senator for Iowa Chuck Grassley said that the actions of the DoD IG showed a “lack of independence and flagrant disregard for audit ethics”, calling the deputy IG for auditing “a Grant Thornton lapdog”.

Washington’s revolving door also touches the agency, with a number of high-profile individuals moving to the private sector after leaving their jobs, something that is perfectly within the law and government regulations.

In the end, Hartung says that the military’s stature and almost holy status make focusing on accountability difficult. If lobbying doesn’t work, he says, they can always “wrap themselves in the flag and say this is necessary for defense. But if people don’t poke into the details,” they won’t “find out that, in fact, not every penny being spent is sacrosanct”.

U.S. Military Warns of Climate-Driven ‘Instability on an International Scale’

Posted on Sep 22, 2016

By Alex Kirby / Climate News Network

Naval Air Station Key West in Florida feels the forces of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. (Jim Brooks / US Navy via Wikimedia Commons)

LONDON—A group of senior defence experts in the US has warned that climate change is a threat to the country’s security, with the stark message that “the impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to US military readiness, operations and strategy”.

They are members of the Climate Security Consensus Project, a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts—many of whom have served in previous Republican or Democratic administrations.

Meeting at a forum in Washington DC organised by the Centre for Climate and Security (CCS), the group said the effects of climate change “present a strategically-significant risk to US national security and international security”.

A statement from the members, who include retired senior officers from the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, expresses concern about risks to regions of the world of strategic significance to Washington—“risks that can contribute to political and financial instability on an international scale, as well as maritime insecurity”.

Likelihood of conflict

They say stresses resulting from climate change can increase the likelihood of conflict within and between countries, state failure, mass migration, and the creation of additional ungoverned spaces.

These could develop “across a range of strategically-significant regions, including but not limited to the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the Arctic regions”.

They also fear that the impacts of climate change “will place significant strains on international financial stability through contributing to supply line disruptions for major global industries … disrupting the viability of the insurance industry, and generally increasing the political and financial risks of doing business in an increasingly unstable global environment”.

There’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it”

Supporting their statement are two documents released at the forum, which the organisers said together urged “a robust new course on climate change”.

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, co-presidents of the CCS, said: “These reports make it crystal clear. To national security and defence leaders, there’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it.”

One of the reports—on sea level rise and the US military—says a growing number of studies exploring the actual and potential physical impacts of sea level rise on US military installations “show that the risks are increasing at a faster rate than expected”.

The stability of the 1,774 US military sites spread worldwide along 95,471 miles of coastline “is set to change dramatically due to sea level rise and storm surge. …

“We cannot wait for perfect information before assessing the risks and impacts. … Essentially, the very geostrategic landscape in which the US military operates is going to be different from what it is today.”

The second report, described as a briefing book for a new administration, recommends ways to address the security risks of a changing climate. The first of these urges the new president to appoint a cabinet-level official to lead on domestic climate change and security issues.

Concerns about security

This is not the first time that the CCS has voiced its concerns about the security risks posed to the US by climate change.

What is notable this time is the group’s emphasis, during a bitterly divisive presidential election campaign, on the bipartisan nature of its work. Its language is uncompromising, and its insistence that there is “absolutely nothing political about climate change” will antagonise many Americans and reassure many more.

The presidential election in less than two months from now will see two viscerally-opposed contenders for the White House pushing diametrically different views on climate change, as well as many other issues.

Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has said the science is “crystal clear”, and that climate change is an “urgent threat”.

But Republican candidate Donald Trump wrote this month: “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change’.” He has described it as a hoax invented by the Chinese, and earlier this year called it “bullshit”.

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

US military whitewashes attack on Afghan hospital


By Peter Symonds

30 April 2016

The Pentagon’s final report into last October’s deadly US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in northern Afghanistan is a brazen whitewash. The protracted attack by an AC-130 gunship on the medical facility in Kunduz killed 42 civilians, some of whom were burned alive in their beds, and others mowed down as they attempted to flee.

General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, told a press conference yesterday that the attack on the MSF hospital was not a war crime because it had not been intentional. He claimed that neither the gunship crew members nor the Special Forces on the ground directing the attack “knew they were striking a medical facility.”

The report blamed the deaths on “human errors compounded by process and equipment failures.” None of those involved will face a court marshal or criminal charges. Instead, 16 American military personnel have been punished with “administrative actions” that range from suspension and removal from command to letters of reprimand. None have been named, and some are still active in overseas war zones.

The Pentagon’s account of events on the night of October 3 is riddled with contradictions. The AC-130 supposedly took off early without the crew being briefed and without a database being uploaded to the aircraft’s computers that would have identified the Kunduz hospital as a protected building. MSF had previously provided coordinates to the US military, and the hospital was marked with the organisation’s insignia.

The report claimed that the hospital had been mistaken for the intended target—the National Directorate of Security building that had been taken over by Taliban forces—some 400 metres away. The aircraft’s data link failed and it came under fire, forcing it to move to a safe distance. The coordinates provided by Afghan ground forces supposedly directed the aircraft’s weapons at an empty field, forcing the crew to rely on visual identification.

At 2:08 am, the AC-130 gunship, which is armed with 40mm and 20mm cannons as well as a 105mm howitzer, began its devastating attack. Within minutes, MSF personnel contacted the American military saying they were under fire, but the onslaught continued.

According to the Pentagon report, the Special Forces commander on the ground finally called off the attack at 2:38 am—half an hour later. A MSF inquiry based on eyewitness statements found the assault continued for between 60 and 75 minutes, clearly contradicting the Pentagon’s claims.

Moreover, the Pentagon report itself concluded that the hospital was not being used by the Taliban as a base of operations—negating Afghan government allegations to the contrary. No one was firing or carrying out hostile acts from the hospital. Yet the Special Forces commander on the ground ordered the attack anyway in violation of rules of engagement that authorise airstrikes only to protect US or allied forces.

At his press conference, General Votel justified the attack by declaring that the American aircraft was operating in “an extraordinarily intense combat situation” in which it was trying to support Afghan troops. At the same time, he claimed that it was often not possible for trained operators to tell if fire was coming from a particular building or location.

The Pentagon’s account is simply not credible. If the aircraft was plagued by equipment failure and the crew had difficulty identifying the target, why was the mission not simply aborted?

Doctors Without Borders has reiterated its call for an independent inquiry. MSF President Meinie Nicolai told the media: “Today’s briefing amounts to an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during when US forces failed to follow the basic laws of war…

“There are questions here, on the self defence called in by the troops, even though it was a quiet evening. Why didn’t they call off the operation if they had such a malfunctioning system, they had a duty to take precautions, and they had doubts about the target?” Nicolai said.

John Sifton, Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times that the failure to bring criminal charges was “inexplicable”. He said that the Pentagon’s assertion that no war crime had been committed because the attack was unintentional was “flatly wrong”, pointing out that recklessness or negligence did not absolve someone of criminal responsibility.

In reality, the Pentagon’s elaborate account of human errors and equipment malfunctions stinks of a carefully contrived cover-up. A far more straightforward explanation is that the US military deliberately targeted the hospital either to assassinate a particular “high-value” individual, or to destroy a facility that treated everyone, including wounded Taliban fighters.

The chief responsibility for what is clearly a war crime rests not just with the immediate operational commanders but with the Pentagon top brass and the Obama administration. Hundreds of civilians have been slaughtered as a result of indiscriminate drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries.

Moreover, in nearly a decade-and-a-half of war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has routinely denied responsibility for civilian deaths. It has acknowledged such crimes only when, as in the case of the Kunduz hospital, the evidence is overwhelming. In the wake of the Kunduz slaughter, the US military provided a so-called condolence payment of $6,000 to the families of the dead and $3,000 to injured victims.

The Pentagon’s whitewash of the airstrike on the Kunduz hospital is in marked contrast to the immediate US condemnation of an alleged Syrian government attack on a MSF hospital in the city of Aleppo on Wednesday. At least 27 patients and staff were killed in the attack.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US was “outraged” by the attack. Without waiting for facts and details, he declared that “it appears to have been a deliberate strike on a known facility and follows the Assad regime’s appalling record of striking such facilities.”

Kerry’s denunciation of the Aleppo attack simply underscores the crimes of the Obama administration for which no one has been held accountable.

Obama promotes militarism and murder


By Patrick Martin
23 July 2015

In a speech Tuesday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, President Obama gave an extraordinary picture of his role as “commander-in-chief” of American imperialism. He listed a series of men killed or kidnapped by US Special Operations forces, punctuating the list with the assertion of their current status as either dead or imprisoned in the US.

As distributed by the White House, the text reads: “Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen—gone. Many of Al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements—gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane—the leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia—gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa—captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi—captured. The list goes on.”

Obama made no mention of the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen, convicted of no crime, judged in no court, but sentenced to death on the sole authority of the president of the United States. Nor did he refer to the subsequent US government murder of Awlaki’s son, an innocent teenager, in another drone missile strike, or the thousands of other civilian victims of US drone warfare across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

This recitation of a death list came as the peroration of a speech in which Obama identified himself with the US military and demanded an end to congressional sequestration of funds so that the armed forces can receive tens of billions of dollars in new weaponry.

He threatened the world with the power of the US military machine, declaring, “Now, every ally and every adversary needs to know around the world the United States has and will continue to have the strongest, most capable fighting force the world has ever known. No one can match our Army—the greatest land force on Earth. Nobody can match our Navy—the largest and most advanced battle fleet in the world. Or our Coast Guard—safeguarding our shores and ports. Nobody can match our Air Force—its reach and precision are unequalled. Nobody can match our Marine Corps—the world’s only global expeditionary force. Nobody can match our Special Operations Forces—our remarkable, quiet professionals.”

There is little doubt that these aggressive claims of global superiority are now being perused in foreign capitals—not only Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, but also Berlin, Paris, Delhi, Tokyo and elsewhere. The choice of words provokes inevitable questions.

The Navy is a “battle fleet”—against whom? The Air Force has “unequalled” reach—so any country can be targeted. The Marine Corps is “the world’s only global expeditionary force”—only the United States claims either the right or the power to intervene anywhere in the world it chooses.

Also significant was Obama’s elevation of the Special Operations Forces to the level of the traditional military foursome of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. This is a president who is most truly at home, and in his element, in the weekly meetings with top military-intelligence staffers (once dubbed “terror Tuesdays”) where he approves kill lists drawn up by the CIA and Special Forces, for implementation through drone missile strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, or through commando raids on virtually any site.

The corporate-controlled media in the United States gave comparatively little attention to Obama’s speech. Only the Washington Post discussed his list of assassination victims and quoted the chilling passage word for word. The newspaper suggested that this was an effort by Obama to “demonstrate his toughness” going into the congressional debate over the nuclear pact with Iran negotiated by the US and five other powers.

There is no doubt an element of truth in this. In promoting the nuclear deal, Obama pointedly noted that US sanctions against Iran over alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses would remain in place, and that the US reserved the right to employ the “military option” against Tehran.

Obama’s boasting of the power of the US military was music to the ears of his audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a frequent location for bellicose addresses by top US politicians. It was at a VFW convention in August 2002 that Vice President Dick Cheney publicly launched the Bush administration’s campaign for war against Iraq.

Cheney’s remarks 13 years ago deserve to be remembered in the context of Obama’s equally bloodcurdling boasts today. The then-vice president put forward for the first time the main lies that would be used to justify the war in Iraq.

He declared: “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon… Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction… Regime-change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy…”

Obama’s militaristic rhetoric is cut from the same cloth. Like Cheney, he speaks for an American ruling elite that is drunk on homicidal violence, seeing military force as its trump card in a global struggle to control markets, resources and strategic territory against its foreign rivals.

Why Does America Keep Losing Wars?

April 8, 2015

by Tom Streithorst

It’s time to admit it: America sucks at war. The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945. Korea was a draw, Vietnam a defeat, the first Gulf War only a qualified success—Saddam Hussein stayed in power considerably longer than George H. W. Bush—Afghanistan and Iraq epic disasters for American foreign policy. The United States has more firepower at its fingertips than any empire in history but seems unable to translate all that might into anything that could be called victory.

Considering the United States spends more than $500 billion a year on war, almost as much as the rest of the world put together, we don’t seem to be getting much bang for our military buck. If any other government program cost as much as the Pentagon with as little to show for it, Americans across the political spectrum would be up in arms. Instead, they mouth “Thank you for your service” and shrug at the size of the military budget.

This is not to say we don’t win battles. In Afghanistan right after 9/11 I watched the US crush the Taliban in record time as a news cameraman. When I arrived in the country, the Taliban controlled all the cities and most of the countryside; the Northern Alliance, outnumbered and outgunned, ruled mere slivers of land. All us journos figured the war would be a long hard slog, at least four to six months, even with American help.

And then, we began to hear the pounding of B-52 strikes. A handful of Special Forces soldiers had secretly infiltrated across the Uzbek border. Dressed like mujahideen, riding Arabian stallions toward Taliban front lines, these trained spotters called in precise air strikes on enemies tanks and trenches. Northern Alliance commanders would point out the targets, the spotters would aim their lasers, the B-52s would aim, and, like magic, the Taliban’s ancient Russian tanks would be transformed into heaps of blazing metal. Taliban soldiers soon abandoned their trenches and melted away. Barely a month after bombing began, the Northern Alliance marched into Kabul. Victory came so much faster than any of us expected.

Or did it? Fourteen years later, the American war in Afghanistan looks like a disaster. The country’s government and people despise us, the Taliban once again control much of the country, and more heroin is exported than ever before. Afghanistan has become America’s longest war, that early “victory” a mirage.

Iraq is no better. Back in 2003, the neocons crowed their invasion would transform the Middle East. They assured a dubious public that new Iraq would be democratic, pro-American, perhaps even pro-Israeli. The war and occupation would pay for itself, funded by expanding oil revenues. Democracy would spread throughout the Middle East, and our problems in that region would be over.

Charles Tripp, an Iraq expert at SOAS, University of London, says the neocons accomplished “exactly the reverse of what some of them thought they would achieve.The largest winner out of all of this has been Iran. America no longer shapes the politics. Iran is on the ground directing Iraqi forces.” No streets in Iraq have been named after George W. Bush. Iraqis are not grateful we liberated them from a brutal dictator.Instead, more than 200,000 Iraqis have been killed, and 1.4 million have lost their homes. Christians and other minority groups have emigrated or been slaughtered. The country, once reasonably well integrated, has been transformed into sectarian ghettos. Had he a crystal ball back in 2003, even Dick Cheney might not have advocated invading.

America’s losing streak began almost exactly 50 years ago. On March 8, 1965 , the first US combat troops waded ashore in Da Nang. Confident and proud, greeted by Vietnamese girls who garlanded them with flowers, they (and the rest of the world) assumed we would easily defeat our poorly armed rag-tag guerrilla enemies. Twenty years earlier, these young Marines’ fathers had simultaneously crushed the mighty German Wehrmacht and the Imperial Japanese Navy. Now the world’s largest, most modern military was facing off against rice farmers armed with AK-47s. It should have been a cakewalk.

Ten years later, after the deaths of more than 50,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, the North marched into Saigon, our allies hanging on to the skids of helicopters, desperate to escape. Though the US has had some easy wins since then—remember Grenada?—when it comes to major conflicts our well-trained, well-armed, and well-fed military has had a pathetic record since World War Two. What are we doing wrong?

Soldiers may well resent that question. Vietnam vets can argue vociferously that they didn’t lose. In firefight after firefight, Americans crushed the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. Even the Tet Offensive, which turned the American public decisively against the war, was actually a battlefield victory of American arms. The Viet Cong were slaughtered in the tens of thousands, their ranks so depleted they played little part in the rest of the war, replaced on the battlefield by the North Vietnamese Army.

But as Andrew Bacevich, a history professor, US Army Colonel, Vietnam vet, and longtime critic of American interventionism, explains, “It takes more than killing lots of the enemy to achieve success in wartime.” The Viet Cong may have lost the battle, but Tet is when they won the war. Americans at home watching the Viet Cong capture the US embassy in the center of Saigon stopped believing the optimistic statements coming out of the Pentagon. More than 18,000 American soldiers were killed in 1968, and Americans realized the war was not winnable, at least not at a price they were willing to pay. Without civilian support, a drawdown of American troops was inevitable, as was the fall of the South Vietnamese government.

In a democracy with a free media, a long, pointless war in a faraway land is a tough sell—as it should be.

Let’s imagine a counterfactual. Let’s say the Vietnam War had not been televised, and America had not turned against Johnson’s Indochina adventure. If the public encouraged the Pentagon to send more troops in order to capitalize on our battlefield victories, perhaps America could have eventually worn down the North Vietnamese Army and kept the Saigon regime in power. This, in a nutshell, is the argument made by grumpy right-wingers. The soldiers won the war, but the candy-ass civilians at home lost it. “Marines win battles, politicians lose wars,” leathernecks will tell you.

Yes, but what if a war isn’t worth winning? That sort of victory in Vietnam would have likely cost thousands of American lives and untold amounts of defense spending. But when Saigon fell in 1975, it made absolutely no difference to ordinary US citizens. We did not run out of rice; communism did not spread out of Indochina. On any genuine strategic level, holding on to South Vietnam did not really matter to US interests. By the same token, in ten years will anyone in Kansas care which armed band rules Helmand or Diyala?

In a democracy with a free media, a long, pointless war in a faraway land is a tough sell—as it should be. The control of some territory halfway around the world does not strike the average American as being vital to the security or prosperity of the United States.

The American foreign policy establishment rarely admits it, but the US is by far the safest country on the planet. Unlike China or Russia or Israel or Iran or Congo or Ukraine we have no enemies on our doorstep: Canada’s to the north, Mexico’s to the south, oceans are to our east and west. England survived Hitler because it is an island. Russia crushed Hitler because it is on a continent. America is both. Foreign policy wonks pretend distant lands are crucial to US security but, thankfully, the American people aren’t generally convinced.

So why do we go to war at all? In the 2000s, many among the antiwar left believed America invaded Iraq because of oil. This is a rather naive view: Today China benefits more from Iraqi oil production than does the United States, and had Bush’s agenda been to get Iraq’s oil, he needn’t have invaded. Every Iraqi I have asked agrees that if Hussein had been offered a deal in which he leased his oil fields to American oil companies in return for remaining in power, he would have jumped on it.

“In 2002, the US was the third-largest client of Iraqi oil exports,” Tripp, the Iraq expert, says. “Saddam would have been very happy to normalize relations and increase oil production.”

If it wasn’t oil and it wasn’t WMD, then why did we go to war in Iraq? You can talk about Bush needing a war to win the 2004 election or Cheney’s desire to pump up Halliburton profits if you want, but mostly, the invasion came about because a significant strand of the American foreign policy establishment wanted to shock and awe the rest of the world with the might of the American military.

Back in 2002, the right-wing columnist Jonah Goldberg called this sort of thinking the Ledeen Doctrine, after the neocon Michael Ledeen, who Goldberg quoted as saying, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” To the proponents of war, Iraq itself was incidental, a means to an end, more symbol than a real place. No wonder they didn’t sweat the details.

A “Mission Accomplished” banner is a moment you can sell on television. The tedious work of building a bureaucracy is not.

Vietnam was the first televised war; since then our conflicts have become made for TV. American policymakers’ careers rise and fall on the strength of their spin, so naturally the reality on the ground matters less than how it is seen back home. That’s how you get situations where US administrators in Iraq are unfamiliar with the region and don’t speak Arabic; that’s how you wind up with the corrupt, incompetent Hamid Karzai as the American-picked leader of Afghanistan. A “Mission Accomplished” banner is a moment you can sell on television. The tedious work of building a bureaucracy is not.

I first went to war when I was 14. I lived in Saigon at the time with my father, a television news reporter covering the Vietnam War. One day, he took me out into the Mekong Delta to see the fighting. Along with his cameraman and sound man, we clambered onto a jeep and headed out of the city. If war is a heady mix of tedium, testosterone, and terror, that day was mostly tedium. We hung out with some ARVN soldiers for a while, then drove around searching for battle. To my father’s disappointment we found no “bang bang” worth filming that day, but we did see something I will never forget. It was almost like a hallucination: in the middle of the jungle, connected to crumbling tarmac and then dirt roads, a pristine highway cloverleaf interchange that would have looked more at home on I-10 in Texas than in a Third World country.

Presumably some American corporation had gotten a contract to build roads for the US military. They knew how to build cloverleaf junctions to First World health and safety standards so that is what they did, out there in the middle of nowhere. It was unnecessary and inappropriate, but it fit in with their skill set and they got paid. A few days after we visited those ARVN outposts, they were overrun by the NVA. I wonder what the North Vietnamese thought of our immaculate highway interchange. I wonder if Vietnamese kids today use it as a skateboard ramp.

That interchange didn’t help win the war, obviously, but it created some jobs and threw some paychecks at some contractors, which at times seems like the only real reason to send out our troops. Just about every Congressional district is home to a military base or an arms-manufacturing facility or some other place where our defense dollars go, making military budget cuts extremely unpopular. Lots of Americans (including me) made a good living in one way or another from the War on Terror. Average Iraqis and Afghans, not so much. If they were the ones getting paid, things might be different today. As Tripp says, “If people could see direct benefits, the Americans might have been able to create a larger constituency for the occupation, but money was spent on American contractors and scarcely any on Iraqis.”

War is good for less and less these days. Developed nations obtain resources through trade rather than conquest, and as our economic interests become increasingly intertwined, a war between the great powers would be unthinkable, disastrous even for the winner.

None of America’s wars of the past half-century really involved crucial national interests.

Were the United States to face a genuine threat to its national security, were Mexico try to reconquer Arizona or Canada invade North Dakota, I am confident America would find the wherewithal to defeat its enemies. But those scenarios are complete fantasies. None of America’s wars of the past half-century really involved crucial national interests.

Bacevich cuts to the heart of the problem: “The biggest mistakes have been those made by the civilian policymakers who have committed the military to unnecessary and unwinnable wars.” It is precisely because the wars were unnecessary that they are unwinnable.

If victory in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan had really been vital to American security or prosperity, the electorate would have been willing to risk their children’s lives and perhaps even pay more taxes. If Iraq had been more than just a symbol to George W. Bush, he and his administration would have thought about the costs and consequences of the invasion. War focused on impressing the electorate at home is doomed to failure. The fundamental reason America can’t win wars is because we don’t really have to. Maybe we should stop fighting them.


BLOGGER COMMENT: Our leadership in concert with the military/industrial complex engages our military, with our consent, in military actions that cannot be “won.” We are engaged in perpetual conflict designed to feed the needs of our corporate masters. 

US military preparing new generation of drones for urban combat


By Bryan Dyne
5 January 2015

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has established a research and development program, known as the Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) which aims to develop new types of unmanned aerial vehicles—more commonly known as drones—for urban combat operations, according to the Washington Times.

DARPA is preparing to dispense several initial $5 million contracts to companies bidding to produce the new drone models sought by the US military, which will have the ability to fly inside structures, maneuver through tight spaces, and operate autonomously from human controllers, all at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. The drones are specifically designed to mimic the flight capabilities of the goshawk, a bird species. Private sector firms will begin submitting bids as early as Tuesday.

In addition to the goshawk type, the US military is already acquiring drones the size of mosquitos as part of an Army Research Laboratory program called Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST), run as a collaboration between the Defense Department, BAE Systems, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several major US universities. The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System, a miniature rotary wing drone that takes high definition photographs and transmits footage instantaneously to its handler, has already been used by occupation forces in Afghanistan to surveil enemy positions.

“Birds of prey and flying insects exhibit the kinds of capabilities we want for small UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]… The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way [to bird and insect species], including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before,” said FLAP top official Mark Micire.

A main priority of FLAP is to produce drones that operate without human controllers. Current drone models operated by the US military and police forces require a human operator for takeoff, flight, landing and the targeting of missiles. The new autonomous control systems sought by the Pentagon will enable a few skilled computer programmers to direct a fleet of highly agile drones.

The military’s new self-directing weapons systems will be integrated into ongoing operations by conventional US forces, according to Pentagon officials. “Urban and disaster relief operations would be obvious key beneficiaries, but applications for this technology could extend to a wide variety of missions using small and large unmanned systems linked together with manned platforms as a system of systems,” DARPA director Stefanie Tompkins said.

“By enabling unmanned systems to learn ‘muscle memory’ and perception for basic tasks like avoiding obstacles, it would relieve overload and stress on human operators so they can focus on supervising the systems and executing the larger mission,” Tompkins said.

The military is promoting the latest generation of drones as specially designed for “humanitarian” use, such as search and rescue missions to find people trapped or stranded as a result of floods, hurricanes, avalanches and earthquakes.

Nonetheless, the new high-tech drone systems will primarily be used for combat missions in urban settings, according to media reports. Given that the US military is currently engaged, deployed for or preparing for combat in more than fifty countries, the Pentagon is planning to weaponize the drones in every conceivable fashion. In December, the Obama administration launched a new escalation of its US drone war, which has already killed hundreds of innocents, including countless children.

In combination with the militarization of the police, the development of autonomous, computer-controlled weapons systems raises terrifying possibilities. Police forces inside the US already use drones for surveillance purposes. The new mini-drones now point to a nightmarish future in which “no knock” SWAT team raids are accompanied by lightning-fast killer robot aircraft, controlled by artificial intelligence.