Book review: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon by Rosa Brooks is a wonderfully-written, informative book about the bloated military, its mission creep, and the under-funding of other parts of the government such as the State Department.

The book comes with hearty recommendations from General James Mattis, General Stanley McChrystal, and Gen. David Patreus. This is despite the fact that the book  — at least until the last chapter –is  anti-war and is critical of military waste and secrecy.

She quotes polls that suggest that Americans have high regard for the military but low regard for other branches of government, and especially for Congress. Likewise, the Pentagon is lavishly funded, but other branches of government — including the State Department and the Internal Revenue Service — are starved for funds.

Our cynical political culture devalues social welfare programs and snickers at communitarian impluses, and most of us trust neither our neighbors nor the public institutions that are meant to serve us. The distrust is not unmerited; the more we the more we devalue public programs, the less we fund them — and and the less they can offer us, the less we trust them, and so on. The military is all that’s left: the last institution standing.

And so, too much is asked of the military.  Aside from being asked to fight unwinnable wars, it’s also asked to handle more and more tasks worldwide that used to be handled by civilian agencies: agricultural, medical, educational, elections, and, in general, nation building.  The book describes some of the turf wars between the State Department and the military — conflicts over who show do what.

In a way, this is great progress, because the military realizes that to avoid war and to maintain peace, it’s important to have stable nations overseas with working justice systems and economies.  Just bombing and destroying enemies doesn’t win many friends.

Of course, nation building  mostly fails.

Alas, while our own infrastructure and government agencies fall to pieces, we spend trillions of dollars trying to build nations overseas.

In many ways, America is a failing state, with massive tax evasion and fraud. But this is by choice, more than by incompetence: the GOP hates taxes and government, except for the military.

The book was published in 2016 — she doesn’t mention Trump at all.  Imagine how much worse things are now, since Trump and the Republicans have gutted federal agencies and even failed to appoint key staff. And today I saw headlines saying that Trump has issued an executive order to freeze federal pay in 2019.

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, by Rosa Brooks

Brooks gave a talk to a group of majors and lieutenant colonels at an Army school. She asked them what was the greatest security threat facing America in the next decade or two. Few of the soldiers thought that Islamic terrorism, North Korea or Iran posed the biggest threat. The biggest threats, they thought, would come from conflicts involving resource scarcity resulting from climate change, and from global economic collapse.

She tells the story of the murder of Chilean leftist Letelier in Washington D.C. by agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and of the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, apparently by Russian agents. But, in a similar way, the United States has been killing its enemies overseas with Predator and Reaper drones, or with special operation raids. Brooks says about 4000 such killings have occurred. She says she trusts her former colleagues in the military to do the right thing, but what about people in other countries who feel they have the right to launch targeted killings of their enemies all over the world? After pointing out the secrecy in which the targeted killings have been shrouded, she writes, “The legal precedents we are setting risk undermining the fragile norms of sovereignty and human rights that help keep our world stable. We should ask ourselves this: Do we want to live in a world in which every state considers itself to have a legal right to kill people in other states, secretly and with no public disclosure or due process, base on its own unilateral assertions of national security prerogatives?”

“If ‘imminent threat’ can mean ‘lack of evidence of the absence of imminent threat,’ it is impossible to know, with any clarity, the circumstances in which the United States will in fact decide that the use of military force is lawful.”

She tells horrifying and moving stories about cruelty and violence overseas — e.g., a story of school girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda and about suffering in Bosnia.  There are, rarely, just interventions.  Stopping the genocide in Rwanda, by sending in peace keepers, could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Her mind is so clear and analytical. She’s a law professor at Georgetown University. But she also manages to find humor or irony in various challenges.

For example, after telling about the gargantuan size of the military budget — more then the next fifteen biggest spenders combined — she goes onto talk about the fuzzy accounting at the Pentagon. “DoD’s a big place, and stuff gets lost: money, programs, people, organizations, weapon systems, the occasional small war.”

Indeed, the recent audit of the Pentagon failed. They were unable to account for a mind-boggling $21 trillion in spending (not all real money: accounting tricks). See Exclusive: The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed: How US military spending keeps rising even as the Pentagon flunks its audit.

Soldiers, even the generals, know that war is hell. It’s the darn hawkish politicians who are most responsible for pushing the nation into disastrous wars and for asking the military to engage in nation building.

She mentions that, contrary to what the public believes, military personnel are paid higher than non-military government workers, and have better benefits.  Health care is free. Groceries are discounted 30%. Higher education is largely free. Housing is free or subsidized.  Veterans can retire at age 40 with large pensions.  Health care spending for the military has grown at twice the rate as it has grown for civilian health care. “Anyone who thinks there’s no such thing as socialism has never spent time on a military base.”

Congress insists on giving the Pentagon money even for programs it doesn’t want. “[O]ne of the things that astounded me was hard it was to get Congress to stop funding stupid stuff.”

She writes, “[T]he whole idea of a secret war is deeply offensive to core principles of American democracy — in particular, to any notion of constitutional checks and balances.” But secret wars exist: drone wars and actions by U.S. special forces.”   “…. But it would be just as much a mistake to dismiss U.S. counterterrorism policy as the selfish, destructive flailing of an arrogant, damaged superpower. It is that, but not only that. Hegel famously defined tragedy as the conflict between two goods, each overly rigid in its claims.”

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) granted the Bush administration Congressional approval for fighting Al Qaeda and related forces that were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But since then, there’s been mission creep, and the AUMF has been applied to groups less and less related to Al Qaeda., such as the Al Shabaab militants in Somalia. Another example is the Islamic State, which is actually in conflict with the remnants of Al Qaeda.

She points out that the American Civil War killed 600,000 people, and World War Two killed 400,000 Americans. The 9/11 terrorists attacks killed a few thousand. Were they really justification, she asks, for throwing two centuries of American values out the window?

In particular, allowing the President to unilaterally and secretly kill Americans overseas, without judicial overview, violates fundamental doctrines of American separation of powers and concentration of power.

But drones aren’t all bad, she points out: isn’t it better to target a few dangerous individuals than to fight wars the old way with thousands of troops, heavy armor and bombing runs by the air force? Surely, there will be less collateral damage with high tech targeted strikes.

War has become more like policing, and policing has become more like war. Soldiers overseas often engage in police-like raids — rather than massive assaults like in the two world wars — as well as in counter-insurgency and nation building. And many police departments have adopted military equipment, tactics, and dress.

Progress towards a more peaceful world isn’t inevitable, she insists. And if we don’t make the effort to craft an international order that maintains peace and cooperation, “we could find ourselves, all too quickly, back in the era of domestic repression and bloody global conflict.”

One problematic part of her book is the last chapter, “Managing War’s Paradoxes,” where she considers but rejects pacifist arguments about the war on terror. Since 9/11, America has been in a constant state of war, and war has expanded to include multiple countries and multiple, non-traditional formats (cyber-terrorism, economic terrorism, fake news, bioterrorism, drone attacks, etc). Post 9/11 our privacy rights and civil rights have been degraded: extra-judicial killings of Americans by drones are the norm, as is indefinite detention. Some pacifists suggest that the problem is that we shouldn’t regard terrorist attacks as a war at all. Rather, we should view such attacks as criminal acts, or as social problems. We can, say the pacifists, put the genie back in the bottle.

To be specific, the genie is the blurring of lines between war and peace, and the militarization of all aspects of life.

In the last chapter Brooks rejects the pacifist view and says that expanded war is here to stay. In fact, she says, war has been the norm rather than the exception throughout human history.  She points to President Obama’s conflicting statements about war. While he acknowledged that perpetual war mustn’t become the norm, he repeatedly agreed to more war: escalating troops in Afghanistan, sending troops to Syria, and authorizing drone attacks. Even in his Nobel address, for the Peace Prize he didn’t deserve, he spoke of the necessity of war.

She writes, “The changes that have blurred the lines between war and peace are real, not just figments of militaristic American imaginations.” War is no longer a matter of massed troops between nation states. Now it’s dispersed and disorganized. She acknowledges that the changes in the nature of war create fundamental challenges to international law and human rights. War and peace aren’t binary opposites but exist on a continuum, she says.

“It’s time to stop relying on lines drawn in the sand: the wind and waves are washing them away.” Instead, she says, we should realize that war is a constant companion and that we need to develop frameworks for managing it in a way that protects human rights and human dignity. In particular, we need international rules that make room for targeted killings, via, say, the Security Council of the United Nations. Brooks says the U.S. must be willing to give up some sovereignty, lest our actions come back to haunt us when other nations perform targeted killings of Americans.

In the past, she says, the Declaration of Independence, the Geneva Conventions, and the United Nations Charter brought progress towards peace and human rights. “Today, as the boundaries around war grow indistinct and war’s toxins begin to bleed into daily life, it’s time to try again.” That is, try to build laws to constrain the new kinds of war that we now face.

Likewise, she acknowledges that in an ideal world civilian agencies would be given the resources to do the many activities of nation building and development that currently fall to the military (and that the military often lacks the skills to perform). But, she asks, “is it remotely realistic to imagine that this will happen any time in the next few decades, given current political realities?” Her answer is, no.

She doesn’t mention the GOP by name, but that’s her implication: Republicans do not want government to work, except for the military.

Since, she says, we are stuck with just the military, let’s admit that the military’s role is wider than just killing. Hiring rules should be changed to downplay physical strength and youth and to emphasize more intellectual skills, such as linguistic ability and coding skills. Moreover, “we’ll need to knock down the walls we’ve created between our civilian agencies and the military.” After all, national security depends on more than just violence: education, transportation, health care, and environmental stewardship, for example.

Heck, she sounds like a progressive!

What she fails to adequately address is the extent to which U.S. foreign policy created terrorism, by our meddling in and invasions of other countries. It is largely the USA that let the genie out of the bottle! Al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq in 2001, but they sure are there now. Similar stories can be told about Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Syria, Indonesia, and South America. And now American forces are in many countries in Africa.

Moreover, the inability of Congress to adequately fund civilian agencies could change substantially in two years, if the Democrats win back control of the U.S. Senate and the White House, and if progressives in the Democratic Party are able to beat hawkish, neoliberal Democrats. And if the public can, somehow, be educated about how they’re being cheated by neoliberal ideology.

The biggest danger to our well-being is the Republican Party and its obsession with lowering taxes and de-funding government agencies, while building up the military.

Finally, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in a just way would have gone a long way towards lessening Islamic terrorism. Why didn’t Brooks mention that?

Glen Anderson: Military "Solutions" Are Really the PROBLEM

Glen Anderson: Military “Solutions” Are Really the PROBLEM- a workshop given at Fellowship of Reconciliation of Oregon and Washington’ annual conference at Seabeck, July 4th 2015.

Military ‘Solutions’ Are Really the PROBLEM. Choose humane, sustainable ways for TRUE Security. In our daily lives, we know better than to think violence solves problems, but at the national level the U.S. government routinely threatens and uses military violence all over the world. Militarism makes problems worse, so why does the government keep using militarism? Who benefits from this? We could achieve more profound, holistic “national security” by renouncing violence and promoting peace and fairness. This highly participatory workshop will encourage participants to share their information and insights. Glen Anderson has worked consistently for many issues related to peace, social & economic justice, and nonviolence since the 1960s. He engages people to help them think creatively and organize at the grassroots.

All our reps but McDermott voted to fund the Syrian rebels

Reps DelBene, Kilmer, Larsen, Heck and Smith voted Yea on the McKeon Amendment that funds the arming of Syrian rebels. “The amendment would authorize the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups or individuals.” (source). Only Rep. McDermott voted Nay.    All Washington State’s Republican reps voted Yea as well.

Sounds like another dangerous waste of money.

Progressives are generally opposing the war-mongering. Dennis Kucinich gives 8 Reasons Why Congress Should Vote No on Training and Funding Syrian Rebels.  Also: PDA’s statement against the war.

Please phone our Senators and ask them to reject funding for the Syrian rebels: Murray [ 202-224-2621, (206) 553-5545] and Cantwell [ 202-224-3441 (206) 220-6400]

Rep. Jim McDermott on Pres. Obama’s strategy.

Inspire Seattle, March 8 — Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military

InspireSeattle invites YOU to join us at our Social Forum: Saturday, March 8th at 6:30PM.

Main discussion topic for this evening: Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military

There is an extraordinary culture of violence and sexual abuse committed within the U.S. Military. Sarah Blum’s book, Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military, is a stunning revelation of sexual abuse in the U.S. Armed Forces. As Blum’s book makes scathingly clear, this criminal activity–demeaning, degrading and despicable – and is far too prevalent in each of the armed services. Action is needed–comprehensive, effective and swift–before sexual abuse rips out the very heart of the military.

Sarah Blum will share how she came to be writing this book, share what she learned, the data, the problem of reporting sexual assault in the military, retaliation, the failure of the military justice system to deal with these cases, the cover up, leadership and command failure, share some of the women’s stories and what must be done to end this scourge.

Please join us for this important discussion!

Guest Speaker: Sarah L. Blum:

Sarah Blum, is a decorated nurse Vietnam veteran who earned the Army Commendation Medal serving as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital Cu Chi, Vietnam during the height of the fighting in 1967. Sarah was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for exemplary service as head nurse of the orthopedic ward at Madigan Army Hospital in 1968, where she was also the assistant director of nursing on evening and night shift in 1970. She received her Bachelor’s Degree, Summa Cum Laude, from Seattle University and her Master’s, Cum Laude, from U. W. and at age 74, Sarah is still a practicing nurse psychotherapist with over 29 years experience working with PTSD and trauma resolution.

Sarah was one of the first two women elected to the National Board of Directors of the Vietnam Veterans of America in 1983, and she was active in veterans affairs and successfully lobbied Congress to study the connection between Agent Orange and birth defects in the children of women Vietnam veterans.

Sarah’s first Op Ed “Sexual Abuse in the Military Needs to be Brought to Light”, was published July 12, 2012 in The Seattle Times and her second,”Sex Crimes Continue to Plague the U.S. Military,” was published in Truthout on January 15, 2013. Sarah’s guest editorial, “Support the Joint Memorial,” appeared in the July 12th, 2013 issue of the Auburn Reporter. Her authentic passionate voice reverberates through the pages of Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military and the sequel, Women Under Fire: PTSD and Healing.

Come join us for what should be a very important and interesting evening!!!

About InspireSeattle:

InspireSeattle is a progressive network of Seattle-area people sharing ideas and supporting action. InspireSeattle’s vision is to create connection throughout our community and better community through activism. InspireSeattle’s mission is to provide a fun, supportive gathering for people who care deeply about our community, our country and our planet. We embrace progressive policies that improve our society and protect our environment. We discuss current issues, share ideas and activism efforts while striving to inspire additional action. Subscribe (or unsubscribe) to InspireSeattle by visiting

When: Saturday, March 8th at 6:30PM. Please try to be on time!!!

Where: Jim Simpson’s home (Seward Park), 5236 S. Mayflower, Seattle 98118 Tel: 206-450-5834

Directions: (easy to find!)

From the North: I-5 south past Safeco Field to Albro/Swift Exit. Go left on Albro, then right on Swift, then left on Graham (all of these intersections are within a block of each other). Take Graham St. eastbound (about 3 miles) past MLK & Rainier Ave. until it dead ends on Wilson. Left on Wilson, through the next stop sign on Orcas. Go another 2 blocks until Mayflower St. Right on Mayflower and go to the middle of the second block left hand side of the street.

From the South: I-5 northbound to the Boeing field area. Take Albro/Swift Exit. Go left on Swift, then right on Graham St where there is a stop light. Go eastbound on Graham (about 3 mile) passed MLK and Rainier Ave until it dead ends on Wilson. Left on Wilson, through the next stop sign on Orcas. Go another 2 blocks until Mayflower St. Right on Mayflower and go to the middle of the second block left hand side of the street.


It’s a potluck: so please help out and bring something to eat and to drink!

6:30 to 7:45: Social time! Eat, drink, relax, and catch up with some other local progressives

Formal discussion and guest speakers, 7:45 to 9:30

Other Announcements – got any?

Rules of Engagement!

1. So that everyone has a chance to participate, please keep your comments short

2. Raise one’s hand to ask a question in lieu of shouting out

3. Respect the points of views of others

4. No arguing of politics during the formal discussion – save that for afterwards!

Talks on Syria & Iran by Dick Blakney, Jim Eachus, and Richard Silverstein

Talk by Dick Blakney and Jim Eachus on the military crisis in Syria and recent openings from Iran. Delivered at Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation monthly meeting in Seattle Oct. 20, 2013. Part1 of 2: (Blakney and Eachus)

Talk by Richard Silverstein on the military crisis in Syria and recent openings from Iran. Delivered at Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation monthly meeting in Seattle Oct. 20, 2013 with Dick Blakney, Jim Eachus this is Part 2 of 2: (Richard Silverstein)

Fool’s gold: corporate media reports GOP spin as real news

When it comes to hypocrisy, the GOP (Grand Obstruction Party) has set a new gold standard. Rather, a new fool’s gold standard.

The Republican Party, led on a very short leash by well-monied pro-oligarchy business moguls and pro-apocalypse crazies, keeps on churning out pyrite from its thunderous right-wing sound machine, while corporate media reports on their bombast as if it were pure gold.

Passing this fool’s gold off as real media currency, the Republican shutdown of America is reported as though the Democratic Party were somehow at fault, too. When Republicans refuse bring up jobs, education, fair taxation and workers’ rights legislation for a vote in the House of Representatives, what do you hear on the evening news? “Congress” failed to act. As if the Democrats in the House and Senate were somehow co-conspiring to defeat the very job-producing, education-enhancing, revenue-increasing, labor-empowering legislation they themselves proposed!

So the GOP (Garrulous Obsequious Prevaricators) goes unchallenged in the mainstream media. Is it any wonder the voting public feels mislead, angry, confused?

Pro-corporate, anti-government bootlickers like the Tea Party skip along their merry way, spewing lies about the failure of government (which they’re doing their darndest to rid us of) and singing the praises of big-business “job creators” (who, while raking in obscene profits here in America, only appear capable of creating jobs overseas).

God forbid any media pundit on the Sunday talk shows should challenge any of the endless stream of GOP (Gerrymandering Obfuscating Pharisees) blowhards regarding their actual plans for improving the economy, proposing a real foreign policy, and (gasp!) actually governing the country.

No, the fool’s gold fantasy that the Republican Party has the best interests of farmers, workers, women, minorities, and, no doubt, star-spangled unicorns at heart continues unabated. None dare challenge to Holy Trinity of Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and evangelical Christendom.

Meanwhile, Main Street, Middle America, and minorities of all stripes continue to be savagely gored by those cuddly-wuddly Wepublican unicorns.

It’s a media-made fiction that’s murdering America.

Exit Eisenhower and the traditional Republican Party. Enter Mussolini.

Originally published at

Bombing Syria Isn't Warranted, Won't Fix Congress's Partisan Stalemate

I am willing to believe the Obama Administration’s claim that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on Syrians. And anyone who has read about World War I chlorine and mustard gas casualties knows what a horror these weapons are, and understands that even war has its rules.

Yet does crossing this “line” require a U.S. military attack? It is estimated that as many as 110,000 Syrians have been killed in an ongoing civil war, with hundreds killed by the recent gas attack.  Because the Administration deems only the latter warrants our intervention, it would be a bitter irony if as many Syrian civilians died as a result of our intervention’s “collateral damage” as they did in the attack that prompted it.

Secretary of State John Kerry accused Democrats opposed to an attack of a “Munich” attitude. By referring to the Allies’ decision, in 1938, to cede Czechoslovakia to the Naxis, Kerry was equating Syria’s internal conflict with Nazi Germany’s external aggression. Is this to suggest the Nazis could have been pacified by a few days’ bombing? And if the Syrians are the equivalent of the Nazis, should we not declare war and invade?

It seems as likely an attack might worsen the situation.

In attacking, we would go it alone. Yes, some principled allies like Saudi Arabia, where beheadings are legal for “witchcraft” among other crimes, are said to be cheering us on from the sidelines. But Britain, where a progressive parliamentary minority had the temerity to stand up, will not be with us. That will not change soon, even though President Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, is a paid consultant to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government.

To attack will require Congressional Democrats to carry the day. To exaggerate like Kerry, the record this year of bipartisan voting would make Neville Chamberlain proud.

In January, House Democrats followed the lead of their campaign committee chair, Steve Israel of New York, in repudiating—even before Obama’s second term—the President’s successful 2012 campaign pledge to restore a higher income tax threshold for those earning $250,000 or more. The threshold was instead set at $400,000. Israel had stated, “I would hope that he would not go back to 250.  It’s fair—$250,000 may sound like it’s a lavish income in Louisiana. Not on Long Island.”

(Israel’s efforts did not go unrewarded: J.P. Morgan forgave him $93,000 he owed on his house).  Of Washington state’s Congressional delegation, only Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7) failed to vote the same as far-right Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA, 3.)

Second, there was the so-called “Let Congress Fly Home Faster” bill. There, in a 361-41 April vote, the U.S. House voted to exempt air travel from sequestration, while programs like Medicare and tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance were being cut. Every member of our congressional delegation voted “yes” with the exception of Representative McDermott and an absent Representative Adam Smith (D-WA, 9). Representative John Dingell of Michigan, the “Dean of the House” as longest-serving member, asked, “Mr. Speaker, is there no one in this chamber who is embarrassed?  Or perhaps the question should be: Is no one in this chamber not embarrassed?”

A chortling House Majority Leader Eric Cantor then sent out a memo to House Republicans quoting a reporter characterizing Democrats’ “complete, utter cave.”

Next was a July House vote to ban runaway electronic snooping by the National Security Agency. By a 217-205 margin, the amendment was defeated. Of our Democratic House members, only Suzan DelBene D-WA,1) and McDermott failed to join 134 Republicans, as Rep. “Doc” Hastings (R-WA,4) increasingly looked like the benchmark for our delegation’s progressivity. This was true even though Washington’s state constitutional guarantee of privacy is not exceeded nationally and is far more protective than the 4th Amendment.

But whatever … No one’s spying on members of Congress.

Now, with various self-imposed catastrophes facing Congress – including ongoing sequestration and a debt ceiling deadline next month that, once again, has the potential to blow up the federal budget and bankrupt us – we’re to believe the latest urgent occasion for a bipartisan Kumbaya is agreeing to fire cruise missiles into Syria. Sorry if I, and the vast majority of voters, do not buy it.

Originally published at publicola

Rep. Adam Smith expresses skepticism about Syrian war

Kudos to Rep. Adam Smith (WA – 9th CD) for expressing serious doubts about the wisdom of war in Syria in this NPR interview.

Everybody blames us for everything over there. And I think we need to take a step back and say look, we don’t have the support of the Arab League on this. We don’t have the support of the U.N. We don’t have the support of NATO. I think this is an international responsibility, not necessarily just a U.S. responsibility. …

I think part of it is accepting the fact that what we can do might not be enough, that there is no immediate solution to it. There’s all kinds of countries throughout the world that are suffering internal strife. These are all awful things, all things that we wish hadn’t happened. But can we create a situation where the U.S. is, as the cliche goes, the global policeman that’s going to somehow going to step in there and fix all of these problems? I’m quite certain that the answer to that is no, we can’t; we have to be selective about what problems we can fix. The question is: Is this one where this particular action is worth it?

Smith is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. In the past his Congressional district served military bases, and he sponsored NDAA. In recent years, he has tacked to the left, as his district has become more liberal due to redistricting.

I wrote on his facebook page, as a comment on a link to his NPR interview: “We are sick of war. Recent wars have been unjustified, corrupt, and/or mismanaged. Trillions of dollars and untold lives have been wasted.”

Thoughts on Obama's March to Folly in Syria

Thoughts on Obama’s March to Folly in Syria
Article by Robert Fisk with Introduction by Chuck Spinney

Backbone Friends,

Amidst much movement building and action support work from Seattle to Kalamazoo to Chicago, and now planning for upcoming trainings and actions in DC, Obama’s sudden push for military action in Syria causes my mind to whirl. Like many of you, I have read about the Spanish Civil War and detest the abandoning of opponents of tyranny, but I also detest the idea of illegal, unConstitutional US military intervention, and the idea that our bombs ever bring peace.

Chuck Spinney, the person I look to as a mentor in grand strategy, domains of conflict and a guide to the Pentagon labyrinth sent the below article by Robert Fisk with his insightful introductory comments. I have included two graphics to help you understand the grand tactical concept of the “OODA loop” to which Spinney refers. Click on the images to view larger, more readable versions.

I hope it helps you as it helped me.

In collaboration,

Bill Moyer

From Chuck Spinney:

President Obama’s Syria nightmare is becoming increasingly bizarre. The man who claimed he could distinguish dumb from smart wars is marching headlong into the dumbest one yet, with allies jumping ship left and right. Consider, please, the following:

(1) NBC just released a poll saying a majority of the American people are opposed to another war in Syria, and 80% are opposed to a war without Congressional authorization.

(2) But Congress is out of session. Nevertheless Mr. Obama is under pressure to attack before Congress returns from its Labor Day vacation. Moreover, despite the fact that at least 188 members of Congress have called for a debate and vote on the war question; thus far, Mr. Obama has not indicated he will call Congress into an emergency session. Yet six years ago, Senator (candidate) Obama told interviewer Charlie Savage on December 20, 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

(3) The nearest counterpart to our Congress, the British Parliament, just voted to pull the plug on Prime Minister David Cameron’s warmongering — and in so doing, the unwritten British Constitution has made a mockery of the written, legalistic US Constitution. Bottom line: the checks and balances in the UK are working to ensure our closest ally will not partake in our adventure, while those in the United States are being bypassed.

(4) The UN and the Security Council also pulled the plug on approving and supporting a US strike; ditto for the Arab League and Jordan, and our coup-leading friends in Egypt.

(5) The secretary general of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, said NATO will not be part of a strike on Syria.

So who is left in Obama’s increasingly isolated coalition of the willing: France and Israel — two countries with a lot of sordid baggage loading down the Syria Question. Some readers may never have heard of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, but your can bet most Syrians have.

A reasonable person might ask how an obviously intelligent Mr. Obama could land himself in such a mess?

The proximate cause is clear: Mimicking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s provocative definition of a red line on Iranian nukes, Mr. Obama recklessly established a red line on chemical weapons in the ongoing increasingly chaotic Syrian civil war. But the red line made Obama vulnerable to being boxed in by all sorts of false flag operations — and false flags are a recurring reality in the wilderness of mirrors that is Middle Eastern politics. Ironically, President Assad, who is being blamed for the release of chemical weapons, is about the only player in the game who has nothing to gain from a such an attack.

OODA Loop simple - click for larger version.
OODA Loop simple – click for larger version.
While it is too early to understand the deeper reasons for Obama’s mad march to war, I submit there is at least one hypothesis that is at least superficially consistent with the behaviour patterns of Obama and his advisors: Mr. Obama’s (and that of his advisors’) behaviour stems in part from the subtle interactions of at least two psychological factors that shape the Orientation driving the decision making behaviour of their OODA loops.

The first stems from a habitual belief that Mr. Obama — an inveterate deal maker — can control domestic politics by cutting and shaving political differences at home. But cutting and shaving uses up maneuvering space, and its gradual loss has insensibly salami-sliced him into a corner. Policy to aid rebels with nonlethal aid then establishing the red line being cases in point; each bought time at the expense of future flexibility. In effect, Mr. Obama, by his own volition, has slowly become ensnared by the permanent war party in Versailles on the Potomac. This cutting and shaving is also evident in his conduct of the drone campaign and Afghan War, not to mention his inability to significantly reduce the Pentagon’s bloated budget.

OODA Loop complex – click for larger version.OODA Loop complex - click for larger version.
The second factor — a naiveté about the effectiveness of precision weapons — compounds the first in shaping the Orientation of the President and his advisors. Prior to becoming President, Mr. Obama had no experience in the conduct of military affairs. In effect, the Orientation driving his decision cycle was like a blank sheet to be filled in by “experts.” His obvious intelligence and lawyerly mind has made him especially vulnerable to pseudo-scientific, logical sounding exhortations of a group-thinking coterie of formal and informal defense advisors. These officials have a long track record of grossly exaggerating the revolutionary capabilities of precision weapons. The persuasive power of their exhortations is usually packaged in slick looking power point briefings, hard to fathom computer simulations, glossy contractor advertisements, etc. The hidden assumptions, excessive technical complexity, and aura of scientific authority surrounding these exhortations, especially when coupled with arrogant notions about the utility of guided bombs in carefully calibrated tit-for-tat political signaling, at once capture the intellect and stroke the political ego of leaders.

Bringing these two strains of thought together, habits and naive beliefs — more generally, arrogance and ignorance — have, in effect, worked insidiously to sap Mr. Obama of the initiative in the Syrian Question and have rendered him a passive traveler into a trap of his own making.

If I am right, then in effect, President Obama is now a reactive player struggling to preserve himself in the US march to folly. A natural question is who and what pressures are driving the parade? Cui bono?

The seasoned Middle Eastern reporter, Robert Fisk, has one theory:

Published on Friday, August 30, 2013 by The Independent/UK
Iran, Not Syria, Is the West’s Real Target

Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West
by Robert Fisk

Before the stupidest Western war in the history of the modern world begins – I am, of course, referring to the attack on Syria that we all yet have to swallow – it might be as well to say that the cruise missiles which we confidently expect to sweep onto one of mankind’s oldest cities have absolutely nothing to do with Syria.

They are intended to harm Iran. They are intended to strike at the Islamic republic now that it has a new and vibrant president – as opposed to the crackpot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and when it just might be a little more stable.

Iran is Israel’s enemy. Iran is therefore, naturally, America’s enemy. So fire the missiles at Iran’s only Arab ally.

There is nothing pleasant about the regime in Damascus. Nor do these comments let the regime off the hook when it comes to mass gassing. But I am old enough to remember that when Iraq – then America’s ally – used gas against the Kurds of Hallabjah in 1988, we did not assault Baghdad. Indeed, that attack would have to wait until 2003, when Saddam no longer had any gas or any of the other weapons we had nightmares over.

And I also happen to remember that the CIA put it about in 1988 that Iran was responsible for the Hallabjah gassings, a palpable lie that focused on America’s enemy whom Saddam was then fighting on our behalf. And thousands – not hundreds – died in Hallabjah. But there you go. Different days, different standards.

And I suppose it’s worth noting that when Israel killed up to 17,000 men, women and children in Lebanon in 1982, in an invasion supposedly provoked by the attempted PLO murder of the Israeli ambassador in London – it was Saddam’s mate Abu Nidal who arranged the killing, not the PLO, but that doesn’t matter now – America merely called for both sides to exercise “restraint”. And when, a few months before that invasion, Hafez al-Assad – father of Bashar – sent his brother up to Hama to wipe out thousands of Muslim Brotherhood rebels, nobody muttered a word of condemnation. “Hama Rules” is how my old mate Tom Friedman cynically styled this bloodbath.

Anyway, there’s a different Brotherhood around these days – and Obama couldn’t even bring himself to say “boo” when their elected president got deposed.

But hold on. Didn’t Iraq – when it was “our” ally against Iran – also use gas on the Iranian army? It did. I saw the Ypres-like wounded of this foul attack by Saddam – US officers, I should add, toured the battlefield later and reported back to Washington – and we didn’t care a tinker’s curse about it. Thousands of Iranian soldiers in the 1980-88 war were poisoned to death by this vile weapon.

I traveled back to Tehran overnight on a train of military wounded and actually smelled the stuff, opening the windows in the corridors to release the stench of the gas. These young men had wounds upon wounds – quite literally. They had horrible sores wherein floated even more painful sores that were close to indescribable. Yet when the soldiers were sent to Western hospitals for treatment, we journos called these wounded – after evidence from the UN infinitely more convincing than what we’re likely to get from outside Damascus – “alleged” gas victims.

So what in heaven’s name are we doing? After countless thousands have died in Syria’s awesome tragedy, suddenly – now, after months and years of prevarication – we are getting upset about a few hundred deaths. Terrible. Unconscionable. Yes, that is true. But we should have been traumatized into action by this war in 2011. And 2012. But why now?

I suspect I know the reason. I think that Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah – Iran’s ally in Lebanon – the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.

And while we’re on the subject of war, what happened to those magnificent Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that John Kerry was boasting about? While we express our anguish at the hideous gassings in Syria, the land of Palestine continues to be gobbled up. Israel’s Likudist policy – to negotiate for peace until there is no Palestine left – continues apace, which is why King Abdullah of Jordan’s nightmare (a much more potent one than the “weapons of mass destruction” we dreamed up in 2003) grows larger: that “Palestine” will be in Jordan, not in Palestine.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.


Two good resolutions that Democrat federal lawmakers should follow

The King County Democrats’ Platform & Resolutions Committee is (favorably) considering the following two resolutions, the first one calling for cuts to Pentagon spending, and the second one opposing cuts to Social Security.

Concerning the Pentagon budget resolution, someone asked, “Have we considered impacts on WA employment re Boeing and re Joint Base Lewis-McChord? Might be significant too?”.

Tim Burns (chair of the 30th District Democrats)  responded:

The effect on employment in Washington and other states is an important issue in this debate.  Larry Brown of the Machinist’s Union has raised this as well.  However, the effect of balancing the budget on the backs of the middle and lower classes is my main concern.  The sequestration is a heavy burden, especially on those mentioned, while the pentagon budget is expected to increase.  For example, why do we have over 500 military bases in 117 foreign countries?  In my opinion we are not defending our country, we are using our military to colonize the world.  There are tanks and aircraft in the budget that even the military doesn’t want or need.  Eliminating excesses like these would help to relieve the pressure on the budget instead of decimating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc.  Redirecting the monies spent on the military to supporting infrastructure would make up for job losses and would be much better for the country than continuing the military-industrial complex proliferation.
I am a Vietnam veteran who believes that the last legitimate major military involvement was World War II.  The United States would be far safer if we quit making enemies around the world by our bullying tactics.

I added, “The military budget should not be used as a jobs program. If the government wants to create jobs, they should create them in some productive area, such as infrastructure repair and education, not in weapons manufacturing.   Also, military jobs typically yield fewer workers per money spent.”

Concerning the second resolution, note the final sentnece: “Be it further resolved that, going forward, we will refuse to endorse or support any federal candidate that either votes for or advocates for cuts to Social Security, and that all candidates seeking our endorsement or support should be made aware of this policy.”  Amen.

The Democratic platform, especially at the state level, is good. Would that our lawmakers would follow it.


Whereas automatic across-the-board spending cuts went into effect on March 1, reducing discretionary spending by $1 trillion over the next ten years; and

Whereas Congress has not yet agreed upon a strategic budget package to undo the sequester cuts; and

Whereas Congress is beginning the process of setting Fiscal Year 2014 spending levels for the Pentagon; and

Whereas Pentagon spending, excluding nuclear weapons and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has increased by 35% in the last decade, while domestic discretionary spending has increased by only 12% during that period; and

Whereas the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified $70 billion wasted on major weapons systems in a period of just two years; and

Whereas reductions of military spending at the levels required by sequestration would constitute a 31% reduction from the 2010 wartime peak spending level, which would be smaller than the reductions following the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars; and

Whereas the Pentagon can protect Americans by reshaping the budget and accompanying strategy to focus on 21st century threats; and

Whereas think tanks and experts from across the political spectrum, including the Simpson-Bowles Commission, the Cato Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Project on Defense Alternatives, have identified hundreds of billions of dollars of Pentagon spending reductions that would not harm national security; and

Whereas Washington State will suffer this year as a result of domestic sequester cuts, including 160 teaching jobs at risk, 440 fewer low-income students receiving college aid, 2,850 fewer children receiving vaccinations, and $143,000 less to aid victims of domestic violence;

Therefore, be it resolved that we call on our Congressional Representatives and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to work to develop a budget for Fiscal Year 2014 that balances the undoing of domestic sequester cuts with significant reductions in wasteful Pentagon spending, while preserving critical services for veterans and active duty military members; and

Adopted _________________ by __________________________________.


Submitted by Tim Burns, 253-874-6292

Chair, 30th District Democrats,

Resolution in Opposition to Cuts in Social Security

Whereas the current cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) applied annually to Social Security benefits and other government programs already fail to account for the higher inflation seniors experience due to their disproportionately higher health care costs; and

Whereas the proposal to subject COLAs to a so-called “chained” CPI (consumer price index) would result in an estimated 0.3% yearly reduction in those COLAs, amounting to an average annual reduction of about $130 per Social Security recipient, and a 9.2% reduction (almost $1400/year) by the time current 65-year-olds reach age 95; and

Whereas the concept of a chained CPI is based on the false premise that, as prices rise, consumers will simply shift their purchasing to less expensive goods and services, while many expenses unavoidable for seniors, such as drugs, health care services, food and property taxes, continue to rise inexorably; and

Whereas, in addition to over 56 million Social Security recipients, there are more than 15 million SSI and VA beneficiaries and military and federal civil service retirees who will be affected; and

Whereas the impact of those reductions will be greatest on those who begin to draw benefits at an earlier age (e.g., military and disabled), and on those who live the longest – typically women who have outlived their other sources of income, depleted their assets, and rely on these benefits as their lifeline to financial stability; and

Whereas generations currently coming of age (a) will have reduced lifetime earnings due to the ongoing recession, (b) will face unprecedented levels of student loan debt and are highly unlikely to ever have defined benefits pensions (and research has shown that 401(k) programs fail to sufficiently prepare Americans for retirement), and (c) will therefore be even more dependent than current retirees on adequate funding of Social Security and realistic COLA calculations; and

Whereas Social Security can be made solvent for at least 75 years, and its benefits increased, by the simple expedient of subjecting all earned income to the FICA tax; and

Whereas cutting Social Security and other safety-net programs would seriously jeopardize the American social contract that has been in place since the New Deal; and

Whereas two-thirds of poll respondents over 50 (Democrats, Republicans and Independents) have said they’ll be less likely to support anyone who backs Obama’s proposal to implement a chained CPI, which will result in severe negative repercussions for our Party in 2014 and 2016 if implemented; and

Whereas the Washington State Democratic Central Committee adopted, on April 27, 2013, a Resolution based on substantially the same factual assertions set forth above and concluding by urging our state’s Democratic Congressional Delegation to refuse to pass a budget that includes cuts to Social  Security and other benefits by implementing a chained CPI;

Therefore, be it resolved that we are in full accord with our State Democratic counterparts and specifically call on our own Democratic Representatives and Senators to refuse to support any budget proposal that subjects COLAs in Social Security and other programs to a chained CPI; and

Be it further resolved that, going forward, we will refuse to endorse or support any federal candidate that either votes for or advocates for cuts to Social Security, and that all candidates seeking our endorsement or support should be made aware of this policy.

Adopted ______________ by ___________________________

Originated in current form by the 30th District Democrats;

Submitted by Chair Tim Burns, 253-874-6292,

Edited by the KCDCC Resolutions Committee