Archive for June, 2009

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Recent actions by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and House Democratic leadership reveal that the rationale under which the party solicits funds–electing more Democrats and defeating Republican incumbents–has taken a back seat to a radical, pro-war agenda.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s latest ad shows that Democrats now seek to wrap themselves in the flag and stake out the “support the troops” high ground, jettisoning the contrary arguments they employed during the last several cycles, opting instead for “the prophesying of smooth patriotism” in ads targeting seven Republican congressmen. Here’s a sample:

Around here, we recognize Independence Day with parades … and picnics … maybe a few fireworks. But July Fourth is about more than that.

It’s about remembering those who fought for our freedoms. And those still fighting today.

Congressman Lee Terry used to understand that.

When George Bush asked, Congressman Terry voted to fully fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, last year he said, quote, “We must give our military every resource it needs.”

Seems like Congressman Terry is playing politics now …

Last month Congressman Terry voted AGAINST funding for those same troops.

It’s true: vote No. 348 – you can look it up.

Worse, when it was pointed out that one of the targets of this ad, Rep. Joe Wilson, has four sons in the military, the DCCC decided to pour even more gas on the fire:

DCCC’s spox Ryan Rudominer hits back: “Congressman Wilson, of all people, should be supporting funding for our men and women in uniform.”

The preceding represents an escalation of pro-war rhetoric from the House Democrats which began in earnest during the war funding supplemental vote. During the lead-up to the vote, Democrats decided to play turnabout with the Republicans by adopting exactly the same rhetoric with which pro-war Republicans used to bludgeon Democrats. For example, here’s a recent quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“The Republicans are saying they are not going to vote for the bill, the funding of the troops. They’re not going to support the troops.”

Here’s an unnamed Democratic staffer:

“Anytime there was a Democrat [who] raised concern on some of these supplementals, he was tarred as being anti-troop…It seems like they’re putting the interest of the Republican Party and the ability for them to develop a campaign narrative ahead of the interest of the troops,” he said.

But nothing unveils the fangs of the radical pro-war spirit spreading through the top echelons of the Democratic Party than the heavy hand with which they deal with their own anti-war members. Recall that before the vote in question, the White House and House leaders threatened to ostracize and de-fund vulnerable Democratic members unless they voted to fund the war:

The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.

“We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen. She wouldn’t say who is issuing the threats, and the White House didn’t immediately return a call.

The combined political pressure of the House leadership and the White House Legislative Affairs Office was sufficient to cajole several Democrats who relied on anti-war backing to get elected and who had signed anti-war pledges (some of whom still have the temerity to maintain war-cost running totals on the front pages of their campaign websites) to stab their constituents in the back.  At the same time, the White House reportedly cut deals with pro-war Republicans to soft-peddle challenges to their reelection next year in exchange for war funding votes (h/t Jeremy Scahill).

The war funds vote and the ads cut in its aftermath reveal three alarming uses to which DCCC money is being put:

  1. Leverage to coerce vulnerable, anti-war Democrats into voting against their principles and those of their constituents;
  2. Threats against vulnerable, pro-war Republicans that can be withdrawn in exchange for support for war funds; and
  3. Political adverstisements that assail Republicans (even decidedly pro-war Republicans) with rhetoric that positions Democrats favorably (in their minds, at least) in a pro-troop/anti-troop binary.

Combined, these three uses indicate that funds solicited from donors on the premise that they will be used to elect more Democrats and defeat more Republican incumbents are actually being used to ensure the election and incumbency of House members who will vote to support war funding.

As a prior Democratic donor and highly active volunteer, I am absolutely disgusted. I know I’m not alone.

This revelation is particularly vile considering the context of the last few weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the last two months, an airstrike in Afghanistan and a drone strike in Pakistan have killed very large numbers of civilians. The first, the May 4 bombing of Bala Baluk, was a “clear war crime” in that the civilians killed by a combined three-and-a-half tons of ordinance had not been confirmed as militants before they were bombed to death. The second, the June 23 drone attack on a funeral in South Waziristan, killed about 35 non-combatants, including 10 very young children, by dropping a bomb with a 200-ft. kill radius on their gathering. To date, no one has been punished for either atrocity, although both incidents blantantly violate the obligation of combatants to discriminate between parties to the conflict and civilians.  Instead, President Obama mastered doublespeak:

We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it’s in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.

This high-church dispensation of moral certainty parallels the one-way blame game we learned to endure during the Bush years: We are only defending ourselves; we’re the good guys, they’re the ones who kill innocent civilians; pay no attention to the one-ton bombs falling on your friends and families. At home, you either support any appropriations bill that contains continued, no-strings funding for continued hostilities or you hate the troops and want them to be killed by terrorists.

In the name of stopping the activities of extremists, we’re expanding our own civilian-killing extremist version of the self-defense doctrine, which has become so mutant that it now justifies dropping quarter-ton bombs with a 200-foot kill radius on groups of people likely to include civilians in countries with which we are not officially at war. Obama’s January 23 order to initiate a Predator strike in Pakistan signaled his backing for this Terminator-esque turn in American policy, the first piece of a multi-front escalation of military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, now conflated, terrifyingly, as “AfPak.” Incredibly, despite five policy reviews in six months, the President who ran on a platform of finishing the fight in Afghanistan presides over a military campaign now wandering into neighboring countries, adrift in the exhibition of qualities for which he once decried the policies of President Bush: “undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

At moments like this, we desperately need a Congress and a congressional leadership team with the spine to check the listlessness and violence of the executive’s actions overseas. The actions of House leadership and their political campaign operation down the street have revealed that we have no such thing. Rather, what the war funding vote and its aftermath revealed is the further infiltration and dominance of the official structures the Democratic Party by a radical pro-war caucus, perfectly willing to sell out their constituents and their donors in the name of out-of-control militarism and continued, highly profitable mass murder overseas. This radical caucus running the party in the House flexed its muscles just this past week, teaming with Republicans to defeat legislative language to require an exit strategy from Afghanistan, despite the fact that the majority of rank-and-file Democrats supported it and despite its similarity to the exit strategy for which Democrats agitated for Iraq under President Bush. Until we force changes, expect more of the same on future votes.

I encourage every anti-war DCCC donor to close your checkbooks and put your debit cards away until we see a party worth another penny. Right now, the Democratic party isn’t. In fact, I’d like my money back.

David Hambling at Wired’s Danger Room blog ventures a guess as to why so many people died in the newest drone-strike embarrasment. According to eye-witnesses, the drones dropped bombs instead of firing missiles, fueling Hambling’s hunch:

…the Predator has now been joined by the much larger MQ-9 Reaper, which can carry a heavier payload, around three thousand pounds, including a large number of Hellfires and GBU-12 Paveway II and GBD-38 JDAM bombs. These are different types of 500-pound bomb, one with laser guidance and the other satellite guided. Both are based on the 1950’s-vintage Mk 82 bomb ; less than half the weight of the bomb bomb is explosive, and the rest is the steel casing. The reason for having such a thick casing is shrapnel: when the bomb detonates, the casing blows up like a balloon before bursting and spraying high-velocity steel fragments in all directions. It is these fragments, rather than blast, that do most of the damage.

Marc Herold, in looking at casualties in Afghanistan, quotes an ‘effective casualty radius’ for the Mk82 of 200 feet: this is radius inside which 50% of those exposed will die. Quite often the target is taking cover or lying down and the effect is reduced, but if you can catch people standing up or running then the full effective casualty radius will apply.

Someone please explain to me why we’re dropping quarter-ton, shrapnel-based bombs with a 200-foot effective kill radius on gatherings of people likely to include civilians in countries with which we are not officially at war.

U.S. drone attacks in support of a pending Pakistani offensive against Taliban leader Baitullah Meshud has likely caused another major civilian casualty event–by using tactics similar to those used by suicide bombers.  Democracy Now! reports:

At least 60 people have reportedly died in the South Waziristan region of western Pakistan after a US drone attack Tuesday. The vast majority were killed when missiles from an unmanned American drone struck the funeral of a suspected Taliban commander. The suspected commander and 6 others had died in a previous drone attack earlier in the day.

Tuesday’s attacks came as the Pakistani army and airforce expanded their military operations from Swat into South Waziristan. The Pakistani army was reportedly preparing an offensive against Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who is blamed for several recent bombing attacks across Pakistan.

The Pentagon denied the attacks and told Al Jazeera english that “there are no U.S. military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

Can you remember the last funeral you attended? Even if it was a funeral for a member of the military or someone who died violently, how many people in the crowd were civilians?

The Pentagon may well be telling the truth that there are “no U.S. military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.” But that answer is deceptively specific. Drones are the favorite tool of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which is not a military agency. And, there are significant indications that the U.S. is giving Pakistani military authorities significant influence in the targeting and use of the drones.

The strike may have targeted Baitullah Meshud:

The incident is part of an escalating drone war that has sparked serious controversy in both Pakistan and the United States. It also comes as Pakistan readies an offensive against Mehsud: Pakistani newspapers are also reporting the arrest of some of the Taliban leader’s fundraisers in Karachi….

Pakistan’s The Nation has details on a first strike that preceded the funeral: A drone fired three missiles into a militant stronghold near Makeen village, northeast of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials told The Nation that attack killed six militants and destroyed a compound, a bunker and two vehicles.

A follow-on strike apparently targeted the funeral service for individuals killed in the first attack. Mehsud — who is suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and has a $5 million bounty on his head — reportedly paid a visit to the village where the funeral took place, but managed to dodge the strike. The Associated Press quotes two intelligence officials as saying Mehsud left the scene before drone fired the missiles. speculates on the absolute viciousness of this current suicide-bomber-like “bomb once, wait for crowd, bomb again” tactic:

It is possible that the Pakistani military’s history of indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets and eagerness for massive kill counts is eliminating the diplomatic obstacles which have kept the deaths from the Americans’ own attacks comparatively low.

The war in Afghanistan continues its creep to the east. Congress and the President must act to end it and bring our troops home immediately. Presidents, generals, troops or robots purporting to act in my name in response to 9/11 long ago lost the thread of continuity that leads back to the World Trade Center. We’re wandering around dropping one-ton bombs on people living in mud huts with no clear path to anything recognizable as “victory.” Beyond that, the tactics we’re using show that we’ve lost anything remotely resembling respect for human rights and dignity, attempts to lecture the Taliban from the moral high ground notwithstanding. We know we’re killing civilians, and we just. keep. doing. it.

Bring the troops home, and ground those damn drones.

UPDATE: The International News (h/t segments the dead: 40 low-level militants, 35 local villagers. Among the villagers killed by the second bomb were 10 children ages five-to-10 and four local tribal elders.

How many more kids are you willing to sacrifice for a false sense of security?

Here’s something that might help: a library of material on nonviolent struggle from the Albert Einstein Institution.  None of it is in Persian, but there are translations in multiple languages, including Azeri and Arabic, so hopefully someone can speak one of the languages and put it to use. 

Good luck.

P.S. For the regressive shouting-heads pushing for some sort of nebulous “intervention,” please grow up and open any American history book with a section on the 20th century. You’ll find a nice section about our history with Iran and plenty of good reasons for us not to Americanize the protests with heavy-handed Bush-II-like foreign policy stumbles. As Juan Cole wrote today:

American politicians should keep their hands off Iran and let the Iranians work this out. If the reformers have enough widespread public support, they will develop tactics that will change the situation. If they do not, then they will have to regroup and work toward future change. US covert operations and military interventions have caused enough bloodshed and chaos. If the US had left Mosaddegh alone in 1953, Iran might now be a flourishing democracy and no Green Movement would have been necessary.

Reports are surfacing that U.S. drone operators are firing initial missiles at targets, and then firing secondary missiles at crowds that gather. This is a tactic we’re used to seeing…from suicide bombers. 

On Thursday, US drones launched an attack on a compound in South Waziristan, and when locals rushed to the scene to rescue survivors, they launched more missiles at them, leaving a total of 13 dead. The timing and target of the attack were controversial, as was the tactic of luring locals in with a first strike to maximize the kill count. Today, locals were involved in a funeral procession when the US struck again.

Gareth Porter penned a great piece for IPS on the place of civilians in military thinking in Afghanistan:

U.S. officials at a NATO conference in Brussels last Friday were telling reporters that “public relations” are now considered “crucial” to “turning the tide” in Afghanistan, according to an AFP story on Jun 12….

The new emphasis on more aggressive public relations appears to respond to demands from U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan to wrest control of the issue of civilian casualties from the Taliban. In a discussion of that issue at the same conference, Gen. David Barno, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, said, “We’ve got to be careful about who controls the narrative on civilian casualties.”

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan “see the enemy seeking to take air strikes off the table” by exaggerating civilian casualties, Barno said. He objected to making civilian casualties an indicator of success or failure, as a CNAS paper has recommended.

Remember, McChrystal said during his confirmation hearing:

“The measure of effectiveness will not be (the number of) enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.”

Looks like Barno didn’t get the memo.