Monday, September 15, 2014

Undeclared Wars & Unending Delusions

Once Upon a Time...  Wars  were  declared by Congress...

The  United States Constitution explains  the powers to declare war this way:

The Congress shall have Power to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

The United States of America has been at war now for 13 years. It is a very real war, that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It is in fact, the longest war in American History. It is also a war which has never been declared. It is war that has no "home front". It is war where the human costs have been borne almost exclusively by our Military men and women and their families.

The current threat of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" is a direct result of our failure to adequately plan for, and secure a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The decision to dismantle then disperse the still -fully armed soldiers of the Iraqi Army, was the seed from which grew the rancid weed of Al-Qaeda in Iraq , which has now bloomed into ISIS

It is also most certainly a war if not mostly for, then predominantly about, oil. It is long past time for everybody to be honest. If there was no Oil in middle east we wouldn't care about what went on there. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. It is reason we invaded Iraq in the first place.

But the truth in that admission is bigger than just saying this war is about oil. It is also being willing to admit that in 2014 we live in a completely oil-dependent world. Oil is a much a strategic resource as water and food. So to admit we went to war to secure the free flow of oil to the global market is not necessarily in and of itself all that shocking of thing to admit to.

Unless everyone is willing to give up everything we use Oil for; (Which is pretty much everything in our civilization from transportation,  to  energy and food production.  To   anything and everything made of plastic.) To decry the influence of oil on our strategic and military decisions is to be remarkably na├»ve.

Donald Rumsfeld Greets Saddam Hussein

So  lets be clear here.   The problem is  our addiction to Oil.   It is the reason behind  the  greatest  foreign policy and military  debacles in American history.  From the decision to invade Iraq, to our historical  long running   support  of ruthless dictators and undemocratic regimes  from the Shah of Iran,  to  Saddam Hussein, to the Saudi Royal Family.   

The day we free ourselves of our current all-encompassing need for Oil, is the day we free ourselves from the single greatest motivation for military entanglements in the Middle East. As long as this toxic black goo, found under the sands of that part of the world, is the most critical strategic and economic resource there is, then the stability there, is an issue that transcends the interests of individual nations, and is in fact a matter of Global security.

But the deep dark truth of the matter is, nobody wants to have THAT conversation. Least of all the Oil industry and those people and organizations both outside of , and within Government who are either personally or institutionally invested in our dependence on oil.

So it begs the question if there is a well armed, well funded military force, which openly declares that one of its chief goals is to harm the United States, and that force is in a position to exert enormous control over the world's most important economic and technological resource, is that not a clear and present danger to national security? The answer is to that question is simple, the implications of that answer, are anything but.

Is the United States at war in the Middle East? You would be hard pressed to find anyone who could with straight face give any answer other than Yes to that question. Yet we are spending so much effort to behave as if we are not. We are fighting a war against radical extremist terror groups and doing it via vague Congressional Resolutions that "authorize the use of force". But never actually honestly say what it is we are doing. We are at war.

There is not shared sacrifice in this conflict. It is the brave Men and Women of our military and their families who have paid that terrible price. We have even cooked the books so the economic costs of this war, running into the Trillions of Dollars have been hidden, put on the National Credit Card because raising taxes to pay for it was politically unpalatable.

Instead this 13 year old war has become the very thing President Eisenhower warned us about. It has become an industry.

It is time for America to be honest.    In recent days we have seen shameless political opportunists in Congress, like Senator Lindsey Graham, running on to Fox News to  decry  a lack of action by the President,  while  at the same time deliberately avoiding their own  constitutional obligations.  
 If we are to continue this open-ended war in the Middle East with  a new front against ISIS, then it is time for Congress to pass a Declaration of War. 

It it is time for the Nation to be truly put on a war footing, It is time that a tax surcharge on corporations and individuals be levied to pay for it. It is it time for the Draft to be re-instated to provide the force to fight it.

And as this war is about oil , it is time for petroleum rationing to be instated,   to force us as a Nation to come to terms with just how dependent on this one resource and its related industries we  truly are.

Anything less is a lie. The most costly and bloody lie in American history.   A lie which both political parties  are guilty of perpetuating,


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering This Day....

(The following is an updated repost  of an entry from Sept. 11th, 2011)

Today the media, and the blogposphere will undoubtedly be full of all sorts of remembrances and commentary around what is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

To be honest I really don't like to dwell on the topic. Not out of any sense of personal pain, but more out of respect, for those people I know who were far closer to the events of that day than I was. My experience that day was a somewhat surreal one.

I had gotten up very early and caught a flight from Chicago Midway to Houston. I was heading there for work. It was about 20 minutes into the flight, the seat belt sign had just turned off, and people where shifting about, getting comfortable. I had just pulled out my laptop to work on the presentation I was going to be giving later that day. Suddenly the seat belt sign came back on, and the crew announced that everyone was to return to their seats and prepare for landing, the flight would be returning to Chicago.

The Pilot then came on the speaker system to say that there was nothing wrong with the plane, and we were returning to Chicago because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) had ordered the flight to return to "clear air traffic". He said that was all the information they had, and he apologized for the inconvenience.

Everyone on the plane thought the same thing. (Not terrorism.) Chicago Midway had upgraded to a new Air Traffic Control System earlier in the Summer and a few weeks prior, there had been a series of glitches that had delayed several flights. Everyone groaned, made comments about "Government Efficiency" assuming it was yet another problem with Midway's system that was going to mess up  our day. 

This  assumption that was bolstered when the captain came back on the loudspeaker  and announced  that we were not returning to Midway but rather we were diverted to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

The woman sitting next to me was happy about this thinking at least it might be easier to get on the next flight out to Houston. I nodded, and said "I hope so", thinking of how I might salvage the rest of my schedule that day and make my afternoon meetings on time.

It took us about 30 minutes of circling over O'Hare before we could land. Sitting in a window seat I watched as the line of planes waiting to land stretched to the far horizon and oddly enough, no planes were taking off. I commented on this to the woman next to me, and she said "wow Midway's systems must be really screwed up!" I laughed and said that what we get for Ronald Reagan having fired all the good Air Traffic Controllers. She laughed and said she had forgotten about that.

We landed and had to wait an additional 20 minutes to get a gate. but finally pulled up to a jetway , and we all lumbered off the plane into the gate area I was getting annoyed because people were not clearing the area in front of the door but were all standing around the televisions that were tuned to the CNN Airport Network. I was about to say a loud "excuse me!" when I happened to look up at the TV and saw CNN  replay footage from ABC of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center.

CNN then cut to live shot of a column of smoke and ash where the World Trade Center Towers were supposed to be, but weren't. I called my office and my boss told me not to come in, The area in downtown Chicago around the Sears Tower was being evacuated. I called my parents and let them know I was not in Houston, got on the CTA Blue Line and went home.   The rest of that day I did what most Americans did, watched the news, and when the images became overwhelming, I put on my roller blades and went blading along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

It was brilliant sunny day. One of those late Summer, early Fall days that you get in Chicago that make you appreciate what a beautiful city it is. As I stopped at Oak Street Beach and admired the downtown Chicago skyline, I didn't think that somehow the "world had changed". But rather I found myself thinking how the United States had  sadly, finally  joined the rest of the world.

Before that that morning, Terrorism was something that happened in other places, Israel, Lebanon London, Belfast , places far away. Even the first World Trade Center bombing for many people, didn't seem like international terrorism. After all, the people responsible were caught when they tried to get the deposit back on the rental van they had used. (How sinister could people that dumb be?)    That is what changed I think, it was the moment America lost the illusion that somehow our two oceans would keep us safe from global terrorism.

For friends of mine who lived in New York on that day,  I understand  that  today  is a much different  experience for them.   A good friend of mine is  a New York City Police Officer  who  lost an arm in the attack that day.   Another friend of mine worked  for an investment bank housed in the  North Tower,  she had a doctors appointment so she didn't go into work  that morning.   For her, today  is a reminder of  the  15 friends and co-workers  she lost  that day.

For the numerous friends of mine who have served, and currently serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the American and British Armed Forces, they deal with the effects September 11, 2001 on a far different level than most people ever will.

So this evening, as many Londoners and ex-pats attend the 9-11 memorial service at Westminster Abbey , people all over the world will remember the events of that day, pray for those who were lost, and show solidarity and support for friends and family for whom this anniversary is far more personal than political.

God Bless America, God bless us all.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

"They Will Like You When You Win..."

In the Spring of 1991,  I was a student  at the University of Wisconsin,  one day I was  asked to come to the University  housing director's office. I was told the  Chancellor, and the Dean of Students  needed to speak with me.    Normally, my reaction to such an invite would be to ask what was it that I had written in the Student Newspaper that had upset them that week.    But in this case,  I was told they needed to "brief me" on a new resident who would be moving onto my floor in the Dorm, specifically moving into the same suite I lived in.

When I arrived at the Chancellor's office,  I was introduced to a man from the US Department of State, who explained my new suitemate was Kurdish,  from Northern Iraq.  He was a refugee who had fled his country after his entire family had been executed by the. Saddam Hussein regime.  His family had been killed because he, was working  on a book, detailing the atrocities committed by the Iraqi government against the Kurds.

When the next day,  I met  Hassim, , he  stuck me as a typical  Graduate Student.  Friendly, studious and eager to settle in to his new routine.  I found  we had a lot in common,  we had read number of the same books, and had a shared love of. Star Trek.   We would  spend  many evenings that  semester talking politics, culture and SciFi.    Until one evening   we were sitting in the lounge on our floor, and I got up the courage to ask about his home, and  the war that was currently going on there.

Hassim smiled sadly,  and  told me he would be right back.  He returned a few moments later with a battered old atlas.   He opened  to  the map of. Iraq , Turkey and Syria.  He took a pencil and drew borders around an area including Northern  Iraq,  part  of  Southern Turkey and  Eastern  Syria.  He pointed to the area he had just highlighted and said ; "This is Kurdistan.   It is what should be my country had history not turned out the way it has."

I said  that the countries that make up that area probably would have a real problem with the borders he  had just drawn.  He  nodded, but then turned serious and  said that the current conflict in Iraq (Operation. Desert Storm) was extremely risky .  I asked him if he felt the coalition forces should remove Saddam Hussein from power.   He smiled sadly and said that no one would be happier  to see Saddam dead and gone than he would be.  But removing him from power had "huge risks".

 I asked him what he meant,  and he said Americans really didn't understand the different groups in that part of the world,  He asked if I knew the difference between Shia and Suni Islam.  I admitted I did not.    He then made what,  now years later is a chilling prediction.   He said;  "For America to go into Iraq and remove the Hussein dictatorship means you will have to stay  for 20 years and literally occupy and run the country.  Iraq will have to be. The 51rst State.  Otherwise it will be a civil war between Shia and Sunil and anyone who isn't one of those two will be caught in the middle and just killed."

I asked if there wasn't some way to  negotiate a power sharing deal between these groups.  He laughed and said; "You are thinking like an American". These groups  don't want to get along they want to win or die fighting.   If you want democracy in the middle east, you will have to conquer it first.  They will like you when you win."

The world is still recoiling in horror over the beheading of two American Journalists, and the mass murder of ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria  at the hands of the. "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria".  A group so barbaric and savage that even. Al Qaeda, has distanced themselves from it.

 Looking at the landscape of this part of the world,  like many people I am deeply troubled at the prospect of America and our Allies fighting yet another war in Middle East.

Yet  the alternative seems to be to stand aside and  let chaos, genocide and  terrorism take over a part of the world sitting atop 20% of  global oil reserves. Like it or not,  we  are  all  directly affected by what happens there.    

 So let's be honest and admit on thing;  Yes, this is largely (but not entirely)  about Oil.  Those who decry this fact are not wrong,  but they are hypocritical.   If you don't want to be affected by what happens in the Middle East,  then don't complain when it costs more than  $100 to fill up your gas tank.   Our crack-addict like dependence on Oil  remains our greatest strategic weakness.   It drives our foreign policy in the Middle East, and  causes all of the different groups there, to mistrust any efforts we make to engage with the region as oil-driven and therefore suspect.

Sadly, history doesn't do much to dispute that.

But also lets be clear.  It is not only about oil.   If we truly mean what we say in documents like our own Declaration  of Independence,  or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then how can we not  fight the  barbarism of. ISIS or ISIL or whatever they are calling themselves.   Hindsight is always. 20/20, but Hassim  was right.    In removing. Saddam Hussein without a plan for what came next.  The West created the vacuum into which these terrorists  have stepped.   

The horrific murders of the two American journalists, along with the promise of murders of other Americans and British nationals to come, combined with the  genocide of ethic minorities  both Muslim and non Muslims, paints a very clear picture.    We can't reason with them, they don't want to talk,  they want to win or die fighting,  taking as many of  the rest of us with them as they can in the process.

America cannot and must not  fight these animals alone.   The threat to our allies is just as great.  So their engagement in this fight must be equal to that threat.  But the fact is,  the only way this  blood-soaked part of the world will ever have a chance to move forward is for ISIS to be destroyed.  Not marginalised,  not to have their "Capacity Limited".  Not to have, their command and control centres "neutralised". They must be destroyed,  beyond the ability to ever reconstitute.

Is that right, ethical or moral?  No.    Is it necessary?   I find myself  regrettably having to agree with my old friend.

They will like us when we win...