Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Race With All Losers

Heading off recently to a small fishing village in Mexico for some quiet R&R with some good fiction and Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars in the backpack was mostly a good thing. No television, internet, no crowds, just surf, sun and breezes.



I say mostly, because Dirty Wars was a troubling read. I have been compelled again to investigate and ponder more thoughtfully issues of war and peace when I joined the board of our local Peace Education Center. More recently as I've become co-chair of the PEC, I feel a responsibility to better inform myself  of the complexities of global conflicts and the violence that surrounds them. Scahill's award winning journalism (two prestigious George Polk awards among others) deluges the reader with the forces driving U.S. military and paramilitary actions.

I'll spare you the details, but my immediate reaction (I'm not quite halfway through the 500+ pages) was how can Rumsfeld, Cheney and others not be forced to face prosecution for what they unleashed and to what Obama and his team have continued,under the cover of the War on Terror. Scahill's book is not a simple read. He relies extensively on interviews with members and past members of the military, intelligence, and political arenas. (I would relish a visual picture of the relationships of all the players he consults in pulling this together). There are some places where the evidence seems clear cut and others where he sees it as murky, if not indiscernible.

 cover art

One area that Scahill emphasizes from the beginning is Rumsfeld's desire to consolidate more control over intelligence and special operations into the hands of the Defense department. This coincided with a further weakening (in part through budget re-allocations) of State Department efforts and diplomacy in general. In a more recently published book, Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy, Gordon Adams, a national security scholar, notes even concerns among the military with this approach:

      In 2012, ore than 80 retired senior military leaders sent a letter to Congress asking them not to cut the International Affairs budget that provides resources to civilian diplomacy and development agencies. In 2013, twenty retired three- and four-star generals admirals went to Congress to petition for an increase in the International Affairs budget. Gen. James martin, then commander of US Central Commad, is reported to have said, "If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition." [p.19, note 1]

As I return to frigid temperatures and a deep blanket of white I was assaulted with the announcement that Obama's budget calls for another significant increase in defense spending - a 7% increase on the base military budget - even as we have ended (?) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.




 In the current issue of The Atlantic James Fallows writes in "The Tragedy of the American Military",

     "By the fullest accounting, which is different from usual budget figures, the United Stated will spend more than $1 trillion on national security this year. That includes about $580 billion for the Pentagon's baseline budget plus "overseas contingency" funds, $20 billion in the Department of Energy budget for nuclear weapons, nearly $200 billion for military pensions and Department of Veterans Affairs costs and other expenses. But it doesn't count the $80 billion a year of interest on the military related national debt. After adjustments for inflation, the United States will spend about 50 percent more on the military this year than its average through the Cold War and Vietnam War. It will spend as much as the next 10 nations combined - three to five times as much as China, depending upon how you count, and seven to nine times as much as Russia. The world as whole spends about 2 percent of its total income on its militaries; the United States, about 4 percent." [ January/February 2015, p.80]

Top this off with a February 1, 2015 piece by retired  Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, "War is the New Normal" in which he revisits the "seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America." Once again, this is the military voice speaking, not some chicken hawks like Rumsfeld and Cheney. Read it and get angry!

Seems like President Eisenhower's departing warning has come true -
      
Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Warning Rings Truer Than Ever

        In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether  sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. [It is useful to read the entire farewell speech here.]

A day after returning from surf and sun my path came across a potentially powerful tonic to the endless war and violence that Scahill, Fallows, Adams, and the President have made more visible.


A new tome by Randall Amster, JD, PhD and director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown has just penned a book I was hoping to write myself, Peace Ecology. I've just scoured the 20 page introduction and believe I have found another soul interested in the links between peace and ecology. Amster is eager to make visible connections that we often miss. Whether he leaves me off the hook to write a tome on the same topic remains to be seen. But his introduction framed by a few quotations worth sharing give me a serious doze of hope.

     "War is a social, economic and ecological disaster. It is totally unsustainable and must be opposed by all who are concerned about meeting the real needs of all people and future generations. The effect of war is most immediate for those who are killed or maimed or made homeless, but the social and ecological consequences reverberate for generations. Among the children who survive, we still don't know the full extent of the psychic damage they have suffered or the degree to which their problems are transmitted to successive generations. War is the ultimate atrocity that dehumanizes victor and vanquished alike; divorcing children from parents, separating families, smashing communities, it deprives its victims of their basic need for love and security in the company of their fellow beings." [David Suzuki, quoted on page 4].

For so many reasons it's long past time to stop the arms race that we run assuming its winnable. Clearly we should have learned by now that it sows perpetual war. We can begin by controlling the expenditures for war and arms. A recent Nation article notes the Obama administration's interest in upgrading our nuclear arsenal, which one "one federal study estimated the cost of this enterprise at $1 trillion." Is there anyone sane enough to think that this money would buy more security if invested in providing access to clean water and energy for the world's disenfranchised?

Apathy is consent!