Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #81
January 31, 2012
By Clare Bayard, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras
Welcome to the Year of the Water Dragon. It's time for the 99% to make some serious waves.
This year opened with the first anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising, which gave birth to a new Egypt and inspired bottom-up movements around the world. We look ahead to what ground may be gained by these uprisings and movements that have not yet reached their adolescence.
This is a moment of new possibilities. The crumbs of empire have dwindled sufficiently that more people than ever in the U.S. are seeing their own interests opposed to the ruling elite, opening the door to building greater global solidarity. From Yemen to Nigeria to small towns in the Rust Belt, grassroots movements have shot up through cracks in the pavement of inequity.
Within the U.S., the 1%'s agenda of austerity and war-making is being challenged in the streets and spotlighted in mainstream media. But the upsurge of popular movements is still fighting uphill. Economic exploitation and resource wars still shape peoples' daily lives worldwide. The elite's austerity programs have not yet been slowed. And though the type of war-making Washington engaged in for the last decade has taken some major hits, the U.S. has only adjusted its approach, not cut back its violence and aggression. Our antiwar strategies must evolve in response, broadening our scope and becoming as much a movement against militarism and the military-industrial complex as a campaign against specific large-scale U.S. wars.
THE U.S. MILITARY: VERSION 2012
In the first week of the year, Obama announced his official plan for reorienting the U.S. military.
This shift is packaged as a move towards a smaller, more agile military. The change is said to be driven by the difficulties (they won't say losses) Washington encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, by domestic fiscal crisis, and by alleged threats from China and Iran.
This restructured military orients away from battlefields towards airstrikes and maritime chokepoints. From the targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden to the team of Navy SEALS who parachuted into Somalia to rescue American and Danish hostages while Obama was delivering his State of the Union Address, special ops and “surgical strikes” is the new U.S. specialty. This new doctrine raises questions about the redefined goals of waging war.
Obama's doctrine explicitly focuses on the oil-rich “arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia". The increased emphasis on air and sea power maintains the imperial agenda of controlling oil transport.
The new doctrine also marks an escalation of two key trends during the past decade: increased privatization and remote-controlled warfare. Internal military functions have been largely outsourced. Combat is being privatized through contractors and transfer of U.S. Armed Forces functions including prisoner of war detention over to the CIA. The “trimming” of 100,000 service members will speed this.
The exponential growth of investment into unmanned arms systems is a cash cow for corporations. The Defense Department earmarked $18 billion over five years, and estimates $37 billion for development through 2020. The Air Force now trains more drone operators than fighter pilots, and PTSD is already appearing amongst operators launching Hellfire missiles that have killed about 2,000 people in Pakistan alone, averaging one strike every four days.
The Pentagon has almost 7,500 more drones than before 9/11 - a third of U.S. military aircraft. The “War on Terror” jumpstarted this new phase of warfare, currently focused on Pakistan. Last year also saw attacks on Somalia, Libya, and Yemen.
Transparency and oversight are slipping away even from the imperial army. The CIA, not the military, runs the drone program against Pakistan. The Obama administration will not officially discuss the program, not even to confirm or deny its existence. A secret base is under construction in Ethiopia, and the U.S. has use agreements with a number of other countries in Africa and elsewhere to use as staging and launching facilities. Secrecy in the oversight of programs bombing civilians is not a new development for the U.S. - ask Cambodians. But the number of functions transferred to corporations with government ties, and the amount of money changing hands, has reached new levels.
Accountability and the chain of command have entered the science-fiction future. This month, the first unmanned and unpiloted drone entered a new phase of testing in Maryland. Soon computer-programmed missions may eliminate the human finger on the trigger entirely.
DOMESTIC SIDE OF THE MILITARIST COIN
The domestic side of the militarist coin is the stateside police growing ever more indistinguishable from the Army. The Occupy movement has provided an excuse for local and state law enforcement to request and utilize even more military equipment. Levels of violence that had once been deemed acceptable when used only against communities of color, homeless and poor people and queers have come back around for use against college students with linked arms and middle-aged unemployed moms protesting bank bailouts.
This month, the Border Patrol acquired its ninth Predator drone, the Army's favorite $20 million baby. The use of a drone in North Dakota to arrest three cow thieves in December broke the issue of using drones on civilians – or rather, on citizens. Anti-immigrant racism had curbed outrage against the drones that have already been continuously flying a loop from California to Louisiana, detaining almost 5,000 undocumented people in the past six years.
As always, what we allow to happen to marginalized communities expands to hurt everyone.
With very little outcry from anyone outside the usual suspects, the National Defense Authorization Act was passed. The NDAA legalizes practices including indefinite detention already being used against non-U.S. Citizens. It gives wide berth to whatever strategies for repressing domestic dissent may be required by the 1% in the coming years.
NEOCON REPUBLICANS WANT EVEN MORE
The prolonged theater of the Republican primaries reveals the spectrum of full tilt white supremacist nationalism that the right wing considers currently viable. Gingrich won South Carolina by upping dog whistle racism to a foghorn blast with his characterization of Obama as the “food stamp” president. This blatant racism, twinned with American nationalism, hypes a "war of civilizations" mandate to destroy all those dark-skinned and Muslim "others" who are allegedly out to destroy white Judeo-Christian civilization.
Obama's revamped military has drawn intense fire from the Neocon hawks, who claim it shows Obama wants to gut the military and weaken U.S. defenses in order to spend money on food stamps. They still champion the dream of massive ground wars for regime change and resource control, along with slashed safety nets. From the team of people who brought us the “Endless War,” John Yoo of the “Torture Memos” published a call-out for the GOP candidates to jumpstart war with Iran. In South Carolina, GOP candidates vied with each other for who could get the biggest ovation for their variation on “Kill them all.”
"We'll stand with Israel" banner-waving is another key card for Republicans. Romney brings a promise of partnership with Netanyahu, while Gingrich brings up the rightwing rear with his comments about Palestinians as an “invented people.” The extremist pro-Israel barrage dovetails with calls for a war against Iran.
NO WAR AGAINST IRAN
Halting the march toward war against Iran is an urgent task. Within Iran, assassinations of scientists and acts of sabotage have been taking place. EU Sanctions against Tehran are being tightened. And Israel (which has 250-plus nuclear weapons and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty) keeps calling Iran (which is not proven to have a nuclear weapons program and which is a signatory to the NPT) an "existential threat."
There are signs that the Obama administration is trying to "lower the temperature." They postponed a joint military exercise with Israel that was the largest ever planned. But statements from top administration officials give mixed signals, and the State of the Union left the door wide open to war.
Following Tehran's announcement in mid-January that it was willing to resume talks with the West on its nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used International Holocaust Remembrance Day to reaffirm his willingness to launch a military assault. Demonizing Iran is the Netanyahu faction's go-to for taking the world's attention away from Israel's seizure of even more Palestinian land.
The main policy makers in the Obama administration, as well as most of the U.S. military brass, seem to think an attack on Iran would be a terrible blunder. They fear it would further destabilize this crucial petroleum-producing region; wreak havoc with the global economy; unite the Iranian people behind a regime Washington wants to change; and further weaken the U.S.'s position in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But it's dangerous to rely on realist calculations or inconsistent Neocon/Israeli hesitations to back off an unpromising war? Only a popular outcry from the U.S. populace that effectively counters the current war crusade can tip the scales decisively against potential catastrophe.
'ARAB SPRING' MATURING – ALSO ALIVE ACROSS AFRICA
As we reach the one-year anniversary of Mubarak's ouster, the Arab Spring is a project in process. Egyptians continue to demand real change as the military council has continued Mubarakism. The ripples have also spread far beyond Egypt, throughout the Arab world and the African continent.
On the January 25 anniversary, over 100,000 Egyptians turned out to claim the revolution as their own and not the military council's. The Peoples' Assembly now sits preparing to create Egypt's new constitution, after what many called the “cleanest and most democratic elections since the 1950s.” The Muslim Brotherhood won a majority of the seats. While the new Assembly took oaths (some MP's wearing the slogan "No to military trials"), protestors on the street challenged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' conduct and reluctance to yield power. In a beautiful convergence, four different marches on Parliament merged together and unified their slogans as they approached the barbed wire and soldiers blocking them from the building. The marches were against military trials, for the relatives of the martyrs of Tahrir Square, trade unionists, and several thousand artists demonstrating for freedom of creativity.
Far less publicized in the U.S. were the significant uprisings and protests that took place in 25 African countries in 2011. Africa, with its tremendous energy and tech-industry resources, will be a key global battlefield in this coming year.
2012 dawned with a massive national strike in Nigeria against the overnight doubling of gas prices due to removal of subsidies. Pambazuka News noted that people were in the streets protesting even before labor unions officially called for the strike. Days later, up to 120,000 Occupy Nigeria protestors claimed ground for the 99%, staging the biggest Occupy protest yet. This level of concerted demonstrations in Nigeria might be emblematic of the contradictions in post-colonial nations, fighting the accumulated impacts of decades of the "neoliberal model" of capitalism (privatization and subsidies for corporations, austerity for the masses) hitting common people, and exacerbating any and every divide-and-rule schema. These massive street demonstrations by the 99% occur at the same time that over 100,000 Nigerians have been displaced by attacks by fundamentalist Islamic group Boko Haram, in which hundreds of people have been killed.
India and China also made moves this month to broaden their African footprints. China funded and built the new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, which President Hu Jintao's leadership inaugurated January 28 as China's “gift” to Africa. China is entering its third year of beating out the U.S. as Africa's biggest trading partner, which it has built up by 10,000% over the last ten years (from $10 billion in 2000 to $114 billion in 2010).
The U.S. continues to hover over Africa, expanding AFRICOM, building up adjacent bases and proxy agreements, as well as newly surfaced secret prisons in Somalia and the Horn. Strong U.S. movement is needed against resource wars in Africa. Some of these will be marketed as “humanitarian interventions.” Others may build on the propaganda successes of air striking Libya and killing Qaddafi 'for human rights'. This is 2012 in U.S. wars to “spread democracy and liberty.”
RESISTANCE TO WAR – AND TO MILITARISM
The Occupy movement (wintering like a healthy plant; pulling back some leaves while deepening its roots and turning toward foreclosure defense and reclaiming commons) has injected new energy into every progressive movement, including the antiwar movement
The 99% zoomed in this month on banks and the corruption of the criminal justice system. Nationally, the turn towards building occupations as foreclosure defenses, foreclosure auction disruptions, and reclaiming commons has also decentralized many Occupy encampments from downtowns out into neighborhoods. In Alabama, a current frontline struggle against vicious legislative attacks on the state's small immigrant population, Occupy joined to support migrant and Black-led efforts to push back racial profiling and detention.
Occupy energy has helped fill the sails of "Move the Money" campaigns. It has emboldened rank and file union activists, an increasing number of whom have been adding their voices to the antiwar pole in labor long nurtured by US Labor Against the War.
Antiwar veterans' organizing meanwhile goes beyond opposing specific U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It spotlights militarism returning home in the bodies of veterans, and reminds the rest of the country about the millions in the 99% who are Iraqi or Afghan. After years of grassroots pushing, mainstream media coverage is increasing on issues of soldier suicide, PTSD, and even military sexual trauma. VoteVets a large liberal veterans' advocacy organization, called out retired General William Boykin for his Islamophobic remarks about the U.S.'s holy war. These are promising signs for the development of a broad anti-militarist movement.
Other action continues against U.S. wars abroad despite their receding profile. Grassroots Global Justice, with its network of community-based organizations connected to international peoples' movements, continues its “No War, No Warming, Build a People's Economy." GGJ will be one of many groups across the country and the world mobilizing for the protests and counter-summit planned for the G8/NATO meeting in Chicago this May, bringing concerns and visions from communities of color.
An emerging multi-faceted antimilitarist movement can build on existing alliances. Iraqi trade unionists and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq continue to reach out, both in support of formations like USLAW, and in reminding the U.S. that the people of Iraq retain the right to demand reparations. Iraqis continue to demonstrate almost weekly for basic rights and needs. Solidarity remains a priority as U.S. troop withdrawal drops Iraq out of news, although the U.S. has left not only tens of thousands of contractors and mercenaries, but social and environmental wreckage and a nonfunctional state.
Iraq Veterans Against the War, whose third point of unity is reparations to the people of Iraq (and Afghanistan), is taking steps on the slow road towards reparations and responsibility. In areas including Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, IVAW is building face-to-face relationships with local Iraqi refugee communities. This work underpins IVAW's organizing to withdraw labor power and legitimacy from Washington's wars.
MILITARISM: ONE OF THE "GIANT TRIPLETS" THAT MUST BE DEFEATED
Anti-militarism must be central to the U.S. progressive movements as we reorient to 2012 conditions. Efforts that may be small today provide seeds that will grow larger action, such as this month's delegation of LGBTQI leaders to the West Bank to build the boycott/divestment/sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid. Others, like campaigns to cut the military budget and "move the money" to human needs, intersect with debates that are front page headlines. All these are critical, and must be woven together. As the 99% search for a political compass to ground our resurgent energy, it is useful to recall Martin Luther King Jr.'s words from another time of racist onslaught and imperial war:
"We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
Such guidance, infusing new visions for 21stcentury alternatives, can help our movements dance delicately but powerfully - like a water dragon.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
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