Archive | June 22nd, 2014

Iraq’s Night is Long

ISIS Seeks Its Throne


Iraq’s night is long

Dawn breaks only to the murdered,

Praying half a prayer and never finishing a greeting to anyone.”

Mahmoud Darwish, Athar al-Farasha (tr. Sinan Antoon).


Northern Iraq, between the Kurdish zone and Baghdad, convulsed before the blitzkrieg of three formations — the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Iraqi Islamic Army (manned by former Ba’athists) and elements of the former Mujahedin Shura Council. Like the Mongols, ISIS – the main force – runs across the landscape unchecked. It did not take long for Iraqi army soldiers to throw off their uniforms and join the caravans of Iraqis fleeing north and south from along the Tigris River cities of Mosul and Tikrit as well as from the western city of Tal Afar – along the road that links Iraq to Syria. Those Iraqi soldiers captured by the ISIS and their confederates had a perilous time. ISIS soldiers divided them up by their sectarian denominations. Before their own video cameras, ISIS troops slaughtered the Shia soldiers – 1700 by their own admission – and then posted the video on-line. Sunni soldiers were forced, on pain of death, to recite their fealty to the eternal Islamic State. The UN Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, has already said that these killings constitute a war crime.

ISIS is the leading force in this new adventure, but it is not alone. Next to it is the Iraqi Islamic Army, led by Saddam Hussein’s former deputy Izzat al-Dori Ibrahim, and the Muslim Ulema Association. What unites these three forces – al-Qaeda extremists, Ba’athists and decamped Iraqi military personnel – is despair at Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarianism and the failures of the Iraqi state to draw in the largely Sunni towns that run up the River Tigris from Baghdad. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, said in February that Iraq “is ruled by wolves, thirsty for blood, souls that are eager for wealth, leaving their nation in suffering, in fear, in water puddles, in dark nights, lightened only by moonlight or a candle, swamped by assassinations based on differences or after ridiculous disagreements.” He left for Iran, fed up with the politics and violence in his land. This despair is what gave ISIS the opportunity to build its bases in northern Iraq.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the rise of ISIS is not related to the Iraq War of 2003, but to the western inaction in Syria. But ISIS was born in 2004, first as al-Qaeda in Iraq under the leadership of the bloodthirsty Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then two years later it was reborn as Islamic State of Iraq. Slow growth in the small towns of northern Iraq amidst former Iraqi military men and hardened Ba’athists helped the Islamic State grow despite the US destruction of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and the Sunni Awakening movement of 2005. As interest in the Sunni Awakening waned in Washington and Baghdad, its fighters joined the Islamic State. These are veterans of the insurgency against the US-UK occupation of Iraq. They had nothing to do with Syria.

When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, it was the Islamic State in Iraq under its dynamic leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – as al-Akhbar’s Radwan Mortada found –  that helped set up the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. Over the course of 2012 and 2013, ISIS and al-Nusra began to fall out, as the latter felt that it had authority over Syria and wanted Syrians to be doing the bulk of the fighting in that country. The Islamic State expanded its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, increasing its fighters with imports from across the world. By early 2014, there might have been as many as a hundred thousand fighters who were willing to fight under the colors of ISIS. Most are not jihadis, as I found, but disgruntled veterans of the Sunni Awakening and its type of outfits. ISIS provided the best vehicle for their frustrations.

Despite its clashes with al-Nusra, ISIS retained control of the northern Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, held since mid-2013. Spluttering oil fields in eastern Syria and sale of antiquities helped ISIS increase its revenue stream, which had previous relied upon taxes in northern Iraq and private donations from Gulf Arab sheikhs. The ISIS coffers, till last week, held about five hundred million dollars. The sack of Mosul earned them $1.5 billion, as the Guardian’s Martin Chulov showed; the capture of the Baiji oil refinery offering the potential of greater resources. Since the Iraqi troops offered little resistance, ISIS and its allies seized mint-condition military equipment, much of it provided by the US to help the Iraqis fight ISIS. This weaponry will now be used in Syria and Iraq to further ISIS’s agenda for the creation of an Islamic State. One of the first things the group did when it took Mosul was to break the border posts between Syria and Iraq as a propaganda gesture. Its vision of a belt that runs from Tripoli (Lebanon) to the borders of Iran is near reality.

ISIS man

The rapid advance drew a combined and coordinated response from the aerial power of both the Syrian and Iraqi air force. Iraqi helicopters even attacked the cemetery that holds the remains of Saddam Hussein in al-Auja, near Tikrit. It was a message from Baghdad to the Ba’athists, and is calculated to inflame rather than contain. This is dangerous. Iraqi nationalism was asphyxiated in the dungeons of the Ba’ath – it is no longer a foundation to which the government of Nouri al-Maliki could turn. He relies upon the currency of sectarianism. Coordination between the armies of Syria, Iraq and Iran – with Turkey in the wings – is already established. But this coordination will always sniff of sectarianism unless Turkey is party to the operations, which it might be if it sees the fragmentation leading to unity between Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan. Such a Kurdish homeland would be a direct challenge to Turkey. Far better to nip these opportunities in the bud.

Calls from the trade unions of Iraq that the people are ready to resist ISIS on a nationalist platform, such as by Falah Alwan of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq, will go unheard. Few can appreciate it when Alwan says that “demands to be rid of sectarianism are clear and direct” – noble statements no doubt – but inaudible before the harshly sectarian guns of ISIS. It delivers the Kurdish people to the Kurdish peshmerga and YPG and the Shia to al-Maliki and his favoured militias. The sectarian vaults, opened up by the US Shock and Awe campaign of 2003, now provide the main currency in Iraq and Syria – a tragedy of immense proportions.

The ISIS advanced down the Tigris toward Baghdad, but it was halted near Samarra. It was not the Iraqi military that formed the wall – in the picture from near Mosul an ISIS fighter sits with a grin on his face in front of a sign that reads, “The Iraqi army is a fork in the Eyes of Terrorism.” That army vanished. It is nowhere to be seen. In its place come various Shia militias, such as the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a breakaway from the Mahdi Army and given a long license by al-Maliki. Its leader Qayis Khazali was expelled from the Mahdi Army by al-Sadr because he is a loose cannon. His group has been active across Iraq, accused of supplanting the security services and being some of the most ruthless fighters around the shrine of Sayida Zainab in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah fighters complain that the AAH fighters had to be taken in hand and trained to calm down. The senior Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a fatwa calling upon “all able-bodied Iraqis” to defend Iraq from ISIS. He roused up the AAH and its offshoots. Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, shrugged off his clerical uniform and put on for military fatigues. This is the character of the fight – deep into the sectarian trough.

Before he went off to Iran, al-Sadr had been critical of the sectarianism of al-Maliki and the growth of the power of groups such as the AAH. They were alienating other Iraqis and setting the table for trouble. He has now called for the reformation of his Mahdi Army, and for a show of strength on June 21st. It is unlikely that he will appeal to any new constituencies, outside the sectarian boxes to which Iraqis are likely to head. There is no objective basis for Iraqi nationalism, as there is none for Syrian nationalism. These are fractured countries, broken by war. Syrians and Iraqis are prisoners in a burning prison. There are no easy, unbarred exits.

US promises to bomb ISIS from the air are not a tonic. They would only stop its advance, but not break its power, which stretches from parts of Syria’s Aleppo to the outskirts of Iraq’s Baghdad. It is Iran that has the most to lose here. It has already sent sections of its Revolutionary Guard Corps to help form a line of defense in the province of Diyala, whose main city Baquba was the origin of the Islamic State of Iraq. This is a part of Iraq where Shias and Sunnis live, and it would be a test of their unity against ISIS and for something other than the sectarianism of al-Maliki. Al-Sadr, I am told, is interested in the creation of an Iraqi version of Hezbollah, rooted in the Shia community of Lebanon but with pretensions of being an Arab nationalist force. The creation of such a force would contribute toward a non-sectarian platform from which to combat ISIS. It will be more effective than a bombing campaign.

Posted in Iraq1 Comment

How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles

Polk Report


Attached beneath my introductory comment is an essay by the American historian William R. Polk.  His subject is the American predilection for non-learning in foreign policy. My comment is intended to set the stage by summarizing the dangerous shambles that now passes for foreign policy in the United States.

Introductory Comment

In a nutshell, recent events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Ukraine show there is no grand-strategic focus to America’s increasingly militarized foreign policy.  A German officer in the old imperial army might say, kein Schwerpunkt!

What we call foreign policy and grand strategy in the 21st Century — i.e., that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’* — has devolved into a self-righteous welter of bluster, threats, arms transfers, puny demonstrations (e.g., deployments of two or three B-2s), proxy wars, and bombing (especially, targeted liquidations with drones from a safe distance instead of a bullet in the back of the head), all aimed ad hoc in reaction to any crisis du jour.  The pattern is more like a giant whack-a-mole game than a sensible grand strategy aimed at ending conflicts on favorable terms, while paying due regard to strengthening our bonds at home and with our allies, undermining the cohesion of our adversaries, and coping efficiently with the internal constraints limiting our actions.

Consider, please, the following: Last month President Obama announced we would extend our stay in Afghanistan — a war we have clearly lost — until the end of 2016.  Last week, Mr. Obama, after months of procrastination, said he was considering sending weapons to the Syrian Sunni insurgents fighting President Assad.  The most effective of these insurgents are the ISIS Jihadis who are fighting and defeating, as well as stealing or buying weapons, from the other insurgents.  This week Mr. Obama opened the door to the possibility of bombing ISIS Jihadis in Iraq to support the floundering Shi’ite government we installed.  Yet, as Patrick Cockburn** of the Independent has reported, the ISIS Jihadis in Syria and Iraq are coalescing into one proto-caliphate in their common Sunni areas (see map below).  This raises the real possibility that we could end up arming and bombing the same Jihadis.  Such a development would increase the potential of unknowable blowbacks throughout the entire region, especially for the Kurdish ethnic groups in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, as well as the state of Turkey itself (see here).  It is obvious that Obama’s prevarications and reactiveness are, at least in part, reflective of a need to cope with the welter of domestic attacks by his pro-war opponents at home.  And there is more.


Credit: Wikimedia

Consider Libya: Since we fomented the violent downfall and liquidation of Qadaffy by leading “from behind” in Libya in the name of preventing a massacre, that country has become less a nation than a region of murderous tribal warlords, whose predilections for killing people are spilling over into nations to the south like Mali as well as exporting arms and Jihadis to Syria.  The United States supported the return of a military authoritarian government to Egypt that took power by overthrowing and imprisoning the leaders of a duly elected democratic Islamic government.  Israel just turned the American-led peace process with the Palestinians into a sick joke.  And the octopus-like tentacles of AFRICOM are spreading thoughout Africa.

In the Ukraine, Obama’s State Department colluded with a western-leaning cabal that included neo-fascist elements to overthrow a duly elected, if corrupt, government. Afterwards, the Ukrainian elections in May simply rearranged the seating arrangements of some of the same corrupt oligarchs.  Moreover, in response to the Ukraine crisis, the United States is making militarily inconsequential but provocative “show of force” deployments to Eastern Europe and the Black Sea.  There is also talk of increasing aid  and expanding NATO or its influence to Ukraine, Georgia, and even Moldova and Azerbaijan.  Instead of promoting strategic neutrality among the eastern European countries between Russia and the West, we are seeking alliances with distant countries (about which we know very little) in a transparent effort to undermine the historic centerpiece of Russian security since Napoleonic times — strategic depth in the West. Together, these actions have opened up the possibility of starting a new and totally unnecessary cold war with Russia.  And these examples by no means exhaust the list of the 1000 cuts slicing US foreign policy into disconnected pieces, say for example, those in the South China Sea or Iran.

Yet at home, poll after poll says the American people are tired of perpetual war and the accompanying politics of fear (see my essay, The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War).  Moreover, the US economy supporting these adventures is in trouble: recovery from 2008 meltdown has been sluggish, to put it charitably; the banks that created the 2008 meltdown are even bigger and more vulnerable today than when the government bailed them out of their follies; income and wealth inequality have risen to obscene levels, and the American middle class is fast becoming a historical curiosity (see Thomas Piketty’s path breaking work summarized here and here ); the tax base has deteriorated and the private debt to GDP ratio remains at a dangerously high level; and powerful domestic factions with vested interests in staying the course, like the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex, the Banksters, and Big Pharma, effectively own Congress and are using their oligarchal political influence (thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to equate money to free speech) to purchase legislation that ensures their factional welfare remains protected at the expense of the people’s welfare.

In short, the ‘chickens’ of our self-referencing “you are either with us or against us” grand strategy are coming home to roost. At the same time, the domestic will and capacity to correct matters is dangerously atrophying.  This is a problem that should concern all Americans, but our dysfunctional domestic politics are keeping the masses distracted and political decision makers and media elites are focused inward in playing ‘gotcha’ with each other — the current hoohrah surrounding the Bowe Bergdahl POW swap being a case in point.

So what should be done?

My good friend Bill Polk, a historian of American politics and diplomacy, with a concentration on the Middle East, is writing a book on the history of America’s interventionist warmongering.  Based on that effort, he has written the attached essay examining our predilection for non-learning the lessons of past follies.  While Bill’s focus is on our dysfunctional foreign policy as opposed to the factional domestic interests fueling America’s march to folly, all of his recommendations are aimed at exorcising some of the deepest domestic roots of America’s predilection for perpetual war.

I urge you to read Polk’s essay; he has put his finger on the central problem — ignorance and passivity at home, but this problem’s generality and intractability is scary.  His recommendations go to the heart of the matter, but they are quite general.  Indeed, they  go to the heart of the American ideal by recalling James Madison’s famous 4 August 1822 letter to W.T. Barry.  Madison opened that letter by stating the importance of popular education to public accountability by saying, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Polk is correct:  We need to create a popular government with popular information to displace the politics of “The Post Information Era,” a phrase coined by the the Pentagon Reformers to describe bureaucratic decision making in the last decades of the 20th Century  How to do that without another American revolution remains an open question.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at


* See Senator Hillary Clinton (Sept 13, 2001) and President George W. Bush (September 20, 2001).

** See these reports:

Iraq Crisis: Capture of Mosul Ushers in the Birth of a Sunni Caliphate

Mosul Emergency: Who Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Anarchy in Iraq

Battle to Establish Islamic State Across Iraq and Syria

In the War on Terrorism, Only al-Qaida Thrives


No End of a Lesson — Unlearned 

William R. Polk, June 12, 2014

America appears once again to be on the brink of a war.   This time the war is likely to be in Syria and/or in Iraq.  If we jump into one or both of these wars, they will join, by my count since our independence, about 200 significant military operations (not all of which were legally “wars”) as well as countless “proactive” interventions, regime-change undertakings, covert action schemes and search-and-destroy missions.  In addition the United States has  provided weapons, training and funding for a variety of non-American military and quasi-military forces throughout the world.  Within recent months we have added five new African countries.    History and contemporary events show that we Americans are a warring people.

So we should ask:  what have we learned about ourselves, our adversaries and the process in which we have engaged?

The short answer appears to be “very little.”

As both a historian and a former policy planner for the American government, I will very briefly here (as I have mentioned in a previous essay, I am in the final stages of a book to be called A Warring People, on these issues), illustrate what I mean by “very little.”

I begin with us, the American people.  There is overwhelming historical evidence that war is popular with us.  Politicians from our earliest days as a republic, indeed even before when we were British colonies, could nearly always count on gaining popularity by demonstrating our valor.  Few successful politicians were pacifists.

Even supposed pacifists found reasons to engage in the use of force.  Take the man most often cited as a peacemaker or at least a peaceseeker, Woodrow Wilson.  He promised to “keep us out of war,” by which he meant keeping us out of big, expensive European war. Before becoming president, however, he approved the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and described himself as an imperialist; then, as president, he occupied Haiti, sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic and ordered the Cavalry into Mexico.  In 1918, he also put American troops into Russia.  Not only sending soldiers: his administration carried out naval blockades, economic sanctions, covert operations — one of which, allegedly, involved an assassination attempt on a foreign leader — and furnished large-scale arms supplies to insurgents in on-going wars.

The purpose, and explanation, of our wars varied.  I think most of us would agree that our Revolution, the First World War and the Second World War were completely justified.  Probably Korea was also.  The  United States had no choice on the Civil war or, perhaps, on the War of 1812.  Many, particularly those against the Native Americans would today be classified as war crimes.  It is the middle range that seem to me to be the most important to understand.   I see them like this.

Some military ventures were really misadventures in the sense that they were based on misunderstandings or deliberate misinformation.  I think that most students of history would put the Spanish-American, Vietnamese, Iraqi and a few other conflicts in this category.  Our government lied to us — the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine; the Gulf of Tonkin was not a dastardly attack on our innocent ships and Iraq was not about to attack us with a nuclear weapon, which it did not have.

But we citizens listened uncritically.  We did not demand the facts.  It is hard to avoid the charge that we were either complicit, lazy or ignorant.  We did not hold our government to account.

Several wars and other forms of intervention were for supposed local or regional requirements of the Cold War.  We knowingly told one another that the “domino theory” was reality: so a hint of Communist subversion or even criticism of us sent us racing off to protect almost any form of political association that pretended to be on our side.  And we believed or feared that even countries that had little or no connections with one another would topple at the touch — or even before their neighbors appeared to be in trouble.  Therefore, regardless of their domestic political style, monarchy, dictatorship. democracy., it mattered not, they had to be protected.  Our protection often included threats of invasion, actual intervention, paramilitary operations, subversion and/or bribery,  justified by our proclaimed intent to keep them free.  Or at least free from Soviet control.  Included among them were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran,  Indonesia, Vietnam and various African countries.

Some interventions were for acquisition of their resources or protection of our economic assets.  Guatemala, Chile, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia come to mind.

Few, if any,  were to  establish the basis of peace or even to bring about ceasefires.  Those tasks we usually left to the United Nations or regional associations.

The costs have been high.  Just counting recent interventions, they have cost us well over a hundred thousand casualties and some multiple of that in wounded; they have cost “the others”  — both our enemies and our friends — large multiples of those numbers.  The monetary cost is perhaps beyond counting both to them and to us.  Figures range upward from $10 trillion.

The rate of success of these aspects of our foreign policy, even in the Nineteenth century, was low.  Failure to accomplish the desired or professed outcome is shown by the fact that within a few years of the American intervention, the condition that had led to the intervention recurred.  The rate of failure has dramatically increased in recent years.  This is because we are operating in a world that is increasingly politically sensitive.  Today even poor, weak, uneducated  and corrupt nations become focused by the actions of foreigners.  Whereas before, a few members of the native elite made the decisions, today we face “fronts.” parties, tribes and independent opinion leaders.   So the “window of opportunity” for foreign intervention, once at least occasionally partly open, is now often shut.

I will briefly focus on five aspects of this transformation:

First, nationalism has been and remains the predominant way of political thought of most of the world’s people.  Its power has long been strong (even when we called it by other names) but it began to be amplified and focused by Communism in the late Nineteenth century.  Today,  nationalism in Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe is increasingly magnified by the rebirth of Islam in the salafiyah movement.

Attempts to crush these nationalist-ideological-religious-cultural movements militarily have generally failed.  Even when, or indeed especially when, foreigners arrive on the scene, natives put aside their mutual hostilities to unite against them.  We saw this particularly vividly and painfully in Somalia.   The Russians saw it in Çeçnaya and the Chinese, among the Uyghur peoples of  Xinjiang  (former Chinese Turkistan).

Second, outside intervention has usually weakened moderate or conservative forces or tendencies within each movement.  Those espousing the most extreme positions are less likely to be suborned or defeated  than the moderates.  Thus particularly in a protracted hostilities, are more likely to take charge than their rivals.  We have seen this tendency in each of the guerrilla wars in which we got involved; for the situation today, look at the insurgent movements in Syria and Iraq.  (For my analysis of the philosophy and strategy of the Muslim extremists, see my essay “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism” on my website,

What is true of the movements is even more evident in the effects on civic institutions and practices within an embattled society.  In times of acute national danger, the “center”  does not hold.  Centrists  get caught between the insurgents and the regimes.   Insurgents have to destroy their relationship to society and government  if they are to “win.”   Thus, in Vietnam for example, doctors and teachers, who interfaced between government and the general population were prime targets for the Vietminh in the 1950s.

And, as the leaders of governments against whom the insurgents are fighting become more desperate, they suppress those of their perceived rivals or critics they can reach.   By default, these people are civilians who are active in the political parties, the media and the judiciary .  And, as their hold on power erodes and “victory” becomes less likely, regimes  also seek to create for themselves safe havens by stealing money and sending it abroad.  Thus, the institutions of government are weakened and the range of enemies widens.  We have witnessed these two aspects of “corruption” — both political and economic — in a number of countries.  Recent examples are Vietnam and Afghanistan.

In Vietnam at least by 1962 the senior members of the regime had essentially given up the fight.  Even then they were preparing to bolt the country.   And the army commanders were focused on earning money that they sold the bullets and guns we gave them to the Vietminh.  In Afghanistan, the regime’s  involvement in the drug trade, its draining of the national treasury into foreign private bank accounts (as even Mr. Karzai admitted) and in “pickpocketing” hundreds of millions of dollars from aid projects is well documented.  (, the monthly reports of the American Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.)

Third, our institutional memory of programs, events and trends is shallow.  I suggest that it usually is no longer than a decade.  Thus, we repeat policies even when the record clearly shows that they did not work when previously tried. And we address each challenge as though it is unprecedented.   We forget the American folk saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging.  It isn’t only that our government (and the thousands of “experts,” tacticians and strategists it hires) do not “remember” but also that they have at hand only one convenient tool — the shovel.  What did we learn from Vietnam?  Get a bigger, sharper shovel.

Fourth, despite or perhaps in part because of our immigrant origins, we are a profoundly insular people.  Few of us have much appreciation of non-American cultures and even less fellow feeling for them.  Within a generation or so,  few immigrants can even speak the language of their grand parents.  Many of us are ashamed of our ethnic origins.

Thus, for example, at the end of the Second World War, despite many of us being of German or Italian or Japanese cultural background, we were markedly deficient in people who could help implement our policies in those countries.  We literally threw away the language and culture of grandparents.   A few years later, when I began to study Arabic, there were said to be only five Americans not of Arab origin who knew the language.  Beyond language, grasp of the broader range of culture petered off to near zero.  Today, after the expenditure of  significant government subsidies to universities (in the National Defense Education Act) to teach “strategic” languages, the situation should be better.  But, while we now know much more, I doubt that we understand other peoples much better.

If this is true of language, it is more true of more complex aspects of cultural heritage.  Take Somalia as an example.  Somalia was not, as the media put it, a “failed state;” it was and is a “non-state.”  That is, the Somalis do not base their effective identity on being members of a nation state.  Like almost everyone in the world did before recent centuries, they thought of themselves as members of clans, tribes, ethnic or religious assemblies or territories.  It is we, not they, who have redefined political identity.  We forget that the nation-state is a concept that was born in Europe only a  few centuries ago and became accepted only late in the Nineteenth century in Germany and Italy.  For the Somalis, it is still an alien construct.  So, not surprisingly,  our attempt to force them or entice them to shape up and act within our definition of statehood has not worked.   And Somalia is not alone.  And not only in Africa.  Former Yugoslavia is a prime example: to be ‘balkanized’ has entered our language.  And, if we peek under the flags of Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo,  Mali, the Sudan and other nation-states we find powerful forces of separate ethnic nationalisms.

The effects of relations among many of the peoples of Asia and Africa and some of the Latin Americans have created new political and social configurations and imbalances within and among them.    With European and American help, the  governments with which we deal have acquired more effective tools of repression.  They can usually defeat the challenges of traditional groups.  But, not always.   Where they do not acquire legitimacy in the eyes of significant groups — “nations” — states risk debilitating, long-term struggles.  These struggles are, in part, the result of the long years of imperial rule and colonial settlement.   Since Roman times, foreign rulers have sought to cut expenses by governing through local proxies.  Thus, the British turned over to the Copts the unpopular task of collecting Egyptian taxes and to the Assyrians the assignment of controlling the Iraqi Sunnis.  The echo of these years is what we observe in much of the “Third World” today.  Ethnic, religious and economic jealousies abound and the wounds of imperialism and colonialism have rarely completely healed.   We may not be sensitive to them, but to natives they may remain painful.  Americans may be the “new boys on the block,” but these memories have often been transferred to us.

Finally, fifth, as the preeminent nation-state, America has a vast reach.  There is practically no area of the world in which we do not have one sort of interest or another.  We have over a thousand military bases in more than a hundred countries; we trade, buy and sell, manufacture or give away goods and money all over Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.  We train, equip and subsidize dozens of armies and even more paramilitary or “Special” forces.   This diversity is, obviously, a source of strength and richness, but, less obviously, it generates conflicts between what we wish to accomplish in one country and what we think we need to accomplish in another.  At the very least, handling or balancing our diverse aims within acceptable means and at a reasonable cost is a challenge.

It is a challenge that we seem less and less able to meet.

Take Iraq as an example.  As a  corollary of our hostility to Saddam Husain, we essentially turned Iraq over to his enemies, the Iraqi Shia Muslim. (I deal with this in my Understanding Iraq, New York: HarperCollins, 2005, 171 ff.) There was some justification for this policy.  The Shia community has long been Iraq’s majority and because they were Saddam’s enemies, some “experts” naively thought they would become our friends.  But immediately two negative aspects of our policy  became evident:  non-specialists:  first, the Shias took vengeance on the Sunni Muslim community and so threw the country into a vicious civil war .  What we called pacification amounted to ethnic cleansing.  And, second, the Shia Iraqi leaders (the marjiaah)  made common cause with coreligionist Iranians with whom we were nearly at war all during the second Bush administration.  Had war with Iran eventuated, our troops in Iraq would have been more hostages than occupiers.  At several points, we had the opportunity to form a more coherent, moral and safer policy.  I don’t see evidence that our government or our occupation civil and military authorities even grasped the problem;  certainly they did not find ways to work toward a solution.  Whatever else may be said about it, our policy was dysfunctional.

I deserve to be challenged on this statement:  I am measuring (with perhaps now somewhat weakened hindsight) recent failures against what we tried to do in the Policy Planning Council in the early 1960s.    If our objective is, as we identify it, to make the world at least safe, even if not safe for democracy, we are much worse off today than we were then.  We policy planners surely then made many significant mistakes (and were often not heeded), but I would argue that we worked within a more coherent framework than our government does today.  Increasingly, it seems to me that we are in a mode of leaping from one crisis to the next without having understood the first or anticipating the second.  I see no strategic concept; only tactical jumps and jabs.

So what to do?

At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, one of our Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, remarked that part of the task he and others of the authors  put it, was  “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves.”   Translated to our times, this is to guard against our being “gun slingers.”  All the delegates were frightened by militarism and sought to do the absolute minimum required to protect the country from attack.  They refused the government permission to engage in armed actions against foreigners except in defense.  I believe they would have been horrified, if they could have conceived it, by the national security state we have become.  They certainly did not look to the military to solve problems of policy.  They would have agreed, I feel sure, that very few of the problems we face in the world today could be solved by military means   So,  even when we decide to employ military means,  we need to consider not only the immediate but the long-term effects of our actions.   We have, at least, the experience and the intellectual tools to do so.  So why have we not?

We have been frequently misled by the success of our postwar policies toward both Germany and Japan.  We successfully helped those two countries to embark upon a new era.  And, during the employment of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, the civil war there ended.   There were special reasons for all three being exceptions.  Perhaps consequent to those successes, when we decided to destroy the regimes of Saddam Husain and Muammar Qaddafi, we gave little thought of what would follow. We more or less just assumed that things would get better.  They did not.  The societies imploded.  Had we similarly gone into Iran, the results would have been a moral, legal and economic disaster.  Now we know — or should know –  that unless the risk is justified, as our Constitution demands it be by an imminent armed attack on the United States, we should not make proactive war on foreign nations.  We have sworn not to do so in the treaty by which we joined the United Nations .  In short, we need to be law abiding,  and we should look before we leap.

Our ability to do any of these things will depend on several decisions.

The first is to be realistic:  there is no switch we can flip to change our capacities.  To look for quick and easy solutions is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The second  is a matter of will and the costs and penalties that attach to it.  We would be more careful in foreign adventures if we had to pay for them in both blood and treasure as they occurred. That is, “in real time.”  We now avoid this by borrowing money abroad and by inducing or bribing vulnerable members of our society and foreigners to fight for us..  All our young men and women should know that they will be obliged to serve if we get into war, and we should not be able to defer to future generations the costs of our ventures.  We should agree to pay for them through immediate taxes rather than foreign loans.

The third is to demand accountability.  Our government should be legally obligated to tell us the truth.  If it does not, the responsible officials should be prosecuted in our courts and,  if they violate our treaties or international law, they should have to  come before the World Court of Justice.  We now let them off scot-free.  The only “culprits” are those who carry out their orders.

Fourthin the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better policy is better public education.  For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged.  They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed.  Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs.   Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad — that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost.

And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries.   Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations.  The saying that God created war to teach American geography is sacrilegious.  If this was God’s purpose, He  failed.  And beyond geography, concerning other people’s politics, cultures and traditions, there is a nearly blank page.  Isn’t it time we picked up the attempt made by such men as Sumner Wells  (with his An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace and his American Foreign Policy Library), Robert Hutchins, James Conant and others (with the General Education programs in colleges and universities) and various other failed efforts to make us a part of humanity?

On the surface, at least, resurrecting these programs is just a matter of (a small amount of) money.  But results won’t come overnight.  Our education system is stogy, our teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid, and we, the consumers, are distracted by quicker, easier gratifications than learning about world affairs.  I had hoped that we would learn from the “real schools” of  Vietnam and other failures, but we did not.  The snippets of information which pass over our heads each day do not and cannot make a coherent pattern.  Absent a matrix into which to place “news,” it is meaningless.   I have suggested in a previous essay that we are in a situation like a computer without a program.  We get the noise, but without a means to “read” it, it is just gibberish.

Our biggest challenge therefore comes down to us:  unless or until we find a better system of teaching, of becoming aware that we need to learn and a desire to acquire the tools of citizenship, we cannot hope to move toward a safer, more enriching future.

This is a long-term task.

We had better get started.

Posted in USAComments Off on How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles

Is Open-Ended Chaos the Desired US-I$raHell Aim in the Middle East?

The Brutal Logic of a Self-Seeking Empire


During the last week we have seen Sunni militias take control of ever-greater swathes of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the mainstream media, the analysis of this emerging reality has been predictably idiotic, basically centering on whether:

a) Obama is to blame for this for having removed US troops in compliance with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated and signed by Bush.

b) Obama is “man enough” to putatively resolve the problem by going back into the country and killing more people and destroying whatever remains of the country’s infrastructure.

This cynically manufactured discussion has generated a number of intelligent rejoinders on the margins of the mainstream media system. These essays, written by people such as Juan Cole, Robert Parry, Robert Fisk and Gary Leupp, do a fine job of explaining the US decisions that led to the present crisis, while simultaneously reminding us how everything occurring  today was readily foreseeable as far back as 2002.

What none of them do, however, is consider whether the chaos now enveloping the region might, in fact, be the desired aim of policy planners in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Rather, each of these analysts presumes that the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq are undesired outcomes engendered by short-sighted decision-making at the highest levels of the US government over the last 12 years.

Looking at the Bush and Obama foreign policy teams—no doubt the most shallow and intellectually lazy members of that guild to occupy White House in the years since World War II—it is easy to see how they might arrive at this conclusion.

But perhaps an even more compelling reason for adopting this analytical posture is that it allows these men of clear progressive tendencies to maintain one of the more hallowed, if oft-unstated, beliefs of the Anglo-Saxon world view.

What is that?

It is the idea that our engagements with the world outside our borders—unlike those of, say, the Russians and the Chinese—are motivated by a strongly felt, albeit often corrupted, desire to better the lives of those whose countries we invade.

While this belief seems logical, if not downright self-evident within our own cultural system, it is frankly laughable to many, if not most, of the billions who have grown up outside of our moralizing echo chamber.

What do they know that most of us do not know, or perhaps more accurately, do not care to admit?

First, that we are an empire, and that all empires are, without exception, brutally and programmatically self-seeking.

Second, that one of the prime goals of every empire is to foment ongoing internecine conflict in the territories whose resources and/or strategic outposts they covet.

Third, that the most efficient way of sparking such open-ended internecine conflict is to brutally smash the target country’s social matrix and physical infrastructure.

Fourth, that ongoing unrest has the additional perk of justifying the maintenance and expansion of the military machine that feeds the financial and political fortunes of the metropolitan elite.

In short, what of the most of the world understands (and what even the most “prestigious” Anglo-Saxon analysts cannot seem to admit) is that divide and rule is about as close as it gets to a universal recourse the imperial game and that it is, therefore, as important to bear it in mind today as it was in the times of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, the Spanish Conquistadors and the British Raj.

To those—and I suspect there are still many out there—for whom all this seems too neat or too conspiratorial, I would suggest a careful side-by side reading of:

a) the “Clean Break” manifesto generated by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) in 1996


b) the “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” paper generated by The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in 2000, a US group with deep personal and institutional links to the aforementioned Israeli think tank, and with the ascension of  George Bush Junior to the White House, to the most exclusive  sanctums of the US foreign policy apparatus.

To read the cold-blooded imperial reasoning in both of these documents—which speak, in the first case, quite openly of the need to destabilize the region so as to reshape Israel’s “strategic environment” and, in the second of the need to dramatically increase the number of US “forward bases” in the region—as I did twelve years ago, and to recognize its unmistakable relationship to the underlying aims of the wars then being started by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, was a deeply disturbing experience.

To do so now, after the US’s systematic destruction of Iraq and Libya—two notably oil-rich countries whose delicate ethnic and religious balances were well known to anyone in or out of government with more than passing interest in history—, and after the its carefully calibrated efforts to generate and maintain murderous and civilization-destroying stalemates in Syria and Egypt (something that is easily substantiated despite our media’s deafening silence on the subject), is downright blood-curdling.

And yet, it seems that for even very well-informed analysts, it is beyond the pale to raise the possibility that foreign policy elites in the US and Israel, like all virtually all the ambitious hegemons before them on the world stage, might have quite coldly and consciously fomented open-ended chaos in order to achieve their overlapping strategic objectives in this part of the world.

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Mass Executions Push Iraq Towards Sectarian War

US Lines Up Iran Talks to Halt ISIS


Iraq is close to all-out sectarian war as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) massacres dozens of Iraqi soldiers in revenge for the loss of one of its commanders, and government supporters in Baghdad warn that the spread of fighting to the capital could provoke mass killings of the Sunni minority there.

One unverified statement from Isis militants on Twitter says that it has executed 1,700 prisoners. Pictures show killings at half a dozen places.

Isis has posted pictures that appear to show prisoners being loaded on to flatbed trucks by masked gunmen and later forced to lie face down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs.

Final pictures show the blood-covered bodies of captive soldiers, probably Shia, who make up much of the rank-and-file of the Iraqi army. Captions say the massacre was in revenge for the death of an Isis commander, Abdul-Rahman al-Beilawy, whose killing was reported just before Isis’s surprise offensive last week that swept through northern Iraq, capturing the Sunni strongholds of Mosul and Tikrit.

Meanwhile, the US government was considering direct talks with Iran to discuss options for halting the Isis advance, an official from the Obama administration said.

The two countries were already scheduled to meet with other world powers to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme in Vienna this week, and the US deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will now travel to take part in those talks.

President Barack Obama continues to weigh up options for international intervention in Iraq, and has now deployed three warships to the Persian Gulf, but on Sunday the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said: “We are probably going to need [Iran’s] help to hold Baghdad.”

Early on Monday the mayor of the northern town of Tal Afar said it had become the latest landmark settlement to fall to Sunni militants.

Abdulal Abdoul told reporters his town of some 200,000 people, 260 miles (420 kilometres) northwest of Baghdad, was taken just before dawn.

Shia militiamen are pouring out of Baghdad to establish a new battle line 60 or 70 miles north of the capital. Demography is beginning to count against Isis as its fighters enter mixed provinces such as Diyala, where there are Shia and Kurds as well as Sunni.

In Mosul, from where 500,000 refugees first fled, the Sunni are returning to the city. Isis ordered traders to cut the price of fuel and foodstuffs, but religious and ethnic minorities are too terrified to return.

Sectarian strife looms as Shia join up to fight Isis to go home. “People in Baghdad are frightened about what the coming days will bring,” said one resident, but added that they were “used to being frightened by coming events”.

Baghdadis have been stocking up on food and fuel in case the capital is besieged. There is no sound of shooting in the city, though searches at checkpoints are more intense than previously and three out of four of the entrances to the Green Zone are closed.

Isis may be the shock troops in the fighting but their swift military success and the disintegration of four Iraqi army divisions have provoked a general Sunni uprising. At least seven or eight militant Sunni factions are involved, many led by former Baathists and officers from Saddam Hussein’s security services. But the most important factor working in favour of Isis is the sense among Iraq’s five or six million Sunni that the end of their oppression is at hand.

“The Shia in Iraq see what is happening not as the Sunni reacting justifiably against the government oppressing them but as an attempt to re-establish the old Sunni-dominated-type government,” said one observer in the capital. On both the Shia and Sunni sides the factors are accumulating for a full-scale bloody sectarian confrontation.

The surge of young Shia men into militias was touched off by the appeal of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Shia cleric, for people to join militias. “The street is boiling,” said the observer.

Some 1,000 volunteers have left the holy city of Kerbala for Samarra which is on the front line, being the site of the al-Askari mosque, one of the holiest Shia shrines in a city where the majority is Sunni.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shia militia force close to the Iranians, is said to have recaptured the town of Muqdadiyah in Diyala and Dulu’iyah further west towards Samarra.

A problem in Iraq is that the country’s sectarian divisions are at their worst in areas where there are mixed populations: the country could not be partitioned without a great deal of bloodshed, as occurred in India at the time of independence.

The Sunni-Shia civil war of 2006-07 was centred on Baghdad and eliminated most mixed neighbourhoods, leaving those Sunni who had not already fled holding out in enclaves mostly in the west of the capital.

A cadre of advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is believed to be putting together a new military force drawn from the army and militias. The regular army command has been discredited by the spectacular failure of the last 10 days.

The involvement of Shia militia fighters at the front increases the likelihood of mass killings of Sunni. This had started to happen even before the present offensive in Diyala province and at Iskandariya, south-east of Baghdad, where militants were said to be building car and truck bombs and where the Shia militiamen are said by witnesses to have adopted a “scorched-earth policy”.

Iraq has effectively broken up as the Kurds take advantage of the collapse of the regular army in the north to take over Kirkuk, northern Diyala and the Nineveh plateau.

The Kurds have long claimed these territories, saying they had been ethnically cleansed from there under Saddam Hussein. Many of these areas are rich in oil.

The government in Baghdad, though vowing to return to Mosul, has a weakened hand to play. Its military assets have turned out to be much less effective than even its most severe critics imagined.

If there is going to be a counter-attack it will have to come soon but there is no sign of it yet.

Isis has taken some of the tanks, artillery and other heavy equipment to Syria which might indicate that it doesn’t want to use it in Iraq.

But as a military force, it has recently depended on quick probing attacks and forays using guerrilla tactics, so its need for heavy weaponry may not be high.

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Documentary: Amazing mating and marriage rituals of tribal China More than one way to skin a cat ”VIDEO”

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How to Tell If Your Member of Congress Is a Crony Capitalist


(Credit: Liz West/cc/flickr)Last Tuesday, Rep. Eric Cantor learned the hard way that crony capitalism comes at a political cost. In a decisive 10-point upset, Cantor’s Republican primary opponent David Brat defeated the Virginia congressman after charging that he was “trying to buy this election with corporate cash.”

Few inside Washington thought charges like this would stick; for decades they’ve opened their campaign coffers to millions of dollars from Fortune 500 firms without fearing any consequences at the ballot box.

Since arriving on Capitol Hill in 2001, Cantor has received corporate contributions extending from Bank of America to Verizon and beyond. Only four other lawmakers took in more corporate cash during the most recent election cycle.

In exchange, Cantor became big businesses’ “ace in the hole.” According to TIME, big banks, energy and defense industries, insurance firms, and phone and cable companies knew they could rely on Cantor to put their interests before those of his constituents back in Virginia’s 7th District.

Shape Shifters

While Cantor’s cash-stuffed accounts stand out, he’s not alone. Congress is awash with special-interest campaign contributions. To win in 2012, U.S. senators had to raise an average of $14,351 a day, every single day of the week.

It’s a big-money game that has made Americans cynical about politics. A 2011 Global Strategy Group poll found that 71 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats believed that “money buys results in Congress.”

Elected officials are so dependent on raising this cash that they have become “shape shifters,” in the words of Harvard Law scholar Larry Lessig: “They constantly adjust their views in light of what they know will help them to raise money.”

In the realm of Internet policy, that too often means jumping through hoops to support the agenda of phone and cable companies  — even when doing so undermines the rights of hundreds of millions of Internet users.

Cronies vs. the Internet

We saw this in 2011 as members of Congress lined up to support SOPA and PIPA, two immensely unpopular bills that would have hobbled the Internet with draconian copyright restrictions favored by the movie and recording industries. We’re seeing it now as many in Washington fall into line against real protections for Net Neutrality, the widely supported principle that Internet users should be allowed to decide where they go, what they do and whom they connect with online.

The race for corporate dollars crosses political lines. In 2010, 74 House Democrats signed an anti-Net Neutrality letter. A subsequent Sunlight Foundation investigation found these representatives received, on average, more money from phone and cable companies than other members of the House had.

In 2014, 20 House Democrats signed a similar letter opposing real Net Neutrality protections. According to research from Maplight, these Democrats have received, on average, much more in campaign contributions from the same companies as before.

One in particular, Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), received nearly $60,000 from these industries  —  more than five times the average amount his Democratic counterparts received  —  in the most recent election cycle. In return, the largest phone and cable companies have relied on Barrow to legislate on their behalf.

Like Barrow, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) remains faithful to the cause of crony capitalism. Companies can rely on her to barge into committee hearings (even for those committees she doesn’t sit on) to denounce any effort to support Net Neutrality.

In February, she introduced legislation to stop the Federal Communications Commission from even considering Net Neutrality rules, calling such free speech protections “socialistic.” In May, she joined three other GOP cronies on a letter expressing “grave concern” about any potential FCC actions to protect the open Internet.

And, to no one’s surprise, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association make up three of Blackburn’s top five career donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Meanwhile, constituents back in Hickman County in the center of Blackburn’s Tennessee district struggle to get fast and affordable Internet services. Only 38 percent of Hickman residents have access to broadband services, far below the Tennessee statewide average of 58 percent, according to a 2010 Connected Tennessee survey. (A 2010 FCC survey found that 67 percent of households nationwide contain someone who accesses broadband at home.)

What Makes a Crony Capitalist

But what distinguishes crony capitalists like Barrow and Blackburn is not the fact that they take corporate money  — every member of Congress does  — but the degree to which they shape shift to earn it, molding their views in a way only their benefactors could love.

The Center for Responsive Politics website is a good place to discover whether your member of Congress is also a crony capitalist.

First, find who his or her biggest corporate donors are. Then check his or her record on policies that may impact the bottom lines of those companies. Does she support or oppose financial-sector reform? Has he recently signed a letter or released a statement opposing EPA curbs to coal-plant emissions?

Do those positions match those of his or her largest corporate donors? Yes? If that doesn’t bother you, it should. And you should let your members of Congress know whom they really work for.

For decades our elected officials have shrugged off grassroots concerns about the corrupting influence of corporate cash. After Cantor’s defeat last week, many should be having second thoughts.

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UN Expert: Lethal Use of Drones Must Be Curbed


The UN’s foremost expert on extrajudicial killing has called for international restrictions on the use of armed drones.

Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made the recommendation in his latest report to the body’s Human Rights Council.

His report highlights “serious concerns” that US drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia break international law, saying: “Some attacks […] may not have occurred within the confines of an armed conflict, and as such should be measured by the more stringent requirements of international human rights law, which they almost certainly did not meet.”

He proposed a new set of minimum international standards for states using armed drones, such as the US and UK.

Covert US drone strikes have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – countries with which the US is not at war. In January, an investigation by legal charity Reprieve into a US strike on a Yemeni wedding party prompted US officials to acknowledge the seriousness of reports of civilian deaths, and say the strike was being investigated by administration officials.

Kat Craig, Legal Director of Reprieve’s Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team, said: “This report rightly points out the desperate need for more transparency over the US’ secretive drone programme. What explanation can we offer the family of the nine-year-old boy droned on his way home from school in Yemen, or the young Pakistani girl who saw her grandmother killed whilst picking vegetables in a field? The use of these weapons must be urgently reviewed and, unless appropriate levels of transparency and accountability can be identified, indefinitely halted.”

Heyns’ report can be downloaded from the website of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (search reference A/HRC/26/36):


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We Can’t Afford to Spend More Money on War in Iraq


(Credit: U.S. Army/cc/flickr)Over the past decade, American taxpayers have sunk hundreds of billions of dollars into funding the war in Iraq — $816 billion since 2003, and counting.

Meanwhile, domestic human, social, and infrastructure needs have suffered drastic budget cutbacks. One recent poll shows that 74 percent of voters oppose sending combat troops into Iraq, while an overwhelming majority of Americans consistently support investment in domestic programs like public education, jobs, food assistance, health care, and renewable energy and the environment.

Act now to tell the President and Congress: we can’t afford to spend more on war in Iraq.

National Priorities Project’s data shows that the dollars we’ve spent on 10 years of war in Iraq could have financed a well-rounded domestic program, including: provided 4.75 million students Pell Grants of $5,550; equipped 4 million households with wind power; hired 65,000 new police officers; supplied 5 million veterans with VA medical care; and paid 100,000 elementary school teachers each year for a decade.

With our domestic economy still struggling, our veterans in dire need of care and support, and millions of people struggling to make ends meet at home, now’s not the time to commit more funds to war.

Our leaders must look for ways to be helpful in the Iraq crisis that don’t involve combat operations and the cost to our nation that goes along with them.

That’s why we’ve started a petition to tell President Obama and Congress to fund what we need at home, not a new war overseas.   

Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.

We need to show that we’ve learned our painful lesson, that sending American troops to the Middle East will not make the situation better.

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War, Iraq, Enlightenment


The urgent task before us is saving our world from the clutches of war and delivering it to fields of unending peace. (Credit”: flickr / cc / Hartwig HKD)Sometimes, it’s when all hope is seemingly lost that the greatest breakthroughs occur in life. Whatever forces us to recognize the limit to what we can do by ourselves, opens the mind to consider the possibility that there might be another way. When everything is all messed up, we’ve played all our cards, and we don’t have a clue what to do now – that often becomes a magic moment. Commonly called “bottoming out,” it’s the point when we realize that our way isn’t working – and then miraculously, things start working.

Nations can bottom out, just like individuals. And the situation in Iraq is just such a moment. You know the government is running out of cards to play when they’re thinking that maybe Iran can help. Or when the media’s idea of great coverage is to call and ask the people who got us into Iraq for any great ideas they might have now that it’s all exploded in our faces. To say we’re grasping for straws is an understatement. Looking at the power of ISIL leads to horrifying possibilities that make the most varied sets of people, from the most disparate places and viewpoints, all ultimately come to the same conclusion: “We really, really have a problem here.”

So what now?

From a spiritual perspective, the first thing we all do is to admit that the situation is not solvable by the mortal mind alone. That admission is both death to the ego and birth of the wiser self. It puts us into a different place of consciousness, a more humble attitude that doesn’t make us dumber – it makes us smarter. It moves us beyond that small number of brain cells that we’re currently using, taking the evolutionary leap that is the challenge of humanity at this moment – to realize that the human species will not survive unless we evolve beyond our material, mechanistic, Newtonian notion of how the universe operates. Our task is to embrace the primacy of consciousness as both the reality and the power that it is. There is more to the mind than the intellect, and the intellect alone can’t solve every problem. This is not bad news, by the way; it’s good.

Next, we move, en masse, into the level of consciousness that is the deeper Reality underlying all things, a self-organizing and self-correcting matrix of energy (some call it God, some do not) that is the natural intelligence of the universe. It is the mysterious guidance by which embryos turn into babies, acorns turn into oak trees and buds turn into blossoms. Our self-will only interferes with this intelligence; our lack of love obstructs it; prayer and meditation release it to work on our behalf.

As we can see from simply looking at a flower, nature knows how to organize itself. And this same force would organize human affairs if we would allow it to. This allowance occurs whenever we place our minds in correct alignment with the laws of the universe — through prayer, meditation, forgiveness and compassion. Until we do this, we will continue to manifest a world that destroys rather than heals itself. Iraq is a perfect example.

Participating in the creation of collective field of prayer and meditation is something that each of us can do to help end the cycle of violence in the Middle East. Taking the mind to its natural state of alignment with the Truth at the center of things, these activities of the mind act like a magnet to attract the healing potential inherent in the universe. In the words of Martin Luther King, internal changes in the direction of non-violence are “materially passive but spiritually active.” There are, in that field of collective meditative/prayerful consciousness, infinite possibilities that the conscious mind can simply not formulate.

What is the conceit that this time in history is calling us to surrender? It is the notion that the conscious, mortal, intellectual mind can be trusted to rule and organize all things. Given the state of affairs on the planet today, it is preposterous to think it can. As they would say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Our best thinking got us here.”

A study published in the Yale Journal of Conflict Resolution in l985 reported on a group of advanced meditators from the Transcendental Meditation Movement who meditated in Jerusalem in l983 during the height of the Lebanese Civil War. During the summer of 1983, on each day in which there were large numbers of meditators, violence dropped and stayed low for an additional day or so and then went back to its previous levels. The final data revealed that whenever the group of meditators assembled, there was an average of a 76% reduction in war deaths.

Why is this so?

Because on a level of subtle energy, often referred to as the Unified Field Theory, all minds are joined as one. In the words of Candace Badgett, founder of the Women’s Institute at Maharishi University, “War is the result of the build up of stress and negativity in collective consciousness… And it’s consequences are the suffering and resentment that in turn perpetuate retaliation in the form of terrorism, conflict …..and more war.” Breaking this cycle of violence is now within the reach, and the power, of each of us. The more we all do our part to prepare the field, the more creative solutions will be available to world leaders seeking to effectuate external change.

Often in life, collectively and well as individually, we find ourselves confronted by more than problematic events; we find ourselves confronted by a resistant energetic force field that external change of itself does not fundamentally altar. And so it is with the scourge of war. War is not just an external event; it is a field of fear-based consciousness that needs to be addressed on internal as well as external levels. And that will take all of our efforts.

Here are five principles for spiritual activism:

l) Atone in your heart for your own warlike nature – any thoughts or behavior of judgment or attack — and seek to change your life where necessary.

2) Spend at least five minutes a day in prayer or meditation, knowing you are part of a global field of consciousness at work on the inner planes to bring about world peace. 3) Seek to organize your own community of like-minded individuals to join you in prayer or meditation groups for world peace.

4) If it applies, atone with others for the behavior of your country if it has in the past, or is now, participating in unjust military activity.

5) Practice mercy and compassion towards yourself and others, particularly resisting any temptation to monitor someone else’s journey rather than your own.

Just as science is seen not as a separate category of life, but rather the material alphabet that explains all external phenomena, so is consciousness the science of the inner life. The field of consciousness today is what the scientific revolution was for to late 19th and early 20th century, representing a similar advent of a new frontier. The question today is not how to convince others that these things are true. Enough of us now know they are. The issue now is how to harness the energy and power of this new understanding, so we can get on with the urgent task of saving our world from the clutches of war and delivering it to fields of unending peace. Visiting these fields within ourselves, we automatically become the source providers of their emergence in the outer world.

In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “In order to save the world, we must have a plan. But no plan will work unless we meditate.”

It is time. It is possible. It is simply ours to do.

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World’s First Fleet of Riot Control Drones Ordered by Secret South African Company


Fears raised that the drones will be used to crack down on legitimate protest, with potentially lethal consequences

– Max Ocean

Striking mineworkers gather outside the Anglo-American Platinum mine in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Credit: cc/ South Africa-based company will be selling 25 units of its crowd control drones to an undisclosed South African mining company likely for use against protesting workers, BBC News reported on Wednesday.

The drones, originally unveiled by their maker Desert Wolf at a trade show near Johannesburg last month, sell for nearly $50,000 apiece and are equipped with four “high-capacity paint ball barrels” that can each shoot a total of up to 80 paint, pepper, or plastic balls per second, with a full capacity of 4,000 balls. In addition to a generic on-board high-definition camera, it has a thermal camera for use at night, as well as “bright strobe lights, blinding Lasers and on-board speakers” that can be used to warn crowds, according to the company’s website.

“Our aim is to assist in preventing another Marikana, we were there and it should never happen again,” the website states, referring to the 2012 miner’s strike that led to the infamous massacre that resulted in countless injuries and the deaths of 44 people.

The purchase by the unnammed company comes in the midst of strikes sweeping South Africa’s mining industry. The country possesses over 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves, and the mining industry has seen continuous protest and striking since the deadly Marikana massacre. Just last week, the three major platinum producers that workers have waged a 21-week wage strike against announced that they had reached a deal “in principle” with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, but Wednesday it was reported that the AMCU had refused it.

While Desert Wolf argues the selling point of the drones is their ability to stop future tragedies like the Marikana disaster by controlling “unruly crowds without endangering the lives of the protestors or the security staff,” Noel Sharkey, chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, says that drones such as the skunk will be used to suppress legitimate protests with potentially dire consequences.

“Firing plastic balls or bullets from the air will maim and kill,” Sharkey told BBC News. “Using pepper spray against a crowd of protesters is a form of torture and should not be allowed. We urgently need an investigation by the international community before these drones are used.”

Desert Wolf Managing Director Hennie Kieser said that the company “cannot disclose the customer, but [can] say it will be used by an international mining house.” Kieser reportedly also told the BBC that police units and a “number of other industrial customers” have expressed interest in the product.

Tim Noonan, spokesman for the International Trade Union Confederation, voiced concerns of the international labor community over the news.

“This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development, and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations,” said Noonan. “We will be taking this up as a matter of urgency with the unions in the mining sector globally,” he added.

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