Tuesday 25 October 2011

Rant Regarding the Spurious Idea That America is "Withdrawing" from Iraq -- is this a "Teachable Moment?"

Should we really be celebrating the President Obama's declaration of an end of the “war” in Iraq? So yes, a decision, long overdue, was finally made that all the troops are supposed to leave by the end of the year. BUT the troops remain in Afghanistan. And we are in essence simply contracting out an ongoing military presence to mercenaries - the continuation of our current policy to "ensure security" in Iraq - and we are going to pay for it out the wazooo for who knows how long.

Is this anything worth celebrating? I think this is one of those teachable moments when peace groups and peace churches could be issuing a statement or comment - but what could/should it be?

Well, at the least, an informed one!

As you might guess by now, I was quite unhappy with this quote from President Obama which beamed to the rest of the world: “The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops."

It's not a good statement at all - and here's why: It is likely that most Americans - and it is among other nationalities as well - think a war becomes "justified" when enough killing and destruction has been wrought to eliminate any effective opposition to "our cause" - or - if an especially despicable leader or two "over there" is assassinated. That is the subtext of many movies, video games, songs, and other aspects of popular culture now - the theme of "redemptive violence." Indeed, it's ubiquitous.

 That is not a good definition of a just war - nor a cause for celebration. It's actually a very dangerous and repugnant value which often issues in decisions and actions completely counter to international law, not to speak of the principles of peace and conflict transformation. This deserves a lot more discussion and re-evaluation at the common people level as well as at the highest decision-making levels of our governments and civil society.

 And let's discuss in open forums the bald facts about this so-called "withdrawal" from Iraq.

 Withdrawal of troops yes, but replacing them with 5,500 "contracted" mercenaries!? (And look how well that has gone in the past!) The source of my information?
Just Foreign Policy:  http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews

One can subscribe near the top of JFP's home page for ongoing updates.  For the reader's convenience here, I have posted (at the end of this column) the important set of facts they expose in their current "US/Top News Summary."

Obviously, matters related to this so-called withdrawal are not going to be "settled" at all without directly addressing a very disturbing reality - the heavy presence of private mercenaries - i.e. the contractors who will take over from the troops to protect the extensive network of American diplomatic corp members and other American interests in that land. Iraq has by far the largest American diplomatic presence compared to any other nation in the world! At the end of those bulletin points (below) the extent of ongoing financial entanglement is revealed. When one digs into all the details - and here is a good list it doesn't sound much like "withdrawal" to my way of thinking!

So, an important question becomes "What will be the attitude of the Iraqi people if nothing different is felt or experienced on the ground compared to the last few years when the troops were there, except for changes in the color of the uniform as the mercs replace the troops? (Remember, it’s still a war zone there!)  And...what will be the attitude of Americans in the long run when they begin to realize the billions of dollars that America continues to spend in Iraq to uphold our special "interests" there?

I carry a dim hope that some noisy debate about this will stir soon, but it doesn't bode well that this information got uncovered already, back during Congressional Hearings in the first two months of 2011 --did you hear or know about these details before now? So, I won't hold my breath, because sure as anything the American mainstream media will continue to suppress these realities. This sort of information usually gets discovered and diseminated after investigations by independent media sources and their reporters who aren't "embedded" and dig out the truth. However, vast swaths of the American public are drinking the tainted coolaid of Faux News, Sanitized News, and conglomerate-owned media outlets of similar persuasion.

So, imagine the impact of sensitively-worded public statements by peace groups and congregations or denominations in contrast to the mainstream media news reports about the war being over as the troops come home.

THAT is our challenge. How to support individual war-weary soldiers, many with symptoms of PTSD, while appealing for a real withdrawal. How about this for a start?

We would have preferred the President to say: “The American people stand united in our acknowledgement of the difficulty involved in the Iraq service by our troops and in our desire that they will never be called upon again for such a war. We believe..."

How would you complete that phrase if someone interviewed you on the street regarding your reaction to the President's announcement? I encourage some creative discussion about this amongst our circle of friends and in our congregations between now and the end of the year when the media organizations repeat those deceptive announcements about how America is finally "withdrawing" from Iraq.


The Facts:

Source: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews

1) The Obama administration has decided to withdraw [almost] all [uniformed] U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, the Washington Post reports. The only [Department of Defense] U.S. military presence that will remain in Iraq after the end of the year will be the roughly 150 troops needed to protect the large U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and its thousands of U.S. diplomats and other personnel, as well as provide training related to new military sales and other tasks.

2) President Obama said: "That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end," notes Spencer Ackerman in Wired. But it isn't so, Ackerman says. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.

The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries, Ackerman notes. In July, the State Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors' rules of engagement. You can also expect that there will be a shadow presence by the CIA, and possibly the Joint Special Operations Command, Ackerman says.

3) Sens. Jon Tester and Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced legislation to create a new commission to "scrutinize the necessity of the United States' current overseas basing structure" and do a cost-benefit analysis of closing multiple overseas bases, Starts and Stripes reports. This week the pair sent a letter to the congressional supercommittee urging them to make significant cuts in future overseas military construction projects. The letter called into question U.S. military projects in Europe and on Guam, saying the Defense Department has not justified the need for billions more in base spending there.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform earlier this year estimated that "responsible" overseas base closings could save taxpayers $8.5 billion in the next four years. The president's own Commission on Debt Reduction put that figure closer to $9 billion.

Friday 14 October 2011

Wishing I could be there with Leymah Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) at EMU Homecoming this weekend!

It’s wonderful to feel some sort of connection with an alumnus from the same university where I graduated who received a Nobel Peace Prize this year!  If I were in America now, instead of back in Canberra already, I would be shaking Leymah Gbowee’s hand sometime this weekend at our annual “Homecoming” in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. 

Monday 10 October 2011

Is the world too big to fail? (Asking the question like that puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?)

Is the world too big to fail? -Chomsky

Planet of the Plutocrats

Paul Krugman has so hit the nail on the head with his latest op-ed in the New York Times, exposing hypocrisy of the highest order.

And it's refreshing to read the text of this powerful speech Naomi Klein delivered at the OWS rally in NYC Thursday night - or at least what she was hoping to deliver had the authorities allowed amplification - which forced the speakers to be all-to-brief as 20,000 people had to rely on the "human microphone."  (Here is an excerpt from her "uncut" version, to help you decide whether it's worth clicking on that link to read the whole thing.)

"...to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.  Ten years later, it seems as if there aren't any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.

 The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.

 These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.

 We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite -- fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful -- the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society -- while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

 What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I'm not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that's important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it's also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.

That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and providing health care, meditation classes and empowerment training.  My favorite sign here says "I care about you." In a culture that trains people to avoid each other's gaze, to say, "Let them die," that is a deeply radical statement... (end of quote)

Someone tweeted today how they saw this interesting sign created by one participant at Occupy Wall Street:  "Ten years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. Today we have no jobs, no hope and no cash!"

Well, what Naomi Klein shared offers a small ray of hope that the message just might be finally getting through...

Friday 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) - focused and reflective on what is truly important in life, with no shortcuts!

In some very touching remarks Steven Jobs made during his memorable commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, he considered his own death and envisioned how his last years at Apple could become his finest (which they were!)

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure —these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

One can listen to some more or read the whole thing here - a very powerful word to us all.

Though they never met in person, Steve even mentored a physician and changed health care!

Steve Jobs ran counter to the shallowness of what many of leaders in business have been about in recent times.  For him there was no seeking of subsidies, no sweetheart deals, no courting friends in Washington, no bailouts.  Just a hard working, gutsy guy with tremendous vision, very high standards, and a solid commitment to his family who kept focused on what would make life better for a huge percentage of the world's population.

So sad he's gone - but long live the spirit of Steve Jobs!

-Clair in Canberra

What "Occupy Wall Street" is all about...

(click on that for a good response)


"I Am That Voice" - a Poem from Spain by Amado

I am the voice that gathers the shouts of the distressed,
the voice that rise your yearning and takes it to the place
where the insatiable liar concealed in his walls
watches you from his fear and ever bleed your dove.

Behind their golden balconies they’ve camouflaged a token
- this it is your god - they say, that gives you joy and work,
in his name we are guiding your breath and your steps,
we have imbibed his chalice and we know where we go.

You see their dazzling balconies that blind your baffled eyes,
it prevents you from seeing the fetish that they hide,
it’s just an earthen idol, a sun without a light
which has darkened your pathway and imbued you with fright.

But we have come today to face of that heap of lie,
we have come front to front, our grasped hands in core
in order to demand the judgment of all measures
for a new dawn of justice and for a peaceful rain.

I am that voice, your voice, which ascends in the hope,
your clamor through the oceans I will take in the winds
to let your seed of promise deluge the continents,
to scatter in this present awaken with your force
so that we all may see the new sun that approaches
and the flight of the songbird, and this dream that spurs.