Commentary

OCO Should Be Eliminated; War Spending Should Be Included in the Base Pentagon Budget

As the war in Afghanistan is being wound down, there is less and less justification for having an account for "Overseas and Contingency Operations" separate from the base Pentagon budget.

1. War spending is predictable - as predictable as other spending - and is becoming more so. The main cost in OCO currently is deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. It's possible for the Administration and Congress to plan for how many U.S. troops - if any - will be deployed to Afghanistan until 2014 and beyond, and the cost of this should be transparently accounted for.

2. There is no clear line that distinguishes "war costs" from costs in the base Pentagon budget.

3. The fact that there is no clear line that distinguishes war costs from costs in the base Pentagon budget, the fact that OCO was not capped by the Budget Control Act, and the fact that the initial outyear numbers for OCO have been fake, together have been an invitation for abuse. As the fake initial OCO numbers have been replaced by real numbers in recent years, defense appropriators have used the fake savings to protect the base Pentagon budget from agreed cuts by moving expenditures from the base Pentagon budget into the OCO budget.

New York Times Calls Out AIPAC Warmongering, Slams Graham's S. Res. 65, House's H.R. 850

The New York Times editorial board has come a long way since its days of upholding the false dichotomy of sanctions versus war as the only options for US-Iran relations. It was less than two years ago that the Times published an editorial assessing the potential paths for addressing the US-Iran impasse—and completely neglected to mention diplomacy or negotiations.

But a Saturday editorial shows that the Times's vocabulary and outlook on the subject has since undergone a significant expansion:

If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran, President Obama needs Congress to support negotiations. But negotiations and compromise are largely anathema in Washington, with many lawmakers insisting that any deal with Iran would be unacceptable — a stance that would make military action by Israel and the United States far more likely.

Not only did the editorial board recognize that "the best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement," but it also slammed two new AIPAC-sponsored Congressional initiatives aimed at sabotaging negotiations. On Sens. Lindsay Graham and Robert Menendez's "backdoor to war" resolution, S. Res. 65, the Times wrote that

Could the Senate Intelligence Committee Do Oversight of CIA Drone Strikes?

Different Senate committees are supposed to do oversight of different federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Department of Justice. The Senate Armed Services committee is supposed to do oversight of the Pentagon. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to do oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the CIA is conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and since this is, to say the least, a controversial policy, the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be doing oversight of that.

But contemplating the Senate Intelligence Committee's past oversight of the drone strike policy evokes the quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

Now that criticisms of the drone strike policy are getting some play in the press, people are floating ideas for various reforms. That's great! Let a hundred flowers bloom. But please call on me. I have an idea for a reform.

Why don't we ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to do its job of overseeing the CIA?

Now, you might think, that's a pretty arrogant claim, saying that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been asleep at the switch. Here, therefore, are three pieces of evidence for the claim.

Exhibit A: No public hearings.

Reporting on the Senate Intelligence Committee's confirmation hearing of John Brennan to head the CIA, Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Senate Intelligence Committee

The War in Mali: What's at Stake for Congressional War Powers?

France has launched a major military intervention in Mali. The U.S. is supporting the French intervention politically and to some extent, militarily. According to press reports in the Los Angeles Times ["Mali conflict exposes White House-Pentagon split," Jan. 18] and the Washington Post [“U.S. weighs military aid for France in Mali,”, Jan. 16], to what degree the U.S. should support the French intervention militarily has been a cause of dispute between the Pentagon and the White House, with the Pentagon advocating for greater U.S. military action and the White House resisting a direct role in combat.

To date, according to press reports, the U.S. has supported the French with intelligence, communications, and transportation, but has not decided to send armed drones to Mali; it has been reported that plans for sending armed drones were being reviewed [“U.S. weighs military aid for France in Mali,” Jan. 16].

If the Administration were to carry out drone strikes in Mali without Congressional authorization, that would have significant implications for Congressional war powers.

Tags:

We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes If We Focus on Where They're Politically Vulnerable

[Adapted from a talk given for Chicago Area Peace Action, January 17, 2012.]

I'd like to begin by asking you all two questions about your current opinions on U.S. drone strike policy and what we can do about it. Be honest in your responses, because for Just Foreign Policy, understanding how people view these questions is crucial to understanding how to engage more Americans in reforming the drone strike policy. There's no wrong answer. No-one is going to be judged or compared favorably or unfavorably to anyone else based on their answers. It's not an exam. It's an opinion poll or focus group for people trying to engage more Americans in the task of reforming U.S. drone strike policy. Your answers are going to shape Just Foreign Policy's activity on these questions going forward. And they're also going to shape my presentation this evening.

Here is the first question:

Is it your current opinion that there are significant ethical, legal, or political problems with the current drone strike policy?

The responses I'm looking for are either yes, I think there are significant problems, no, I don't think there are significant problems, or I don't know, I'm not sure. Ignore any peer pressure you might perceive in this room. What was your opinion was when you woke up this morning? The mainstream media claims that according to opinion polls, 80% of Americans, including the majority of liberal Democrats, support the current policy. Are you more like the 80%, or are you more like the 20%?

Shut your eyes and cover them with a hand, a scarf, a book, or piece of paper, so we can have something like a secret ballot and you won't be intimidating the people around you.

Raise your hand if your current thinking is that there are significant ethical, legal, or political problems with the current drone strike policy.

US Equates Palestinian Nonviolent Protest With Israeli Settlement Activity

Time to make yet another entry to the list of US hypocrisies!

Over the weekend, Israeli army and police units forcibly evicted a group of Palestinian activists from Bab al-Shams, a tent village that had been erected on what is reportedly a Palestinian-owned parcel of land in the area of the West Bank known as E1. The village—which included a library, kitchen, media room, and a medical center staffed by two doctors, two nurses, and six other health professionals—was established by the activists as a nonviolent protest against Israeli intentions to build thousands of new settlements in E1, an action which would effectively cut-off Palestinians from Jerusalem, threaten the viability of any future Palestinian state in a two-state solution, and, of course, trounce upon the Palestinians' rights to their own land.

In a statement, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called Israel out on their impending settlement plans and on disrespecting the Palestinians' right to peaceful protest. But, of course, we can't expect so much from the US.

Robert Bergdahl, father of POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, backs Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

We're running a petition at MoveOn in support of President Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

Guess who signed?

#2426Robert BergdahlDec 23, 2012Hailey, ID
 
My son is an Army SGT serving in Afghanistan Bring them home now!

Tags:

If the Pope Called for a Christmas Ceasefire in Afghanistan, Could "Ceasefire!" Enter Mainstream Debate?

When the Israeli military sharply escalated its attacks on Gaza and threatened a ground invasion in late October, the demand for ceasefire entered mainstream public and media discourse in relation to the conflict immediately. The same thing happened when the Israeli military attacked Gaza in late 2008, as it did when the Israeli military invaded Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, the demand for ceasefire has never been able to maintain a strong foothold in mainstream public and media discourse. This is particularly striking now that the war has clearly entered its zombie, autopilot phase. Western leaders have largely given up trying to explain or justify why Western troops are still in Afghanistan and why they are still killing and being killed. Why are we there? What do we realistically hope to accomplish through further killing and dying? Who knows? Who cares? We're there today because we were there yesterday. We'll be there tomorrow because we were there today.

Osama bin Laden is dead, but the war in Afghanistan is alive.

US Troop Deaths in Afghanistan Under Obama Pass 1500

US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

Since President Obama took office, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of over 1500 US troops, according to Just Foreign Policy's US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs. Bush counter, which draws on data provided by iCasualties. By comparison, 575 US troops died during President Bush's two terms.

The rise in troop deaths during President Obama's presidency has not been altogether surprising given the administration's strategy in Afghanistan. In 2009, President Obama oversaw not one but two offensive surges, each of which added about 33,000 troops to the roughly 34,000 that were deployed in the country when he took office. By August 2010, more troops had died in Afghanistan under President Obama's command than during President Bush's seven years at the helm. By October 2011, that figure had doubled.

Could Oliver Stone's Exposé of American Empire Help Press the UN to End Haiti Cholera?

If more Americans could get unplugged from the myths which have been used historically to engineer public acquiescence in U.S. foreign policy, how much could that help us reform U.S. foreign policy in the future?

Oliver Stone's 10 part documentary series on the history of U.S. foreign policy is currently running on Mondays on Showtime. Stone documents that the U.S. has not been noticeably more altruistic than other countries which have tried to exert global power: it's a fairy tale that "other countries have interests but we only have values."