foreign policy

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."

What I Learned in the Airport in Bahrain

Bahrain International Airport - When I came to Bahrain, it certainly wasn't with the intention of spending my whole time in the country in the airport. I wanted to see what was going on in the country, not to see what was going on in the airport.

 

But the Bahrain authorities would not let me enter the country. At this writing, it's 5 PM local time. My flight got in at 2:15 AM. I have been informed that the Director of Immigration has decided that I shall not have a visa to enter Bahrain - although in the past it was the practice of the Bahrain authorities to give visas to Americans in the airport pretty much automatically - so the authorities are saying that the only way I am leaving the airport is on a plane out of the country. At this writing, it looks like I could be in the airport for another 36 hours.

 

Other observers managed to get in, and you can see their reports at Witness Bahrain. [You can't see that website if you live in Bahrain though - it's blocked here by the Bahrain authorities.] But if you're in the U.S., you can read reports on Witness Bahrain on the protests marking the first anniversary of the uprising for democracy, and the Bahrain government's response to those protests. I won't be able to contribute to those reports, since, sitting in the airport, I won't be able to observe the protests and the government response.

 

However, I did learn something useful, sitting in the airport, waiting with a bunch of other foreigners for permission to enter the country.

 

I learned that the government of Bahrain is starting to pay a real price for its efforts to shield its actions towards peaceful protesters from international scrutiny.

 

Will the Media Let Ron Paul Question U.S. Foreign Policy?

Will the news media let Ron Paul raise serious questions about U.S. foreign policy? It's a crucial test case not only of the prospects that the media will serve the interests of the 99% rather than the 1%, but of the prospects for a foreign military and economic policy that reflects the values and interests of the 99%, rather than those of the 1%.

Economist and media critic Dean Baker recently posed this question in a forum at Politico. Politico's David Mark convened the forum under the headline, "Can Ron Paul Take a Punch?"

 

Now that Rep. Ron Paul is a top-tier candidate in Iowa rivals are likely to gang up. They may target the Texan's associations with unsavory characters, or a sometimes less-than-pure libertarian stance on congressional earmarks. Middle East politics could also complicate Paul's presidential bid - he once likened Israel's defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to "a concentration camp."

Can Ron Paul take a punch?

Dean Baker responded:

 

The better question is whether the media will allow Paul to raise serious questions about the nature of this country's foreign policy. I recall watching one of the Republican presidential debates in 2008 where the moderator asked whether the president could unilaterally take military action against Iran.

 

Mayor Giuliani answered first and gave a characteristic Giuliani answer to the effect of the president can do whatever he wants. Gov. Romney then gave a conditional this and that answer, and then said that if the question was one of constitutional authority, you would have to call in the lawyers.

Sen. Merkley's Harm Reduction Plan for Afghanistan Would Save Lives and Billions

If Senator Jeff Merkley's "expedite the drawdown from Afghanistan" amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act makes a strong showing, that could tip the Obama Administration towards a faster drawdown.

 

That would likely save hundreds of American and Afghan lives - not to mention all the people who wouldn't be physically and psychologically maimed - and could easily save the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars, at a time when the alleged need for fiscal austerity is being touted as a reason to cut Social Security benefits and raise the Medicare retirement age.

 

Everyone knows the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." It's a great motto to try to live by. But unfortunately, in this life on Earth, "Do no harm" isn't always on the menu at the restaurant. Sometimes, you're already doing harm, and there's no feasible immediate path to zero harm. Sometimes the best you can do in the short run is to reduce the harm as much as possible. And if that's the best you can do, then that is what you must do.

 

It's not politically feasible, unfortunately, to end the war tomorrow. But we could take a big bite out of it in the next week. And that would save many lives and real money. [You can ask your Senators to co-sponsor the Merkley amendment here.]

 

Merkley's amendment (#1174) says:

 

1) the President should expedite the transition of security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan;

 

2) the President shall devise a plan for expediting the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014; and

 

An Iran Policy for the 99%: Yes to the Medical Nuke Deal

I marched through downtown Washington Saturday afternoon with the "#OccupyDC" folks. One of the most popular chants around me was: "How to end this deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!" Apparently the 99% in DC have no trouble talking about ending the wars and taxing the rich in the same breath. I hope that others will emulate them.

I take it as obvious that "end the wars" means not only that we should get all our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we shouldn't start a new war with Iran. Don't you? Surely a key lesson of the last ten years is that once a war is started, it can be incredibly difficult to end it. This is one of the reasons that the neocons love starting wars. Starting a war allows them to create a long-term structural change in the political terrain - one that can long outlast their time in office - sucking resources and focus from the productive, domestic economy that employs and nourishes the 99% to the military economy that makes the military contractors rich but creates few jobs in the U.S. compared to domestic private and public spending.

And another key lesson of the last ten years is this: if we want to stop wars in the future, we can't wait to act until the war advocates have all their ducks in a row. We have to "disrupt their plots," to borrow a phrase. Millions marched worldwide a month before the start of the Iraq war. As an expression of popular clamor for peace, it was great. But as a means of stopping the war, it was too late. The war train had already left the station.

Ending Wars on Time Would Save $200 Billion, 1/6 of Debt Reduction Goal

By Thanksgiving, the Congressional "Super Committee" is supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years. The Super Committee can include anything it wants in its package - short-term economic stimulus (like extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday), revenue increases from curtailing tax breaks, cuts in military or domestic spending, subject only to two constraints. To avoid automatic cuts, the package has to add to $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over ten years. Also, to avoid automatic cuts, the package has to pass both houses of Congress in December, so the package has to have the property that it can pass the House and Senate.

A plausible and reasonable option would be to curtail future spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, consistent with keeping existing agreements and commitments to withdraw our troops, rather than replacing these agreements and commitments with agreements to establish permanent military garrisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under plausible and moderate assumptions, this would save at least $200 billion over ten years, 1/6 of the Super Committee's debt reduction goal.

To Live Within Our Means, Let's Leave Iraq Like We Promised

The Senate and the Roman People have declared that the U.S. government is spending too much money. We have to live within our means. Difficult choices lie ahead. We can't do everything anyone might like us to do. Everything is on the table.


Therefore, instead of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq past December, we should pull them out like we promised. If not now, when? John McCain once said there's no problem with keeping U.S. troops in Iraq forever, just like we do in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. How liberals mocked him! But that's what the Obama Administration is now trying to do: keep US troops in Iraq forever.

Some Members of Congress have a different idea: let's leave Iraq like we promised in the signed agreement between the two governments.

Representative Barbara Lee has introduced legislation that would prevent the Pentagon from keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq by cutting off funds for the war after December 31, 2011. In other words, the bill would cut off funds for violating the agreement with Iraq to pull out troops by December. It would cut off funds for violating Obama's campaign promise to end the war.

The Pentagon doesn't want you to notice that at the same time Washington is seized with debt hysteria, and the nation's mainstream media are demanding cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits on the preposterous claim that "we can no longer afford it," the Pentagon is laying plans to keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq forever. They call these troops "trainers," so we are not supposed to notice. But these "trainers" engage in combat: they kill Iraqis, and they get killed by Iraqis.

Kucinich Calls the Question on Libya War Powers

Last week, voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives began taking action to limit U.S. military involvement in Libya's civil war.

Now the House leadership has agreed to a vote on House Concurrent Resolution 51, introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, which would direct the President, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, to remove U.S. armed forces from the Libya war. The vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The U.S. military intervention in Libya was never authorized by Congress, and thus violates U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution.

Some have argued that other Presidents have violated the War Powers Resolution, therefore it is no big deal. This is a breathtaking argument on its face: "everyone breaks the law." But moreover, as the New York Times noted on May 25:

 

many presidents, citing their power as commander in chief, have bypassed a section that says they need prior Congressional authorization to deploy forces into hostilities, except if the country is under attack. But there is far less precedent of presidents' challenging another section that says they must terminate any still-unauthorized operations after 60 days. In 1980, the Justice Department concluded that the deadline was constitutional. [my emphasis]

On May 20, the New York Times reported, referring to the 1980 Justice Department memorandum,

 

An Anti-War Candidate Announces for President

Last week, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson announced his candidacy for President of the United States.

This was a historic event, because 1) Gary Johnson wants to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 2) Gary Johnson is a Republican. He also wants to slash the military budget.

Gary Johnson is also opposed to the "war on drugs," which he has called "an expensive bust". Indeed, as The Hill noted:

Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 -- an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.

This suggests that Gary Johnson can play well with others around issues of common concern.

It is tremendously important that there be at least one Republican candidate for President who is against the war in Afghanistan.

Polls show that Republican voters have turned against the war. But the majority of Republican voters who want US troops out of Afghanistan are so far almost totally unrepresented by Republican officials in Washington. Gary Johnson's campaign could break through the national Republican wall, because as a candidate for president, Gary Johnson will be able to get into the media, and the national Republican party leadership - "the party's ruling class," as The Hill put it - won't be able to silence him. Even if he doesn't get a dime from Lockheed or Raytheon, they won't be able to keep him off the stage in the early Republican debates, and that will change the discussion.

Barbara Boxer: Champion in the Senate Against the Afghanistan War

If you've ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn't just about lobbying individual Members. You need a "champion" for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.


When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold's office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold's bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan - a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer's bill.

The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.