The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

The Folks Who Brought You Military Detention in the NDAA Are Rewriting the AUMF | emptywheel

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced a hearing to revisit the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. In addition to a bunch of DOD figures (but not the recently departed Jeh Johnson, the DOD-connected person who said the most interesting things about the AUMF), it’ll have (I’ve linked their most salient comments on the AUMF):

Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Geoffrey Corn, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law

Jack Goldsmith, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Charles Stimson, Manager, National Security Law Program, The Heritage Foundation

Curiously, John Bellinger who (as far as I understand) started the discussion of a new AUMF is not slated to testify. Also note that the Deputy Director of Special Operations for Counterterrorism will testify, but no one from CIA is scheduled to; while JSOC can operate under the President’s inherent authority, it likely prefers the legal cover of an AUMF (and therefore may be one of the entities pushing for an AUMF that matches reality on the ground).

Politico reports that this hearing is more than speculative: Levin and no-longer-SASC-Ranking-Member-but-he-might-as-well-be John McCain are planning to rewrite the AUMF, with help from Bob Corker, Dick Durbin, and Lindsey “all detainees must be military” Graham.

And if the inclusion of Graham in that group doesn’t scare you, remember that this crowd is substantively the same one that enshrined military detention in 2012’s NDAA. While that effort might be regarded as “reasonable” Carl Levin and John McCain’s attempt to present something more reasonable than House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon was pushing for, and while the NDAA originally included exceptions for US citizens, in the event, the White House pushed Carl Levin to effectively rubber stamp its claims to unlimited authority, including detaining (or killing) US citizens.

[…]

Ultimately, though, what is likely to happen with this debate is that all players will be unwilling to discuss openly what we’ve actually been doing in the name of war against al Qaeda, up to and including waging war in the “homeland.” That’s one thing the 2001 AUMF was written to exclude. And I can almost guarantee you, it’s an authority the President will want to preserve.

How Many Wars Is the US Fighting Today? | Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy

Abstract

The US has withdrawn from Iraq and is planning to do likewise from Afghanistan in 2014. This article argues that the US has been fighting at least 5 wars, most of which are unannounced and undeclared, and are fought with air power and robotics technology.

Most people in the US and around the world, when asked the question in mid to late 2011, “How many wars is the US fighting today?” would answer “one” or “two”: Iraq and Afghanistan. The first has now ended and the second is in the process of winding down. The US still has some 70,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, with withdrawal scheduled by end-2014. And, while the US has officially withdrawn its forces from Iraq, it maintains thousands of private contractors and State Department personnel in the country and, in addition, has expanded its troop presence just across the border in Kuwait.

In addition to these two large-scale conflicts the US is also fighting a number of unannounced and undeclared “wars”. These unannounced wars are fought mainly with air power and increasingly with drones rather than ground troops. If we define war to include conflicts where the US is launching extensive military incursions, including drone attacks, but that are not officially “declared,” then the US is directly involved in at least three wars – in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia – in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. These unannounced wars follow in the tradition of many previous covert US military incursions, such as in Chile, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The difference is that advanced military technology now enables the US to fight such wars in a different way, which is far less transparent, and to sustain operations over several years.

In this paper, we first briefly outline the global scale of US military involvement today, outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, we examine how the emergence of robotic warfare is enabling the US to become involved in more conflicts worldwide. Third, we look at some of the implications of this relatively new technology, and its effect on US power. Finally, we offer some preliminary conclusions.

(h/t As’ad AbuKhalil)

Field of Nightmares | Tom Engelhardt

[Jeremy Scahill’s new book] Dirty Wars is really the secret history of how Washington launched a series of undeclared wars in the backlands of the planet and killed its way to something that ever more closely resembled an actual global war, creating a world of enemies out of next to nothing. Think of it as a bizarre form of unconscious wish fulfillment and the results — they came! — as a field of nightmares.

What was created in the process now seems more like a perpetual motion machine for the destabilization of the planet. Just follow the spread of drone bases and of JSOC’s raiders, and you can actually watch the backlands of the globe destabilizing before your eyes, or read Scahill’s book and get a superb blow-by-blow account of just how it happened. The process is now well underway in Africa where destabilization seems to be heading south from Libya via Mali.

Reread [Chalmers Johnson’s] Blowback 13 years later and it’s hard to believe that anyone was so ahead of his times, given the human predilection for being unable to foresee much of anything. Perhaps the saddest thing that can be said about Dirty Wars is that, the way things look, 13 years from now Scahill’s book, too, may seem as fresh as last night’s news. He has laid out a style of off-the-books war-making that seems destined to be perpetuated, no matter what administration is in power.

Much remains unknown when it comes to our recent non-war wars. Thirteen years from now we may know far more about what JSOC, the CIA, and others were really doing in these years. None of that, however, is likely to change the pattern Scahill has set down for us.

So let’s not hesitate to say it: mission accomplished! The world may not have been a battlefield then. But they prepared the global battlespace so well that it’s heading in that direction now. [++]

Perpetual Emotion War Machine | Norman Solomon

As a perpetual emotion machine — producing and guzzling its own political fuel — the “war on terror” continues to normalize itself as a thoroughly American way of life and death. Ongoing warfare has become a matter of default routine, pushed along by mainline media and the leadership of both parties in Washington. Without a clear and effective upsurge of opposition from the grassroots, Americans can expect to remain citizens of a war-driven country for the rest of their lives.

Across the United States, many thousands of peeling bumper stickers on the road say: “End this Endless War.” They got mass distribution from MoveOn.org back in 2007, when a Republican was in the White House. Now, a thorough search of the MoveOn website might leave the impression that endless war ended with the end of the George W. Bush presidency.

MoveOn is very big as online groups go, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem among an array of left-leaning organizations that have made their peace with the warfare state. Such silence assists the Obama administration as it makes the “war on terror” even more resolutely bipartisan and further embedded in the nation’s political structures — while doing immense damage to our economy, siphoning off resources that should go to meet human needs, further militarizing society and undermining civil liberties.

Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)

Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe … with more on the drawing boards.

On Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on “targeted killing,” the proceedings underscored the great extent of bipartisan overlap for common killing ground. Republican super-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham lauded President Obama for “targeting people in a very commander-in-chief-like way.” And what passed for senatorial criticism took as a given the need for continuing drone strikes. In the words of the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, “More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for those attacks.

This is classic tinkering with war machinery. During the first several years of the Vietnam War, very few senators went beyond mild kibitzing about how the war could be better waged. In recent years, during President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan that tripled the U.S. troop levels in that country, senators like John Kerry (now secretary of state) kept offering their helpful hints for how to fine tune the war effort.

The “war on terror” is now engaged in various forms of military intervention in an estimated two-dozen countries, killing and maiming uncounted civilians while creating new enemies. It infuses foreign policy with unhinged messages hidden in plain sight, like a purloined letter proclaiming “What goes around won’t come around” and telling the world “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Political ripple effects from the Boston Marathon bombings have only begun. While public opinion hasn’t gotten carried away with fear, much of the news media — television in particular — is stoking the fires of fear but scarcely raising a single question that might challenge the basic assumptions of a forever “war on terror.”

After a city has been traumatized and a country has empathized, a constructive takeaway would be that it’s terribly wrong to set off bombs that kill and maim. But that outlook is a nonstarter the moment it might be applied to victims of U.S. drones and cruise missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The message seems to be that Americans should never be bombed but must keep bombing.

Fighting drone wars behind our back: cheap, invisible and risk-free mass murder | Counterfire

AF Waddington will soon be the control centre for British drone warfare. It may already be, we can’t be sure.

The fact we don’t know testifies to the secrecy that surrounds the operation of these remote control killing machines. Drones embody the sinister shift that has been taken in the West’s wars post Iraq.

They blur the distinction between war and state execution, with no chance for public scrutiny.

Britain has been using drones in Afghanistan for some years. But by developing its drone capability, the British government is now stepping up its global ability to conduct arbitrary assassinations.

Official US language shows drones are normalizing such behaviour. There has been next to no public discussion about their use in Britain, but in the US drones are actually justified as precision weapons of international assassination. Their supporters say they are capable of surgically removing terrorist targets, so ‘cleansing’ weakened states of extremist leaders.

In a half hearted attempt to provide a legal framework, the Obama administration has claimed that drones are justified because they are used only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans. The US is still at war against Al-Qaeda, the argument goes, so such lethal incursions into foreign territory are legal.

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

But the evidence is unchallengeable: this is nonsense. Recent reports suggest that just 1.5% of the estimated 3,100 that have been killed by US drones in Pakistan were identified by US officials as ‘high-profile targets’. The US categorises victims as children, civilians, “high-profile,” and “other.” “The ‘other” grey zone comprises males of fighting age.

The Obama administration assumes that these are legitimate targets even though there is no information as to their affiliation. But the Washington Post reported in February that most attacks now are “signature strikes,” in which targets are selected based on suspicious patterns of activity and the identities of those who could be killed is not known. In 2012, the New York Times paraphrased a view they said was shared by several officials that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”

Their crime in other words was to have been young, male and in the area.

But it’s not just that fantasies are being peddled about drones’ technical ability to single out their targets. Their strategic role is being obscured too. In reality drones are not used simply as surgical weapon to pre-empt a possible attack. Partly their adoption has been driven by the unpopularity and the manifest failure of the conventional wars that have been fought under the rubric of the war on terror over the last twelve years.

The great advantage of drones from the point of view of western governments is that, at least while the West has the technological edge over competitors, they can be used without domestic casualties and therefore, they hope, without the risk of popular opposition or protest.

Another advantage of drones is that they are a relatively cheap way of killing people, important at a time of spending cuts. They are a way of continuing foreign wars while slimming budgets.

Drones are no more part of a rational policy of self-defence than the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And nor do they mark a drawdown in US military ambitions. They are in fact being used as a surrogate for conventional military operations. White House senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan defended drone strikes in April 2012 by comparing them to “deploying large armies abroad” and “large, intrusive military deployments.”

The fact the US has used drones in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan and very likely in Mali as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, testifies to the fact that drones are integrated into the US’s wider war strategy. They are being used to destabilise enemy governments and shore up allies.

[…]

In a process that the experts call ‘monopoly erosion’, drone use is spreading fast, confirming that they are becoming the new face of modern warfare. A 2012 survey showed that 11 countries had functioning drone systems, including France, Germany, Israel, Turkey, India and China. Other countries are rushing to catch up. We already face a frightening situation in which great powers are confronting each other with these ‘easy to use’ ‘low cost’ killing systems. [++]

Anonymous murder from a safe distance | William Pfaff

The vast majority of America’s Muslim enemies throughout the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia are fighting because the United States is there. It is not the other way around. Osama bin Laden conceived the 9/11 attacks because U.S. military forces were occupying his country, and this in his mind was an affront to his religion. The best way, and indeed the only way, to call off this so-called titanic collision of civilizations would be for the United States to call off the war with the Muslims. Only America can do this.

Anatol Lieven has a splendid and thoroughly knowledgeable article in the April 4 issue of the New York Review of Books, on the politics of disengaging from the war in Afghanistan. He concludes that it would be dishonorable and unreasonable for the United States “to walk away from all this with the declaration that it is ‘a matter for the Afghans themselves.’”

It would be, but after all that has passed, I cannot believe that the present government and Congress of the United States is capable of rescuing an honorable settlement to this war, especially as both Congress and the president seem to remain persuaded that the war’s formal end should nonetheless see a contingent of U.S. troops left behind after their scheduled departure at the end of 2014. The advocates of staying on say, “Look at Iraq today.” Indeed, but if the U.S. had left a force behind to “stabilize” Iraq, would this have succeeded? I feel certain that this would have merely prolonged the war’s horror.

The drones are evidence that the U.S. is incapable of disengaging from wars that have left ruin in their wake, poisoned Islamic relations with much of the Western world and, with the torture, humiliation and perpetual and illegal imprisonment of its enemies, in defiance of the norms of civilized behavior, destroyed America’s “honor” and the decent respect of mankind it once enjoyed.

Is Washington ready now to end its war in the Middle East — its war with the Islamic Middle East and South Asia? Of course not. Now we have the drones executing mass destruction on the family and tribal scale, in the worst American military tradition, established in Vietnam and Iraq, of anonymous murder from a safe distance, in this case from the White House itself. Who talks about legality, morality — or dishonor?

U.S. Militarism and Perpetual War | Jeff Cohen

I spent years as a political pundit on mainstream TV – at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. I was outnumbered, outshouted, red-baited and finally terminated. Inside mainstream media, I saw that major issues were not only dodged, but sometimes not even acknowledged to exist.

Today there’s an elephant in the room: a huge, yet ignored, issue that largely explains why Social Security is now on the chopping block. And why other industrialized countries have free college education and universal healthcare, but we don’t. It’s arguably our country’s biggest problem – a problem that Martin Luther King Jr. focused on before he was assassinated 45 years ago, and has only worsened since then (which was the height of the Vietnam War).

That problem is U.S. militarism and perpetual war.

In 1967, King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” – and said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Nowadays MSNBC hosts yell at Fox News hosts, and vice versa, about all sorts of issues – but when the Obama administration expanded the bloody war in Afghanistan, the shouting heads at both channels went almost silent. When Obama’s drone war expanded, there was little shouting. Not at MSNBC, not at Fox. Nor at CNN, CBS, ABC or so-called public broadcasting.

We can have raging debates in mainstream media about issues like gun control and gay marriage and minimum wage, but when the elites of both parties agree on military intervention – as they so often do – debate is nearly nonexistent. Anyone in the mainstream who goes out on a limb to loudly question this oversized creature in the middle of the room known as militarism or interventionism is likely to disappear faster than you can say ‘Phil Donahue.’ [++]

Mali: Players Increasingly Thinking Long-Term

No need to read the link above - it’s essentially a noncontextual “view from nowhere” piece by a former State department official. I’m just posting the headline to draw attention to the permanent nature of the conflict in Mali, itself a direct result of blowback from the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya.

The interventions in the Sahel aren’t really about Mali, and even less about any concern for the people living there - more about western hegemony and resource control in north and western Africa - a foot in the door if you will.

From almost a year ago, Joe Penny:

France and the US seem to be pursuing a policy that creates the very problem it is intended to thwart. Ansar Dine and MUJWA, the two dominant groups in the north who have aligned themselves with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have shown very little interest in harming Western interests, other than kidnappings for ransom. Their goals are domestic; they call for Mali to become an Islamic state. Al-Qaeda’s operations in the region amount to little more than criminal gang activity and consider Western nations secondary targets to more immediate ones like Mauritania and Algeria. Yet they are labeled security threats to the West and thus need to be bombed.

Upon bombing, the West becomes enemy number one and disaffected groups begin to seriously attack France and the US. Washington and Paris are then back to square one. The security threats have become real and then require a military response, completing the cycle of counter-intuitive diplomatic question-begging. How do we know they’re terrorists? They wanted to fight us after we bombed them.

and:

[P]ainfully few commentators writing about a future offensive in Mali acknowledge that the present conflict was enabled by fallout from another Western intervention; even fewer contemplate the potential regional fallout from an intervention in Mali. For many journalists and Sahel ‘experts,’ the best response to a jihadist rebellion and state failure that resulted from a NATO intervention is another NATO intervention. Those who advocate supplementing a NATO-funded ECOWAS force with airstrikes ignore more than two decades of failed interventions because they are entrenched in the War on Terror’s circular logic—a logic that can only act in brute force. By doing so, they are propagating a legacy of violent Western domination over the Third World.

John Pilger reports on the military buildup:

A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way. The United States is deploying troops in 35 African countries, beginning with Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger. Reported by Associated Press on Christmas Day, this was missing from most Anglo-American media.

The invasion has almost nothing to do with “Islamism”, and almost everything to do with the acquisition of resources, notably minerals, and an accelerating rivalry with China. Unlike China, the US and its allies are prepared to use a degree of violence demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine.

As in the Cold War, a division of labour requires that Western journalism and popular culture provide the cover of a holy war against a “menacing arc” of Islamic extremism, no different from the bogus “red menace” of a worldwide communist conspiracy.

Reminiscent of the “scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments.

Last year, Africom staged Operation African Endeavor, with the armed forces of 34 African nations taking part, commanded by the US military. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing.

And don’t forget, “With a shiny new drone base in Niger and a magical, law-erasing Terrorist designation, the Obama administration is ready to start killing people in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa,” expanding the reach of the robot death squad beyond the bases the U.S. already has in Djibouti and Ethiopia.

The (re)colonization of Africa is just getting (re)started.

The evidence has long been compelling that the primary fuel of what the US calls terrorism are the very policies of aggression justified in the name of stopping terrorism. The vast bulk of those who have been caught in recent years attempting attacks on the US have emphatically cited US militarism and drone killings in their part of the world as their motive. Evidence is overwhelming that what has radicalized huge numbers of previously peaceful and moderate Muslims is growing rage at seeing a continuous stream of innocent victims, including children, at the hands of the seemingly endless US commitment to violence. The message sent by America’s invisible victims

US troops will stay in Afghanistan to support local forces, Allen insists | guardian.co.uk

Rewind to the 2012 debates - “we’re getting out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Period.” Now read this:

The US and its allies will retain a presence in Afghanistan big enough to bolster Afghan forces after the withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of 2014, the recently retired commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said on Monday.

Speaking in Washington, Allen said he had never been asked to produce a report on the so-called “zero option” – the suggestion that no American troops would remain after the 2014 deadline, floated by one White House adviser in January.

Instead, Allen said that he expected that Obama would approve a force that would be commensurate with ensuring that the Afghan security forces could be properly supported.

Obama is currently considering how many troops are to be left behind, mostly in an advisory capacity, after the official withdrawal in 2014.

Speculation on the size of the force ranges from about 6,000 through to 20,000. Allen offered Obama various options about force size before retiring last month. He ruled out a full pullout, an option the White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes had said in January was on the table.

"I was never asked to conduct any analysis with respect to the zero option," Allen told a meeting at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Monday.

Then again, this isn’t really news.

A big part of the problem is that the authorization to use military force is too vague. It gives the president the power to attack ‘nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.’ Making the law more specific, however, would only further enshrine the notion of a war without end. And, as Jeh Johnson, then counsel to the defense secretary, said in a speech last November, ‘War must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs.’ The right solution is for Congress to repeal the 2001 authorization. It could wait to do that until American soldiers have left Afghanistan, which is scheduled, too slowly, for the end of 2014. Better yet, Congress could repeal it now, effective upon withdrawal.

Repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Law | NYTimes

A tepid yet welcome call from the NYT.

[E]very military (and civilian) official says ‘you cannot capture or kill’ your way out the problems caused by those who use violence to achieve political objectives. What McChrystal noted about Afghanistan — ‘You can kill Taliban forever, because they are not a finite number’ — would apply to any of the groups [or ‘associated forces’] currently targeted by the United States. Yet, the perception exists that killing is the only thing happening in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, in part because the military has so little faith in the capabilities of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and/or the host nation. … During his confirmation hearing to become the director of central intelligence, John Brennan repeated his prior pledge regarding al Qaeda — ‘We will destroy that organization’ — which, according to the latest State Department estimates, is growing to thousands of individuals among its various ‘affiliates.’ This current U.S. counterterrorism strategy of ‘mowing the grass’ (as it’s indelicately called) through indefinite drone strikes, without thinking through the likely second- and third-order effects, will never achieve its strategic objectives.* This highlights the question military planning staffs will pose to civilian policymakers who ask about bombing a target or individual: ‘And then what?’ In the case of a campaign of drone strikes, the answer these military planners see is more drone strikes.

Killing Isn’t Cool | Micah Zenko

* Unless, of course, the “strategic objective” is permanent warfare (and all the perks like unitary executive power and hegemonic control that come along with it), a conclusion too terrible for most to ponder.