Noise, Noise, Noise!

United_States_Declaration_of_Independence
Words can be explosive too

W.J. Astore

People who don’t like noise get a bad rap in America. We once had neighbors in Colorado who used to ride off-road dirt bikes up and down the street. Someone complained about the noise and their response was, “Don’t like it? Move. This is America. We have freedom to make all the noise we want.”

Yesterday, my barber was talking about television. He was watching an “entertainment” show in which people were screaming, amplified by explosions, and he just couldn’t abide the noise. But he’s an old fuddy-duddy, like me, right?

When I watch baseball on TV, I keep the “mute” button very close by for the commercials. But even the commentators are getting noisy. Baseball used to be a fairly quiet game with two commentators in the booth, a play-by-play guy and a “color” guy (usually an ex-ballplayer).  Now there are often three people in the booth, with another one (or even two) on the sidelines. They all need to speak, of course, so baseball on TV has become a constant contest of endless chatter featuring mindless statistics.  There’s so much chatter that it’s difficult to hear the crack of a bat or the sound of a fastball smacking a catcher’s mitt.  Then there are the stadiums that feature lots of rock music, sound effects (like smashing glass for a foul ball), horns and pyrotechnics that go off when a player hits a home run, and all those video boards that order the fans to “Make Some Noise!”.

I know — I sound like an old fuddy-duddy again — sort of like the Grinch who stole Christmas because he was tired of all the noise, noise, noise of the Whos in Whoville.  And if the Grinch was bothered by Christmas festivities, just think of how he’d react to July 4th, America’s most pyrotechnic holiday. Prepare for bombs bursting in air, jets screaming overhead, and loud music everywhere.

Just so you know, I’ve been known to pump up the volume on my favorite songs; I’ve thrilled to fireworks exploding in the sky; I’ve watched my share of air shows; I’ve even been at the very front of rock concerts as “security” (I fondly recall a Warren Zevon concert at which I had to arrange the return of a leather coat loaned by a fan to Zevon, who donned it on stage to the delight of the fan).

But you might say those noise events were matters of personal choice.  Lately, noise in America seems pervasive, ubiquitous, almost unavoidable.  And noise isn’t simply about volume: it’s about persistence.  It’s about invasiveness.  Think of people who chatter away on Smart phones even as they’re out for a quiet walk along the beach or in the woods. How can you hear the waves or the birds if you’re screaming into a phone? Bits and pieces of conversations I’ve overheard are not about emergencies or even pressing matters; it’s more like, “Guess where I am?  I’m at the beach/concert/top of the mountain!”  Followed by selfies and postings and more calls or texts.

With all these forms of noise, it’s difficult to be in the moment.  It’s even difficult to find a moment.  Also, even in quiet times, people feel pressured to fill the silence with, well, something.  So unaccustomed to quiet are they that they reach for their Smart phones (perhaps to play a noisy video game), or they turn on the TV, or they chatter away even when they have nothing to say. Must avoid “uncomfortable” silences, so we’ve been told.

Part of this is cultural.  Today’s Americans are not about reflection; we’re about action. We’re not thinkers; we’re doers.  If I rest I rust is our motto.  Together with, Don’t just stand there — do something!  Preferably, something loud, splashy, noisy.

July 4th is a great holiday, but along with the fireworks and noise, perhaps we should celebrate the reflective thinkers of America, people like Thomas Jefferson who put the words to the noise of the American revolution in the Declaration of Independence. The quiet sound of a quill pen dipping in ink and scratching across parchment made a very big noise indeed in U.S. and World history.

Trump Fourth of July

This weekend, it wouldn’t hurt to put down or turn off the mowers, blowers, fireworks, Smart phones, TVs, and all the rest of our noisemakers and listen to the birds and waves while reading a few passages from that Declaration of Independence.  For the right words can be explosive too.

Drone Casualties: The New Body Count (Updated)

predator
A method of war, not a strategy

W.J. Astore

In President Obama’s drone wars, how many innocent civilians have been killed?  An official U.S. government report will suggest that roughly 100 civilians have been killed since 2009 in drone strikes, a surprisingly small number.  According to NBC News:

The Long War Journal, a project of the right-leaning Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank whose numbers tend to be the most favorable for U.S. policy-makers, tallied 207 civilian casualties since 2009 in 492 strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. That does not include strikes in Somalia and Libya, which the Obama administration includes in its count of around 100 [civilians killed].

New America, a left-leaning Washington think tank, counted between 244 and 294 civilians killed in 547 attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 1068 civilians were killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the vast majority since 2009.

So it’s unclear whether the Obama administration’s drone strikes have killed 100 innocents, 300 innocents, or over 1000 innocents.  Part of the discrepancy involves who is a “militant” and who is an innocent civilian.  The U.S. government tends to count all military-age males killed in drone strikes as “militants,” effectively changing the meaning of civilian to “women and children.”

In one respect, this body count doesn’t matter.  Dead is dead, whether you’re talking about 100 people or 1000.  And isn’t the death of 100 innocents enough to provoke protest if not outrage?  Think of the reaction in the U.S. to the killing of 49 innocent civilians in Orlando.  Better yet, think if a foreign government was flying drones over our skies, taking out American “terrorists” while killing a few innocent civilians now and again.  Would we dismiss 100 dead American civilians as “collateral damage,” regrettable but necessary in this foreign power’s war on terror?

Of course not.  Americans would memorialize the dead, honor them, and make them a cause for vengeance.

For all the people the U.S. government is killing overseas in hundreds of deadly drone strikes, it’s not obvious that any progress is being made in the war on terror. The wars continue, with the Taliban gaining strength in Afghanistan.  ISIS is on the wane, until it rebounds or morphs into another form.  What is essentially terror bombing as a weapon against terror has little chance of ending a war on terror.  Meanwhile, hammer blows from the sky against fractured societies only serve to propagate the fractures, creating new fault lines and divisions that are exploitable by the determined and the fanatical.

Indeed, we really have no clear idea whether these multi-billion dollar air campaigns are making any progress in war. Much of the data and results of these campaigns are both classified and open to bias, with reports of casualties being manipulated or “spun” by all sides.  All we really know is that innocents are killed (whether 100 or 1000) as the wars persist with no end in sight.

Meanwhile, American exceptionalism rules.  As Tom Engelhardt noted back in May of 2015:

In his public apology for deaths [of innocents by drones] that were clearly embarrassing to him, President Obama managed to fall back on a trope that has become ever more politically commonplace in these years.  Even in the context of a situation in which two innocent hostages had been killed, he congratulated himself and all Americans for the exceptional nature of this country. “It is a cruel and bitter truth,” he said, “that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur.  But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

Whatever our missteps, in other words, we Americans are exceptional killers in a world of ordinary ones.  This attitude has infused Obama’s global assassination program and the White House “kill list” that goes with it and that the president has personally overseen.

Drone strikes are a method of war, but they’ve become the American strategy.  The strategy, so it seems, is to keep killing bad guys until the rest give up and go home.  But the deaths of innocents, whether 100 or 1000, serve to perpetuate cycles of violence and revenge.

We have, in essence, created a perpetual killing machine.

Update (7/2/2016): Well, the Obama administration has done it again, releasing its report on drone casualties on the afternoon of Friday, July 1st, just before the long Independence Day weekend, ensuring minimal media coverage.  The report excludes “active” war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, a convenient definition that serves to lower the death toll.

According to the report, U.S. drone strikes in places like Yemen, Libya, tribal Pakistan, and Somalia have accounted for about 2500 “terrorists” while killing 64 to 116 civilian bystanders.  The tacit message: We’re killing 25 times (or perhaps 40 times) as many “terrorists” as we are innocent civilians, a very effective (even humane?) kill ratio.

Talk about an exercise in cynical bookkeeping!  One can guess what happened here. Someone high up in the government began with the civilian body count judged acceptable: I’m guessing that figure was roughly 100.  Then, they worked backwards from that.  How do we get 100?  Well, if we exclude “active” war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and if we squint sideways …

Well, you probably know the saying: the very first casualty in war is truth.  Followed by an honest accounting of civilian casualties, as this latest report from the Obama administration shows.

The End of Air Power?

Usaf.Boeing_B-52
All they are sayin’ is give bombing a chance (U.S. Air Force photo)

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, which you can read in its entirety here, I tackle the American infatuation with air power and bombing.  Despite its enormous destructiveness and indecisive results in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Iraq invasion of 2003, and in the ongoing War on Terror, U.S. leaders persist in bombing as a means to victory, even against dispersed organizations such as ISIS and the Taliban that offer few targets.  As I put it in my article:

For all its promise of devastating power delivered against enemies with remarkable precision and quick victories at low cost (at least to Americans), air power has failed to deliver, not just in the ongoing war on terror but for decades before it.  If anything, by providing an illusion of results, it has helped keep the United States in unwinnable wars, while inflicting a heavy toll on innocent victims on our distant battlefields.  At the same time, the cult-like infatuation of American leaders, from the president on down, with the supposed ability of the U.S. military to deliver such results remains remarkably unchallenged in Washington.

Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald points out, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive Defense Secretary, Michele Flournoy, has already issued calls for more U.S. bombing and military interventions in the Middle East.  Talk about doubling down on a losing strategy.

Yet “strategy” isn’t really the right word.  Bombing is a method of war, not a strategy.  And in this case the method truly is the madness, with the end being perpetual war.

When will the madness end?  To be honest, I don’t see an end in the immediate future, so invested in bombing are America’s leaders and foreign “diplomats.”

Here’s the rest of my article for TomDispatch.com.

Yet despite this “asymmetric” advantage [America’s dominance of the air], despite all the bombing, missile strikes, and drone strikes, “progress” proved both “fragile” and endlessly “reversible” (to use words General David Petraeus applied to his “surges” in Iraq and Afghanistan).  In fact, 12,000 or so strikes after Washington’s air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq began in August 2014, we now know that intelligence estimates of its success had to be deliberately exaggerated by the military to support a conclusion that bombing and missile strikes were effective ways to do in the Islamic State.

So here we are, in 2016, 25 years after Desert Storm and nearly a decade after the Petraeus “surge” in Iraq that purportedly produced that missing mission accomplished moment for Washington — and U.S. air assets are again in action in Iraqi and now Syrian skies.  They are, for instance, flying ground support missions for Iraqi forces as they attempt to retake Falluja, a city in al-Anbar Province that had already been “liberated” in 2004 at a high cost to U.S. ground troops and an even higher one to Iraqi civilians.  Thoroughly devastated back then, Falluja has again found itself on the receiving end of American air power.

If and when Iraqi forces do retake the city, they may inherit little more than bodies and rubble, as they did in taking the city of Ramadi last December.  About Ramadi, Patrick Cockburn noted last month that “more than 70% of its buildings are in ruins and the great majority of its 400,000 people are still displaced” (another way of saying, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”).  American drones, meanwhile, continue to soar over foreign skies, assassinating various terrorist “kingpins” to little permanent effect.

Tell Me How This Ends

Here’s the “hot wash”: something’s gone terribly wrong with Washington’s soaring dreams of air power and what it can accomplish.  And yet the urge to loose the planes only grows stronger among America’s political class.

Given the frustratingly indecisive results of U.S. air campaigns in these years, one might wonder why a self-professed smart guy like Ted Cruz, when still a presidential candidate, would have called for “carpet” bombing our way to victory over ISIS, and yet in these years he has been more the norm than the exception in his infatuation with air power.  Everyone from Donald Trump to Barack Obama has looked to the air for the master key to victory.  In 2014, even Petraeus, home from the wars, declared himself “all in” on more bombing as critical to victory (whatever that word might now mean) in Iraq. Only recently he also called for the loosing of American air power (yet again) in Afghanistan — not long after which President Obama did just that.

Even as air power keeps the U.S. military in the game, even as it shows results (terror leaders killed, weapons destroyed, oil shipments interdicted, and so on), even as it thrills politicians in Washington, that magical victory over the latest terror outfits remains elusive.  That is, in part, because air power by definition never occupies ground.  It can’t dig in.  It can’t swim like Mao Zedong’s proverbial fish in the sea of “the people.”  It can’t sustain persuasive force.  Its force is always staccato and episodic.

Its suasion, such as it is, comes from killing at a distance.  But its bombs and missiles, no matter how “smart,” often miss their intended targets.  Intelligence and technology regularly prove themselves imperfect or worse, which means that the deaths of innocents are inevitable.  This ensures new recruits for the very organizations the planes are intent on defeating and new cycles of revenge and violence amid the increasing vistas of rubble below.  Even when the bombs are on target, as happens often enough, and a terrorist leader or “lieutenant” is eliminated, what then?  You kill a dozen more?  As Petraeus said in a different context: tell me how this ends.

Recalling the Warbirds 

From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, dropping bombs and firing missiles has been the presidentially favored way of “doing something” against an enemy.  Air power is, in a sense, the easiest thing for a president to resort to and, in our world, has the added allure of the high-tech.  It looks good back home.  Not only does the president not risk the lives of American troops, he rarely risks retaliation of any kind.

Whether our presidents know it or not, however, air power always comes with hidden costs, starting with the increasingly commonplace blowback of retaliatory terrorist strikes on “soft” targets (meaning people) in cities like Paris or Madrid or London.  Strikes that target senior members of enemy armies or terrorist organizations often miss, simply stoking yet more of the sorts of violent behavior we are trying to eradicate with our own version of violence.  When they don’t miss and the leadership of terror groups is hit, as Andrew Cockburn has shown, the result is often the emergence of even more radical and brutal leaders and the further spread of such movements.  In addition, U.S. air power, especially the White House-run drone assassination program, is leading the way globally when it comes to degrading the sovereignty of national borders. (Witness the latest drone strike against the head of the Taliban in violation of Pakistani airspace.)  Right now, Washington couldn’t care less about this, but it is pioneering a future that, once taken up by other powers, may look far less palatable to American politicians.

Despite the sorry results delivered by air power over the last 65 years, the U.S. military continues to invest heavily in it — not only in drones but also in ultra-expensive fighters and bombers like the disappointing F-35 (projected total cost: $1.4 trillion) and the Air Force’s latest, already redundant long-range strike bomber (initial acquisition cost: $80 billion and rising).  Dismissing the frustratingly mixed and often destabilizing results that come from air strikes, disregarding the jaw-dropping prices of the latest fighters and bombers, America’s leaders continue to clamor for yet more warplanes and yet more bombing.

And isn’t there a paradox, if not a problem, in the very idea of winning a war on terror through what is in essence terror bombing?  Though it’s not something that, for obvious reasons, is much discussed in this country, given the historical record it’s hard to deny that bombing is terror.  After all, that’s why early aviators like Douhet and Mitchell embraced it.  They believed it would be so terrifyingly effective that future wars would be radically shortened to the advantage of those willing and able to bomb.

As it turned out, what air power provided was not victory, but carnage, terror, rubble — and resistance.

Americans should have a visceral understanding of why populations under our bombs and missiles resist.  They should know what it means to be attacked from the air, how it pisses you off, how it generates solidarity, how it leads to new resolve and vows of vengeance.  Forget Pearl Harbor, where my uncle, then in the Army, dodged Japanese bombs on December 7, 1941.  Think about 9/11.  On that awful day in 2001, Homeland USA was “bombed” by hijacked jet liners transformed into guided missiles.  Our skies became deadly.  A technology indelibly associated with American inventiveness and prowess was turned against us.  Colossally shocked, America vowed vengeance.

Are our enemies any less resolutely human than we are?  Like us, they’re not permanently swayed by bombing. They vow vengeance when friends, family members, associates of every sort are targeted.  When American “smart” bombs obliterate wedding parties and other gatherings overseas, do we think the friends and loved ones of the dead shrug and say, “That’s war”?  Here’s a hint: we didn’t.

Having largely overcome the trauma of 9/11, Americans today look to the sky with hope.  We watch the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds with a sense of awe, wonder, and pride.  Warplanes soar over our sports stadiums.  The sky is ourhigh ground.  We see evidence of America’s power and ingenuity there.  Yet people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere often pray for clouds and bad weather; for them, clear skies are associated with American-made death from above.

It’s time we allow other peoples to look skyward with that same sense of safety and hope as we normally do.  It’s time to recall the warbirds.  They haven’t provided solutions.  Indeed, the terror, destruction, and resentments they continue to spread are part of the problem.

What It Will Take to Gain My Support in 2020

hillary henry
What kind of Progressive hugs Henry Kissinger?

M. Davout

I am a lifelong Democrat living in one of the former Confederate states that will not turn purple in the 2016 presidential election cycle no matter what Trump says or does. I therefore feel free to withhold my vote from Secretary Clinton this election cycle because of serious doubts about her neoliberal domestic policy instincts and her hawkish foreign policy leanings. To the extent that she is responsive to the demands of electoral politics, I think her first term administration can be influenced in a progressive direction (especially in matters of political economy and foreign affairs). The following thoughts are intended to suggest one way of exercising progressive pressure.

These thoughts are aimed at people like me–progressives living in NON-battleground states who feel free to vote for a third party progressive at the presidential level in this election but who also hope for progressive leadership if (as currently seems likely) Secretary Clinton wins. As a result of the Bernie Sanders campaign, progressives have come to understand that they have real leverage and it doesn’t only consist of their votes.

During this past primary season, I engaged in a level of political activity that was unprecedented for me. In addition to donating to the Sanders campaign what turned out to be about one percent of my annual income, I held a fundraising dinner with friends that raised another (albeit smaller) chunk of money for the campaign. I made phone calls to voters in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma before Super Tuesday and lobbied friends and family members across several states to vote for Sanders. To the extent that tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of others had similar unprecedented experiences, we constitute a political force whose collective fundraising capacity and campaign labor are robust enough to make it worthwhile to a first term Clinton administration to try to earn our support for the 2020 campaign.

What concrete actions would earn my support? I could list several but I’ll limit myself in this post to the issue of presidential appointments in two areas. (I welcome contributions to this list from progressives out there from non-battleground states with similar experiences who see some promise in this approach.)

The first thing a first term Clinton Administration could do to earn my vote in 2020 is to demonstrate independence from the special interests who have financially rewarded Secretary Clinton, members of her family, and the Clinton Foundation with extremely generous speaking fees, lucrative positions, and/or donations. In the appointments process in the domestic policy area this would mean refusing to nominate people to departmental, agency, or judicial positions who are products or beneficiaries of, or otherwise beholden to, those special interests, which include investment banks, private health insurers, fossil fuel industry. For example, don’t choose a Wall Street insider for the position of Secretary of the Treasury. Better a Wall Street whistle blower or an academic Jeremiah who warned of the coming mortgage securities implosion.

In national security deliberations, ensure that the people at the table include those who have proven to be prescient about the limited efficacy of military force as well as those who have expressed concern about imperial overreach. Whether or not the rumor is true that Secretary Clinton was consistently one of the most hawkish people in the room during Obama Administration foreign policy deliberations, she needs to have at the critical meetings foreign policy and national security figures of weight and influence who can provide alternative perspectives to the drumbeat of hawkish advice which so often passes for serious thinking in DC foreign policy circles. In this respect, it would go a long way merely as a symbolic gesture for Secretary Clinton to make clear that she isn’t going to take advice from Henry Kissinger, that he won’t be visiting the White House, that his calls will not be taken, and that any efforts to give advice through back channels will be rebuffed.

Secretary Clinton’s impending choice of a running mate may be the best indication we have of the direction in which she will go in the appointments process. Will she pick a proven progressive and independent voice such as Elizabeth Warren or Tom Perez? Or will she opt for someone firmly in the Clinton mold (e.g., a cultivator of Wall Street and other special interest contacts and money)?

In a future post, the sort of policy proposals that could earn progressive votes will be taken up.

M. Davout is a pseudonym for a professor of political science and critic of US politics, culture, and empire.

The Language of War

language

W.J. Astore

The language of war fascinates me.  I was reading President Obama’s response to Donald Trump on whether Obama “gets it” when it comes to the threat of terrorism and came across this passage:

“Someone [Donald Trump] seriously thinks that we don’t know who we are fighting? If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are — that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”

That’s such a curious phrase: “terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”  As if the United States has simply evacuated them or relocated them instead of killing them.

I think the distancing effect of air power has something to do with this euphemistic language.  The U.S. military “takes people off the battlefield” rather than killing them, blowing them up, and so on.  Obama’s personality may also play a role: a rational person, he’s been compared to the Vulcan Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” in his coolly logical approach to war.

Perhaps that coolly rational side, and not his preference to avoid terms like “radical Islamic terrorism,” is what gets Obama into trouble.  Many Americans would prefer more directness, more passion, even though such directness and passion is often the approach of posturing chickenhawks.  Consider the language of Bush/Cheney and all their blustering about “wanted, dead or alive” and “the axis of evil“ and “you’re either for us or against us.”  Bush/Cheney talked as if they had just walked off a Western movie set after a gunfight, but both avoided the Vietnam War when they were young men, with Cheney famously saying he had other, more important things to do with his life.  (Bush flew in the Texas Air National Guard, apparently gaining a slot after his father pulled some political strings.)

So, what should Obama have said in place of “we’ve taken them off the battlefield”?

Why not be honest and say something like this?  “I’m well into the eighth and final year of my administration, during which I’ve approved drone strikes and air raids that have killed thousands of suspected and confirmed terrorists.  Sure, we’ve often missed some targets, killing innocent people instead, but hey — war is hell.  I’ve approved Pentagon budgets that each year approach $750 billion, I’ve overseen the U.S. dominance of the international trade in weapons, I continue to oversee an empire of roughly 700 overseas U.S. bases.  Some have even called me the assassin in chief, and they’re right about that, because under my command deadly drone strikes have increased dramatically.  Meanwhile, we’ve already made some 12,000 air strikes against ISIS/ISIL.  So don’t tell me, Mr. Trump, that I don’t know who the enemy is.  Don’t tell me I’m not willing to murder terrorists whenever and wherever we find them, even when they’re U.S. citizens and teenagers.  Don’t tell me I don’t get it.”

Those words would be honest – though they’d really just scratch the surface of the Obama-led efforts to secure the “Homeland.”  But instead Obama speaks of “taking” terrorists “off the battlefield,” cloaking his administration’s violent actions in a euphemistic phrase that would be consistent with angels from on high coming down to lift terrorists off the battlefield to some idyllic oasis.

Odd, isn’t it, that so few Americans criticize Obama for his murderous actions in overseas wars, but so many will criticize him for not bragging and boasting about it.

Well, if America is looking for a braggart, someone willing to boast about himself, they have their man in Donald Trump.  If they’re looking for a new assassin in chief, they have their woman in Hillary Clinton.  And if they’re looking for fresh ideas, a new strategy, a way to end our seemingly endless wars, they’re simply out of luck this election season, unless you go to a third-party candidate like Jill Stein.

In these over-heated times, the chances of a third-party challenge with substance are somewhere between nada and nil.  In the United States in 2016, war and weapons sales and imperial expansion will continue to find a way, even as our leaders cloak their violent actions using the most anodyne phrases.

C’est la guerre.

On the Afghan War and Israeli Aid

sparring
Netanyahu: A man who knows how to spar

W.J. Astore

The FP: Foreign Policy feed that I receive had two items that grabbed my attention this morning.  The first involves the war in Afghanistan.  In short, there’s no end in sight.  Unlike in the Vietnam War, no one is seeing any lights at the end of tunnels.  Nevertheless, U.S. and NATO leaders vow to keep supporting Afghan forces as they continue to lose territory to a resurgent Taliban that had basically given up in 2001.

Here’s the latest from FP (co-authored by Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley):

NATO’s not done in Afghanistan. It looks like the United States and NATO are going to stick it out in Afghanistan for at least a few more years, as the Afghan army continues to battle a resurgent Taliban with no end in sight. Following a NATO meeting in Brussels this week, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter “told us the troop numbers and the dispositions are being looked at again,” as President Barack Obama weighs whether to draw the U.S. presence in Afghanistan down from 9,800 to 5,000 by the end of this year. NATO says it’s in, at least through the end of next year. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies are abandoning their plans to pull back to Kabul by the end of this year, and “will have what we call a flexible regional approach, meaning that we will continue to be of course in Kabul but also out in the different regions.”

That’s significant. So are comments by an anonymous NATO diplomat who told the AP that the alliance will most likely come up with the $5 billion needed to fund the current number of Afghan security forces through 2020. The longest of the Long Wars grinds on.

Put bluntly, U.S. and NATO leaders continue to reinforce failure in Afghanistan.  Their strategy, such as it is, is simply more of what hasn’t worked over the last fifteen years.  Apparently, forever war is sustainable to the U.S. and NATO.  No one seems to be asking whether the cost is sustainable to the Afghan people.

The second item involves American aid to Israel, which is primarily military aid.  Here’s how the folks at FP put it:

Israel: After much back and forth sparring, the U.S. and Israel appear to be nearing an agreement on a U.S. military aid package. Israeli officials had been hoping that the Obama administration would agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) promising $40 billion in aid over a decade — an increase of $10 billion over the last MOU. So far, the U.S. has been discussing a deal in the range of $35-37 billion. Other questions about the aid remain up in the air such as whether the final package will include money for missile defense and how much of the money Israel will be able to spend among its own defense contractors versus American companies.

There you have it: the “sparring” between Israel and the U.S. is about whether Israel will get a huge chunk of America aid, or a gargantuan chunk of aid.  Meanwhile, the U.S. government seems to have no influence over the Israeli government.  Netanyahu does pretty much what he wants to do, even as he thumbs his nose at Obama.

The “punishment” for Netanyahu’s intractability – well, there is none.  As a punch-drunk American heavyweight boxer staggers about the ring, a sneering Israeli lightweight launches punch after punch, taunt after taunt.  And after absorbing the punishment the heavyweight simply throws in the towel and agrees to the lightweight’s terms.

Of course, none of this will change under President Hillary Clinton.  If anything, Clinton will pursue the Afghan War with more vigor and ladle even more “aid” to Israel.  Under President Trump, who knows?  All bets are truly off since Trump changes his positions as often as most men change their underwear.  (For example, Trump first affirmed neutrality in negotiating between the Israelis and Palestinians, then pledged one-sided support for Israel in a speech to AIPAC.)

Well, my dad always said, the more things change, the more they remain the same.  In these two cases, he was right – yet again.

The Boorish and Sexist Vulgarity of Donald Trump

trump
Have you no sense of decency, sir?

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump is a tacky, classless, and vulgar man.  Recall back in April that he sent a tweet, since deleted, saying that “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”  Back in December, he wrote that Hillary “got schlonged” by Obama when they ran against one another back in 2008. (“Schlong” is Yiddish for penis; I recall hearing it as a teenager without ever knowing its Yiddish origins, not that etymology mattered much to teens in a locker room context.)

I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton, and indeed I’ve criticized her at this site for her establishment ties, her warmongering, her acceptance of big money from banks, her incrementalism, her lack of generosity toward the working classes when compared to Bernie Sanders, her lack of judgment when it came to her vote on the Iraq War or the intervention in Libya.  And that’s my point: there are plenty of legitimate issues on which to criticize Hillary.  Just think of her unsecure private email server, for example, which she used while leading the State Department.  Hillary and her husband Bill have often acted as if one set of rules applied to them and another set applied to “everyday people” like you and me; call it the hypocrisy of the privileged, a common enough trait in America.

There are so many substantive and important issues to criticize Hillary and Bill on that it’s truly revealing when Trump stoops to attack Hillary just because she’s a woman, just because “she yells,” just because her husband cheated on her (Trump also claimed she “enabled” Bill’s cheating), and just because she lost a previous primary to a man with a penis.  Recall as well when Trump criticized Hillary by saying that if she “were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card.” 

Politics is the land of the rough and tumble, but Trump’s attacks on his opponent that center on her gender and her husband’s cheating are beyond rough.  They are the actions of a crude, tacky, boorish, and classless person, a person whose behavior is uncivil, behavior that would make even teenage boys in a locker room squirm.

Have you no sense of decency, Mr. Trump?