The War in Yemen

Map of Yemen from 2017 that shows the site of the botched SEAL Team raid at Yakla

W.J. Astore

I haven’t followed the Saudi war in Yemen that closely. But I’d wager most Americans know far less about it than I do. I know the U.S. has been supporting Saudi Arabia in its bloody repression of Iranian-backed Yemeni forces (the Houthis), providing critical resources such as aerial refueling, intelligence sharing, and, most importantly, an endless supply of weaponry. I know this support has been couched as consistent with a “war on terror,” when it’s driven much more by the U.S. need to appease Saudi rulers for economic reasons (primarily the petrodollar and oil exports). I know the Yemeni people have suffered greatly due to famine and diseases exacerbated by constant warfare and economic blockades. I know Joe Biden campaigned against the war and criticized Saudi officials but as president has done nothing to stop it. And I know a bipartisan force in Congress is trying to take steps to end America’s involvement in what essentially constitutes a genocide against the Yemeni people.

Occasionally, Yemen has appeared in my articles here, as with the SEAL Team fiasco launched by President Trump in late January 2017. (One Navy SEAL died in the raid; his father later accused the Trump administration of hiding behind the death of his son instead of admitting the raid had been a murderous failure.) In passing, I’ve mentioned Yemen in a few articles like this one, but again it’s not something I’ve written about in detail. I’ve been focused on the Afghan war, the military-industrial complex, the new Cold War, plans to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, and on and on.

Fortunately, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, Naseh Shaker, contacted me with a few questions that got me thinking a bit more about Yemen and the U.S. government’s role there. His article addresses whether Congress has any chance of invoking the War Powers Act to limit or end America’s involvement in this brutal war, given the reality that President Biden is once again courting and kowtowing to the Saudis. You can read his article here, which includes a few comments by me, but it may be useful to include his original questions to me, and my responses to them. He asked me to keep my responses short, 2-3 sentences, which I did:

Questions by Naseh Shaker

1- Why the US is sanctioning Russia for invading Ukraine but when it comes to the Saudi invasion of Yemen, the US is providing the Saudis with all logistics and weapons as if it is the American war, not the Saudi war?

2- Why Biden doesn’t fulfill his promise to end the war in Yemen?

3- Is invoking the War Powers Resolution (WPR) an attempt from Democrats to cover Biden’s scandal of not ending the war in Yemen as he promised?

4- If WPR is passed, does it mean the US is responsible for Saudi war crimes in Yemen given that it is providing the coalition “intelligence sharing” and “logistical support for offensive Saudi-led coalition strikes”? 

Answers by William Astore

Question 1: The US sees Russia as a rival and an enemy.  The US sees Saudi Arabia as an ally and a friend.  Put differently, the US economy owes much to the petrodollar and the Saudi appetite for expensive American-made weaponry.

Question 2: Because he doesn’t really care about the Yemeni people.  He cares about maintaining good relations with the Saudis.

Question 3: Unclear.  But I don’t think Democrats consider it a “scandal” that Biden failed to keep his promise.  There are many other promises Biden failed to keep, such as a $15 federal minimum wage for Americans, and these failed promises are not treated as “scandals.”

Question 4: The US government refuses to take responsibility for its own war crimes, so it certainly isn’t going to admit to responsibility or culpability for Saudi crimes.

Ignorance is a major enemy in the USA. We owe it to ourselves as citizens (and to what’s left of our democracy) to inform ourselves about what our government is up to, especially when what it’s up to is killing, whether directly or indirectly, untold numbers of people around the world.

The war in Yemen has killed at least 377,000 people. To what end? For what purpose? How is aiding the Saudis in this war remotely related to the defense of our country?

End the killing. End the wars. Let’s do something right for a change.

How Are We to Understand the Russia-Ukraine War?

Biden, Putin, and Zelensky.

W.J. Astore and M. Davout

My esteemed colleague Davout and I have different ways of looking at the Russia-Ukraine War.  We thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to share our differing perspectives here, allowing our readers to think over the merits of our approaches and the validity of our conclusions.  Davout has framed the questions and made the initial response; I get the last word, so to speak, for each question.  Our mutual intent is not to “win” a pseudo-debate but to pose questions and provide answers that inform and stimulate.  To that end, here we go.

What caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Davout: Putin’s desire to reestablish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe and ensure the stability of his autocratic regime has been the main driver of the invasion. In 2005, Putin declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” What was catastrophic about it for Putin? The eastern flank of the former Soviet Union, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, and Ukraine shifted from being an appendage of an authoritarian Soviet regime to being a collection of independent democracies or democracies-in-process. Membership in the European Union and in NATO has either been achieved (the Baltic states) or been pursued (Ukraine pursuing both, Moldova pursuing European Union membership only). None of these countries (not to mention the formerly occupied countries of Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia) singly or together have the capacity or will to invade Russia or otherwise project military power across Russian borders. The real threat to which Putin is responding is the example set by the people of former Soviet territories opting for more democratic, less corrupt regimes and societies. That example endangers his own hold on power and pushes his own society toward historical irrelevance.

Astore: Putin was obviously the prime mover of the invasion.  He chose the military option, and he surely believed it would strengthen his authority over a former Soviet republic that was tracking toward joining NATO.

When we speak of causes, however, it’s often wise to take a broad view over a breadth of time.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO’s reason for being ended with it.  Nevertheless, NATO persisted, expanding to the very borders of Russia despite assurances to Russian leaders that the alliance would not expand eastwards beyond a newly unified Germany.  Russian leaders, including Putin, had issued clear warnings that NATO expansion into Ukraine would constitute a “red line,” the crossing of which would likely lead to a military response.  Putin’s decision to invade, therefore, was eminently predictable, thus it was also potentially preventable. The United States, which leads NATO, could have sent a clear signal to Russia that Ukraine should and would remain a neutral buffer state.  The US chose not to do so.

One may question the premise of Ukraine as a “more democratic, less corrupt regime.”  In Ukraine, corruption is endemic, exacerbated by extensive U.S. meddling, as in the notorious coup of 2014 orchestrated in part by Victoria Nuland, citing the support of then-Vice President Joe Biden.  And while it’s important to recognize Russian regional hegemonic ambitions, one should never forget the global hegemonic ambitions of the U.S. empire.  In sum, the US has not been an innocent bystander here.  

US proxy war or Ukrainian war of independence?

Davout: A proxy war is a conflict instigated by a state in which it does not directly engage in hostilities. This war was a war of choice on the part of Putin. It has had the unintended result of inspiring patriotic resistance (even amongst Russian-speaking Ukrainians who were formerly pro-Russian like the mayor of Odessa). In the lead up to the invasion, the US and its NATO allies attempted to dissuade Putin from invading. In the invasion’s aftermath, they have provided critical arms and support to Ukraine and have sought economically to undermine Russia’s war-making capacities. While current official US policy may be the crippling of Russia’s capacity to engage in another such invasion in the near future, the US did not instigate this war in pursuit of this aim. While US and NATO armaments are a necessary factor in Ukraine’s continued defense against the Russian invasion, it is Ukrainian solidarity and resolve and Russian refusal to end its invasion that keep this war going.

Astore: Clearly, most Ukrainians believe they are fighting for their independence.  Ukraine has no desire to become a Putin puppet state.  Nor, however, do they wish to become a puppet state to the USA.

Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, spoke clearly that weakening Russia was a key goal of this conflict.  To that end, the US government, in a rare show of bipartisan unity, provided $54 billion in largely military aid to a Ukrainian military with a yearly budget of $6 billion.  Such profligacy is not an example of generosity driven by disinterested ideals.  Clearly, the US sees this war as the latest front in a new cold war, a way to stress Russia to the breaking point.  As President Biden openly stated, that man (Putin) must go.

So, it’s worse than a proxy war: it’s yet another US regime-change war.  The stated goal is to topple Putin and turn Russia into a divided and dysfunctional state, much like it was in the 1990s when Western corporations and financial institutions invaded Russia and exploited it in the name of capitalism and reform.   

Are there any legitimate parallels to draw between Putin and Hitler?

Davout: Yes, though the parallels with Hitler are not the same parallels so often drawn to delegitimize non-interventionists as appeasers. Historian John Lukacs’s various histories of Hitler’s strategizing in that crucial period after the invasion of France to the start of the Battle of Britain paint a picture of Hitler less as the hubristic dictator irrationally striving for world conquest than as a canny but flawed geopolitical strategist, driven by geopolitical grievance and with a large capacity to hate those who opposed him. Lukacs argues that Hitler was prepared to cut a deal with Great Britain on terms that would allow Germany to exercise hegemonic powers on the continent. It was Churchill’s longstanding aversion to Hitler and Hitlerism and his ability to maintain British popular support for the war that blocked Hitler’s strategy to cut a deal. Once his overture was blocked by Churchill, Hitler underestimated British morale in the Battle of Britain. Then, in an effort to circumvent Britain’s resistance, Hitler gambled that he could cripple Stalin’s war making capacity and knock him out of the war and thereby present England with a fait accompli of German hegemony on the continent. The picture of Hitler Lukacs draws can plausibly be applied to Putin—a grievance-driven leader attempting to restore a lost geopolitical sphere of influence, who has miscalculated the resolve of democratic leaders and peoples and has doubled down on violence.

Astore:  In a word, no.  

Whenever American leaders want to justify military action and high spending on weaponry, they turn to Hitler and World War II.  The claim is made that we must stop the “new” Hitler.  We must not be appeasers.  Saddam Hussein was allegedly the new Hitler in 2003; his WMD was supposed to be a mushroom cloud on our horizon.  But there was no WMD and eliminating Saddam by invasion tipped Iraq into a disastrous civil war from which that country has yet to recover. 

Putin isn’t the new Hitler, and his invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent the kind of existential threat the Third Reich presented to democracies in 1938-39.

Hitler had the finest military machine of his day backed by the economic powerhouse that was Germany in the late 1930s. Putin’s military machine is mediocre at best, and Russia’s economy is smaller than that of California.  Putin doesn’t appear to be seeking a huge empire or world domination, as Hitler was.  And while Hitler may have temporarily played nice with Britain, that didn’t prevent the Nazis from hatching plans to invade and loot Britain and to massacre its Jews as well.

Of course, Putin was wrong to have invaded Ukraine, but George W. Bush was wrong to have invaded Iraq in 2003.  Both these leaders have essentially nothing in common with Hitler, who was sui generis–a tyrannical dictator driven by genocidal fantasies of world dominance by a “master race.”

To what extent is US democracy hurt or helped by the Biden Administration’s policy of military support for Ukrainian resistance?    

Davout: Seeing his country in hostile competition with western democracies, Putin has deployed various forms of soft power and hard power to undermine confidence in, and injure the working of, democratic regimes. Hackers and internet influencers employed by the Russian state have intervened in the elections of established democracies either to foster social distrust or to promote candidates (e.g., Trump) and policies (e.g., Brexit) that weaken adversary countries. Military interventions are carried out on Russia’s border to maintain regimes favorable to Putin (as was the case when a popular uprising against fraudulent elections in Belarus was put down with the help of Russian soldiers). Meanwhile, as was documented by the Panama and Pandora Papers, the huge amounts of money pilfered from the Russian people by oligarchs moves through the banking, legal, and commercial institutions of democratic countries (including South Dakota!) with corrupting effect on people and officials alike. To be sure, the US has corruption problems of its own. And US military support of Ukraine will have the unfortunate result of strengthening the position of defense contractors and their lobbyists, Pentagon brass, and congressional hawks. However, it would be worst for US democracy if Russian ambitions to occupy or dismember Ukraine succeed. This would undermine European democracies whose continued survival and flourishing provide democratic reformers in the US with critically important role models and partners.

Astore: US democracy hasn’t been hurt or helped by this war because the US is a democracy in name only.

In reality, the US is an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful rule at the expense of the many.  The unofficial fourth branch of government is the US National Security State, a leviathan of enormous power. Its biggest component is what President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 termed the military-industrial complex (to which he added Congress as well).  This MICC is profiting greatly from this war, not only in the $54 billion in aid provided to Ukraine, but also in the ever-rising Pentagon budget for FY 2023, which will exceed $813 billion, a gargantuan sum justified in part by the Russia-Ukraine War.

The new cold war with Russia, and increasingly with China as well, is strengthening the state of permanent war in America.  As James Madison warned, permanent warfare serves autocracy while insidiously destroying democracy. As militarism becomes more deeply entrenched in the US government, and as that same government continues to send more destructive weaponry to Ukraine such as artillery and missile systems, options for de-escalation narrow even as chances for a nightmarish escalation to nuclear war, whether by design or accident, increase.

What would truly strengthen democracy in America, assuming it could somehow be reanimated, is if the USA pressed ahead with all its strength to broker a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is getting wrecked by this war, and our aggressive actions, mainly in providing more and more lethal weaponry together with onerous sanctions, are guaranteed to shred more bodies and aggravate economic dislocation both here and in Europe.

Readers, what are your thoughts here?

Coda by M. Davout (6/6/22)

W. J. Astore has asked me to compose a “coda” of sorts, in which I might add some concluding reflections about the commentary provoked by our different views on the war in Ukraine. 

Yes, there is a relevant pre-2022 history to the current conflict—decades old promises from US officials to Russian officials about not expanding NATO east of the Oder, a popular pro-West Ukrainian uprising (supported by Western intelligence agencies, some have plausibly argued) against a Ukrainian administration’s decision to reject closer ties with the European Union (as was the will of the Ukrainian parliament) in favor of the Ukrainian president’s decision to push the country toward closer ties with Russia, a counter-uprising in the Donbas that drew Russian political and military support, etc. But there is also the fact of a full-scale military invasion against a country that posed little if any military threat to Russian borders, a military invasion that has led to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and combatants and the uprooting of millions of Ukrainians. 

It is undeniable that the invasion has promoted patriotic solidarity among different language speakers within Ukraine against the invasion, including Russian speaking Ukrainians whose rights Putin’s invasion was presumably intended to defend. It is also undeniable that voter support for Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion is very high in Eastern European countries. More noteworthy is the fact that in Western European countries, governments have been forced to respond to the pro-Ukrainian sentiments of their voters by sending arms to Ukraine and destroying longstanding economic relationships with Russia to the financial detriment of both European businesses and consumers.   

So the situation is nowhere near as neat or clear as either my contributions or Astore’s contributions or the contributions of the majority of the commentators would have it be. In this regard, the comments of Denise Donaldson strike me as the most interesting. You can tell that she can see the issue from both sides and is struggling with that ambiguity. 

That is the place to be on the Ukraine war, I think: struggling with ambiguity. There is no clearly right answer: the war is not solely a product of American empire, nor is it solely a product of Russian empire. And there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes. 

But, in politics, one has to make choices and, for now, I choose align myself with current US and NATO policy. Not because I am a dupe of the mainstream media or a supporter of the Establishment or the MIC (my earlier posts on this website should put those notions to rest) but because I believe the expulsion of the Russian military from the Ukrainian lands it currently occupies (maybe including Crimea, maybe not) is both possible and more likely to lead to a lasting peace in eastern Europe. And my taking that position does not mean that I do not also see some merit in the points my esteemed colleague WJ Astore (and his many followers) make.

Response by Astore (6/6/22)

I would like to thank M. Davout for his reasoned response and for continuing this important discussion. One thing I can say with certainty: you won’t hear such a nuanced and broad debate in the mainstream media, which basically just sells U.S. weaponry while waving Ukrainian flags in our faces.

Davout suggests that Ukraine posed no threat to Russia. Alone, that is true. But Ukraine was planning to join NATO, a powerful alliance led by the world’s most hegemonic country. Surely, that combination was something for Russia to be wary of, and even to fear.

When Americans think of Russia, many negative images come to mind. The evils of communism. A charging and rampaging Russian bear. But Russia has had its share of devastation. Davout certainly knows the rampage of Napoleon’s empire in 1812. Russia and the Soviet Union were almost destroyed by World Wars I and II. Russian leaders have been reassured by Western leaders before that “we come in peace,” but surely 1812, 1914, and 1941 taught Russia much about trusting Western assurances.

Look at a map. From a Russian perspective, NATO surrounds them. Look at military budgets. The U.S. and NATO combined spend more than 20 times what Russia spends. If the roles were reversed and we were the Russians, might we see this differently?

My point is not to excuse Russia’s invasion but to offer a partial explanation.

I agree with Davout that by this point “there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes.” Therefore, I choose not to align myself with current US and NATO policy, since I see this as recklessly escalatory and focused primarily on providing more and more weaponry to kill more and more Russians (and Ukrainians too). I propose an immediate cease fire, the end of arms shipments to Ukraine, and negotiation that would end with some territory being ceded to Russia, a promise from NATO and Ukraine that the latter will remain neutral, and a promise from Russia that Ukraine will not be attacked again, and that its territorial integrity will be respected. I would also insist on Russia paying reparations dedicated to rebuilding Ukraine. Finally, the U.S. should end all sanctions on Russia and redirect its aid entirely to rebuilding Ukraine rather than to more weaponry.

I think this approach would save lives and restore equilibrium to Europe while avoiding dangerous escalation that could conceivably end in nuclear war. It’s time for statesmanship and compromise, rather than militaristic grandstanding and mendacious obstinacy.

Sadly, I see no one in the US government with the sagacity and cojones to join Putin and Zelensky in working to stop this war reasonably and quickly.

Priming the Pump for More War

W.J. Astore

A reader contacted me about China, Russia, and risks for war. One thing history has taught me is to be humble about predicting anything. Here was my response:

Have to admit I don’t know what China is planning.  I understand the policy of “One China,” i.e. that Taiwan is still part of China.  I don’t know if China is planning war.  I tend to doubt it.  Unlike the U.S., China is patient and careful.  But war by miscalculation is always possible.  Just look at 1914.  Here in the USA, we keep hearing that China is our most serious potential enemy.  That kind of rhetoric is not helpful, to put it mildly.

With respect to the Russia-Ukraine war, history teaches us that war is unpredictable, even chaotic.  The war already approaches 90 days, longer than most people predicted, I think, with no clear end in sight.  Meanwhile, the USA is planning to send $40 billion in “aid,” mostly military, on top of the already $12 billion or so that we’ve sent.  This money is not intended to end the war; indeed, it can only prolong it.

So I’m not optimistic about any of this.  It all strikes me as reckless and escalatory.

If I had but one message for my country, it would be this: Reject militarism. Reclaim democracy. Reinvest in America. Restore peace.

But we’re doing the very opposite of my message. We’re priming the pump for more war. Meanwhile, more violence overseas feeds more violence at home. And the government’s response is always the same: More police internally and more troops externally. More spending on police and the military. More focus on “security” achieved through weaponry and surveillance.

To me, it’s sobering and sad how broadly yet narrowly we define “national security.” It’s broad in the sense that America seeks full-spectrum dominance of the land, sea, air, space, and cyber; that global reach, global power, and global dominance is the goal; that the U.S. military splits the globe into “commands” headed by four-star generals and admirals. Yet it’s narrow because we don’t equate security with having affordable health care, a clean environment, a quality education, safe water and healthy food, and similar, non-military essentials.

How can we be safe and secure when kids are drinking water with lead and other toxic chemicals in it? When sickness leads to personal bankruptcy? When people can’t afford to put gas in their tanks while putting food in their bellies and paying their rent? When they have to ration essential drugs like insulin?

Instead of priming the pump for more war, we should be doing everything possible to work toward peace. Ike told us this in 1953, JFK in 1963, and MLK in 1967. George McGovern in 1972 told America to come home, to reject constant warfare overseas, and to focus on healing our country and its divisions.

Yet the pacific wisdom of leaders like Ike, JFK, MLK, and McGovern is being repressed in America today. If Ike gave his 1953 “Cross of Iron” speech today, explaining how weapons spending represents a theft from the American people, he’d be dismissed as muddleheaded and misguided. If JFK gave his 1963 speech calling for peace with the Russians, he’d be called a Putin puppet. If MLK gave his 1967 speech about the evils of militarism, materialism, and racism in America, he’d be called unpatriotic and even traitorous. (As he pretty much was in 1967, but that’s another story.) And McGovern and his principled anti-war stance? He’d never get near the Democratic nomination as a presidential candidate. (Indeed, that’s why the DNC invented super-delegates.) Doubtless he’d be smeared as an isolationist, as a Russian (or Chinese) agent, as an idealistic dupe or a useful idiot for America’s alleged enemies.

So we keep priming the pump for more war. And I have some experience priming a hand pump for water. Keep cranking that handle (war rhetoric), keep adding some water (more and more weaponry and troops), and soon enough the water starts gushing out.

When will war start gushing out for America? Don’t events at home and abroad suggest it’s already beginning to flow?

Thursday Thoughts

W.J. Astore

The U.S. government continues to denounce Putin for “genocidal” war crimes yet continues to persecute journalist Julian Assange for revealing war crimes. Contradiction?

Julian Assange’s persecution really isn’t about Assange anymore. It’s about intimidating other journalists and whistleblowers who’d dare to reveal the crimes of empire committed by the United States.

If I suggest that NATO expansion to the borders of Russia was a provocative move that was almost guaranteed to provoke hostility with Russia, as prominent experts like George Kennan and Henry Kissinger warned us about in the 1990s, does that make me a Putin puppet? Are Kennan and Kissinger retroactive puppets?

If I suggest that sending billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine is not in the cause of peace, that more people will die as a result, Ukrainian and Russian, does that make me a Putin puppet?

They say that bipartisanship is dead in Washington, yet why are both parties boosting Pentagon spending and competing with one another on how much weaponry can be sent to Ukraine without provoking nuclear Armageddon? That last part — do we trust the geniuses in Washington to walk that nuclear tightrope?

The Saudis recently made a major $2 billion investment in Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Looks like they’re betting on a Trump victory in 2024. Speaking of Kushner, he gained admittance to Harvard only after his father made a mega-donation to the school. Or maybe it was a MAGA-donation?

I was asked what I thought of Russia’s new offensive in eastern Ukraine. Here was my response:

The short answer is war is war and it’s going to be ugly, especially in cities and other built-up areas.

Of course, there’s new technology like drones and guided missiles, e.g. Javelin and Stinger.  Those missiles will make it more difficult for Russia to prevail.  I’m guessing the Russians will use more artillery as a way of neutralizing Stinger and Javelin operators.  What that means is more destruction, more “collateral damage.”  More blood and guts.

I expect the Russians will lean on “combined arms” operations, meaning closer coordination among infantry, tanks, artillery, and airpower.  If you just send in tanks without cover, they’re going to get knocked out, which we’ve seen in videos.

What we could see is guerrilla warfare by Ukrainian forces in smashed cities, which is truly terrible for the people of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the U.S. keeps sending weapons in the name of peace …

I also got asked whether Putin would resort to nuclear weapons if the war in Ukraine went poorly for him. Here was my response to that:

Putin won’t use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.  He’d have nothing to gain here.

The danger of nuclear weapons arises if the war were to widen outside of Ukraine.  For example, if NATO enforced a no-fly zone and started shooting down Russian planes, I could see Putin responding with a tactical nuclear strike against a NATO airbase.  That would risk a wider nuclear war, truly a horrifying scenario, which is why those who are calling for NATO escalation and direct involvement in the war are being irresponsible.

Of course, “irresponsible” is putting it mildly. “Batshit crazy” is more like it.

If more of America’s politicians were historians, or indeed almost any profession other than “lawyer,” would we see a bit more care and humility in their words and deeds? Sophistry, cleverness with words, fancy rhetoric, and blatant hypocrisy may play well in court when it’s all backed up by money, and lots of it, but it doesn’t necessarily play well on the battlefield. If lawyer-speak and lies won wars, America would be undefeated. (With apologies to principled lawyers everywhere who know the value of personal integrity and who fight for justice.)

“Dream it true” is a slogan I see in ads today in America. MLK had a dream, but he sure worked hard to put it in motion, and for all his work he paid for it with his life. Meanwhile, the dream still isn’t true, which isn’t the fault of MLK, who gave his life for his dream of a better America.

People may think Greta Thunberg is being overly dramatic here in her speech about climate change and the empty words of elite powerbrokers, but I think these are the sanest words I’ve ever heard.

Did you know the USA plans to “invest” $2 trillion in new nuclear weapons over the next 30-50 years? Imagine what $2 trillion could do if focused on green energy and a greener, cleaner environment. More nukes, or cleaner water and air: which should we be investing in? Hmm … I wonder.

Can’t Men Give It A Break?

W.J. Astore

Can’t men give it a break? That’s what my wife asked me this morning. She was talking about the Russia-Ukraine war, and she has a point. Whether in the USA, Russia, or Ukraine, you get a lot of men posing as tough, cheering on the war while putting on their big boy pants. Joe Biden appears to relish denouncing Putin as a “war criminal” who’s committing “genocide.” Western media has seemingly fallen in love with Zelensky, a political novice, a former actor and comedian, who’s now being lionized as a hero and statesman, mentioned in the same breath as Winston Churchill. For his part, Putin’s hardline stance and his pursuit of war seems to be winning him more support among the Russian people. War is good for all these men — until it isn’t.

As my wife said this AM, what about the impact of war on animals? The environment? We know that war kills people, often enough innocents caught in the crossfire and shellfire. But what about the impact of all these weapons on the flora and fauna, the environment around us, the soil and the water, the very air that we breathe?

Especially in military circles, it’s very easy to talk about war in the abstract, about ships and tanks and planes, about no-fly zones and cauldrons and moving units around on a map. Far tougher it is to see war in all its enormity, in all its chaos, in all its destructiveness. What’s it all for? What justifies the destruction of Ukraine, or any other country for that matter? What is the point of it all?

A solution to this war seems readily at hand. Ukraine should agree to being a neutral country that won’t join NATO. Eastern areas of Ukraine that are predominately Russian could be autonomous states. Russia should remove all troops and help in the rebuilding of Ukraine. Instead of sending billions in weaponry, the U.S. should send billions in aid to help rebuild Ukraine after hostilities cease.

End the war. End the killing. Be real men.

End the war. End the killing. Be real men. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS,ALEXEY DRUZHININ,VALENTYN OGIRENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

War Itself Is the Crime

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I was asked to comment on alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and why Russia should be “rightly charged” for them. This is what I wrote in response:

War itself is the crime, unless it’s a defensive war of necessity. Even then, all wars generate atrocity.

I really don’t know if Russia should be “rightly charged” with war crimes.  They are “alleged” and not proven.  And the U.S. doesn’t recognize the ICC (International Criminal Court at The Hague); we are an “observer” but not a member.  So the U.S. can’t formally charge Russia with war crimes since our government doesn’t recognize the court that tries such crimes, as I understand it.

I’ve read about alleged war crimes in Ukraine. They should be investigated. But that investigation will take time, especially if you’re looking for an informed, impartial, one, based on sound evidence. In the meantime, I’d caution against a rush to judgment.

President Biden, of course, has already called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. But if Putin is a war criminal who warrants a trial before the ICC, we must admit that American leaders like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden also warrant trials before the ICC for their roles in facilitating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as regime change actions in Libya and Syria, among other exercises in imperialism. Consider all the drone strikes executed while Obama/Biden were in power, and all the innocent civilians who were killed, as Daniel Hale (among others) told us, for which he was sent to prison for four years.

In America, war criminals walk free; courageous whistle blowers like Hale are imprisoned.

And we’re going to lecture the world on who’s a war criminal?

Daniel Hale blew the whistle on murderous U.S. drone strikes. For his act of conscience, the U.S. imprisoned him for four years

The United States Is 100% in the Right

W.J. Astore

Congressman Ro Khanna is a Democrat from California who counts himself as a progressive. He recently spoke with Briahna Joy Gray for her podcast, Bad Faith. The interview is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhnNJctvYTA

During the interview, Gray asked the Congressman about the Russia-Ukraine war and whether the U.S. contributed in any way to Russia’s decision to invade. Here’s a quick summary of Khanna’s position:

Nothing the USA did (or didn’t do) contributed in any way to the Russian decision to invade. Ukraine is a just war (for the Ukraine and USA, of course) and is 100% Putin’s fault. U.S. actions have been 100% in the right, and U.S. weapons shipments have been critical to saving Ukraine from Russian dominance. The U.S. is on the side of the vulnerable women and children in Ukraine and is supporting the freedom of a sovereign country.

Well, there you have it. Nothing the U.S. has ever done, or is doing now, is in the wrong with respect to Ukraine. The expansion of NATO, the U.S.-orchestrated coup in Ukraine in 2014, continued arms shipments to Ukraine since the coup: these actions were all 100% right and also did nothing to provoke the Russians to invade.

Naturally, I myself am against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I wish for the quickest possible diplomatic settlement and an end to the killing. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to how U.S. actions contributed to tensions in the area before the war, and are continuing to this day to make matters worse. (Consider Joe Biden’s declaration that Putin is a “war criminal” who must be removed from power. Not much room for negotiating there!)

Take NATO expansion beginning in the 1990s. NATO was supposed to be a defensive military alliance to deter and prevent Soviet military expansion; when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO’s reason for being collapsed with it. But NATO, showing the resilience of well-entrenched bureaucracies, found a new reason to exist. Its new mission, as events have shown, is not to defend against Soviet/Russian expansion, but instead to expand to the very borders of Russia, leaving the Russian people isolated, surrounded by a “defensive” alliance that keeps buying advanced military weaponry, much of it made in the USA.

NATO was not supposed to expand beyond a unified Germany, or so the Russians were told. Many prominent American officials warned that NATO expansion would aggravate regional tensions, leading possibly to a future war. We don’t need to say “possibly” anymore.

NATO expansion envisioned Ukraine becoming a member at some future date, regardless of Russian warnings that this wouldn’t be tolerated. Admitting such historical facts doesn’t absolve Putin of blame for Russia’s calamitous invasion, but it does provide essential context. Saying the U.S. is completely blameless is bonkers, but politically it sells well, I guess, and that’s all that Ro Khanna seemingly cares about.

If a so-called anti-war progressive like Ro Khanna can’t admit that the U.S. might be 1% responsible for tensions in the area, and 99% blameless, without being accused of being a Putin puppet, where are we at as a country?

Isn’t it great to be on the side of the angels and 100% right again, America?

Joe Biden’s Careless Rhetoric

W.J. Astore

They do not inspire confidence

Joe Biden has done it again, calling for Vladimir Putin’s removal from office as president of Russia, and refusing to apologize for it. Being charitable, I’m calling this rhetoric “careless,” but really it’s inflammatory and even unhinged when you consider the U.S. and Russia could easily destroy the world in a nuclear war.

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden. When he ran for president in 1987-88, he lied about being near the top of his class (he was near the bottom, actually), lied about how many majors he took, lied about an award he falsely said he’d earned, and generally came off looking like a lightweight. He was trying way too hard, including “borrowing” without attribution, i.e. plagiarizing, from the speeches of Neil Kinnock and Bobby Kennedy. Most political commentators back then dismissed him as a has-been before he ever was.

But Biden bided his time, improved his bona fides with the big money players, and became the boring white guy sidekick to the upstart Barack Obama in 2008. Biden served loyally as Obama’s VP for eight years, failing to distinguish himself in any meaningful way. Occasionally, he’d blurt out something tough, something manly, like the time he commented about confronting the Islamic State at “the gates of hell,” but it was all bluster.

When Biden ran for president in 2019-20, he was obviously well past his prime, which was never that high to begin with. But he promised the owners and donors that nothing would fundamentally change if he was elected, the one promise he’s kept since he gained office. Throughout his campaign, he lied through his blindingly white teeth about how he supported a $15 federal minimum wage and how he’d work for a single-payer option for health care, among many other whoppers. One of those whoppers has gained considerable press lately: his son Hunter’s laptop and the emails on it, which Biden said was an obvious Kremlin plant. Wrong again, Joe. Hunter’s emails were all-too-real and incriminating, as was his phony yet high-paying job ($50,000 a month) for Burisma in Ukraine.

Politics is almost always a miserable affair, now more than ever, but during the campaign Biden showed he was a gaffe-prone liar who was nearing the end of his mental tether. No matter. The mainstream media got behind him and plenty of Americans were rightly fed up with Donald Trump and his bungling of the response to Covid-19, and that was enough to make him president.

Biden is now pushing 80, slurring words, and calling Putin a war criminal and saying that he needs to go. It’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from a blowhard who’s had a few too many drinks at the bar, not from America’s most senior leader.

I joked to my wife that I really don’t want to die today in a nuclear war due to Biden’s bizarre bombast. If any leader needs to go, it’s probably Joe Biden, but he has an iron-clad insurance policy: if he goes, we get Kamala “giggles” Harris as our new president. So I guess I have to be very careful what I wish for.

There was a time when America produced leaders like FDR, Ike, George C. Marshall, even Ronald Reagan, who had the guts to dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. Reagan may have called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but he also knew how to negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev for a better, safer world. America is hamstrung today by narcissistic nincompoops like Biden, Harris, and Trump; somehow, we have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and find it within ourselves to demand better.

Pity Ukraine, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and any other War Zone

W.J. Astore

As Russia’s invasion drags on, more and more destruction is visited upon Ukraine. Western media coverage is filled with images of this destruction, but rarely did we see images of widespread destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan during those U.S. wars. Meanwhile, the Saudi war in Yemen drags on as well, essentially uncovered and ignored by mainstream media outlets, even though that war is supported and enabled by the U.S. military.

It’s supposed to be good news, I guess, that Russia is “stalemated” in Ukraine, according to Western media outlets. If true, what this really means is a longer war with even more destruction, especially given major shipments of weapons to Ukraine by the United States and NATO. Weapons like the Javelin missile system, made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, are supposed to even the odds for Ukraine. What they’re effectively doing is ensuring a longer, more devastating, war.

Javelin missile system, carefully crafted in the USA, shipped generously to Ukraine, paid for by U.S. taxpayers

At NBC News today, I noted the following snippet: “Russia has roughly four times as many troops as Ukraine’s 130,000-strong army. It also spends about $78 billion on its armed forces annually, compared to the $1.6 billion Ukraine has been able to budget for its military.”

NBC failed to note that the U.S. military annually spends roughly $780 billion , ten times as much as its Russian counterpart. Meanwhile, it appears the Russian military is weakening due to this invasion. A weaker Russian military suggests that the U.S. military budget can decrease in FY2023. NATO-member countries’ spending on their militaries is due to rise, yet another reason why U.S. military spending could conceivably decrease. But of course Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being seized upon by the military-industrial-congressional complex as the primary reason why U.S. spending on weapons and warfare must soar ever higher.

Recall that President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s goal was to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Europe when European countries were back on their feet after World War II and able to fund their own militaries. We’re acting as if Ike’s goal will never be met. Put differently, we’re acting as if America’s right flank truly sat at the border of Ukraine rather than along the Atlantic seaboard.

The U.S., of course, acts as a global hegemon. No price is apparently too high to pay for global dominance. But when one seeks to dominate the world while losing one’s fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, while impoverishing the lives of one’s people, especially the neediest and most vulnerable, what has one truly gained?

For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his immortal soul?

Critical Media Literacy

W.J. Astore

He who pays the piper calls the tune is a saying I learned from my dad. He also taught me to never believe anything you read and only half of what you see. Direct experience is best, of course, but even when you’re living through an historical event, your perspective is necessarily limited and filtered through your own biases. All my readers, I’m assuming, don’t currently have direct experience of the war in Ukraine. So how do we know what’s really going on? And who’s paying the piper to call the tune on the media coverage of the same?

I was thinking of all this as I watched Briahna Joy Gray talk to Abby Martin on Gray’s show, “Bad Faith.” Both women remind us that major networks like Fox, MSNBC, CNN, PBS and the like are captured by corporations and rely on advertising revenue from Raytheon, Pfizer, and similar powerhouses of the military-industrial complex, big Pharma (drug pushers and dealers), and of course fossil fuel companies. They pay the piper and therefore call the tunes that we hear daily.

The result, as Abby Martin says here, is that the Russia-Ukraine war becomes a “cartoon binary that infantilizes us all,” in which Putin is Sauron and Zelensky is both Gandalf the White and Frodo, sage wizard and plucky underdog, to use characters from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

Is that you, Putin?

Anti-Russian hysteria has grown so common that my local liquor store was at pains to tell me that Stoli vodka comes from Latvia, not Russia, therefore I could still in good conscience purchase it without serving Sauron/Putin.

Mainstream media networks in the U.S. are owned by five major corporations, notes Martin, and their goal is to control the narrative while strengthening their positions and maximizing profits. This is why it might be wise to remember not to believe everything, or anything, that you read, and to remember as well that the pipers we listen to on the air are not free to call their own tunes.

Anyway, I highly recommend Gray and Martin’s interview. Enjoy, readers!