Monday, April 17, 2017

18.5 - Outrage of the Week: militarism unleashed as national policy

Outrage of the Week: militarism unleashed as national policy

Finally, we have our other regular feature; this is the Outrage of the Week.

This week it's a bit different in that it's not about a single issue or a particular event. Rather, it's on a broader question of a part of what I'll call our national ethos.

On April 13 in Afghanistan, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, a 22,000 pound device known as the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast or MOAB, which some have described as standing for "mother of all bombs." It's 10 times the size of the largest generally-used bombs in the US arsenal and has a yield of 11 tons.

Asked if he authorized the use of the bombs, TheRump said "Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately."

Some people, especially on the establishment, Democratric Party-oriented left, jumped on his use of the word "my," claiming he was acting like "a dictator or boy king." But that misses the real point, the important point, which was the statement "We have given them total authorization," which if it means anything, it means "I have told the military to do whatever they damn please and don't bother me with details."

The so-called MOAB provides a clear example: Why use it? Beyond insisting it was "the right weapon," the Pentagon won't say. What did it accomplish? Beyond referring to the claim that 36 insurgents were killed, they won't say that, either. They claim the target was the tunnels and caves used by Daesh in eastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan.

GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast
But they also claim that over recent months Daesh has well over half its fighters and two-thirds of its territory in the country and Daesh is in fact a minor factor in Afghanistan compared to the Taliban. So why use your biggest weapon on your weakest opponent? More to the point, the MOAB is not a ground penetrator. It's not designed to take out things like "tunnels and caves." So it's clearly not "the right weapon," especially when we have ground-penetrating bombs in our arsenal.

So why use it? Because they could. Because they had an open area that they could try it out on. Remember it had never been used in combat and what good is a toy if you can't play with it?

That's what we're seeing: the military being told to do what it wants.

That's why Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, could casually tell the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that he needs "a few thousand" more coalition troops while allowing as how he supposed he could make do with 30,000 - 2.5 times the number there now.

That's why TheRump has witnessed - and I say witnessed, not directed, he just let it happen - a drone strike just about every day he has been in office, a rate five times that of Barack Obama, who was often and rightly condemned for his drone war on multiple Muslim nations.

That's why in Iraq, where despite the lies about it, we have had "boots on the ground" for some time - I suppose I could say back on the ground except that there never was a moment when we didn't have boots on the ground in Iraq - in Iraq the US has streamlined the process for calling in airstrikes, strikes that as Iraqi and other forces get near Mosul have killed an increasing number of civilians, so much so that casualties in March broke records for a single month, so much so that concerns have been raised by human rights organizations including Amensty International that US forces may be acting with an unprecedented disregard for lives of noncombatants.

That's why in Syria, US personnel have expanded their footprint, including a detachment of Marine artillerymen and a contingent of US Army Rangers both entering Syria in March.

That's why the US Air Force has expanded an air base in northern Syria intended to play a major role in the coming attack on Raqqa, Daesh's self-proclaimed capital, another target of increased airstrikes and increased civilian deaths.

What we are seeing here is an expansion of militarism. Contrary to what some have said, we are not seeing a "TheRumpian military policy" except to the extent that the "policy" consists of giving the military a free or at the minimum an increasingly-free hand, and like a horse given its head that may not take off at an immediate gallop but will surely build up to one, we can and should anticipate more airstrikes, more boots on the ground, more drone strikes, more death, more blood, more civilians and other more noncombatants killed, more homes destroyed, more refugees - and more attempts to keep it all just beyond our awareness, just beyond our field of vision, just beyond our sense of outrage.

And that in turn is why the Pentagon will now no longer disclose how many US personnel are deploying to Iraq and Syria and why TheRump has returned authority to conduct drone strikes to the CIA: Those moves allow for more secrecy, the better to keep the carnage we create out of our awareness.

It was said a few decades ago, around the start of the first Gulf War, that Americans would not object to military adventures so long as the number of American casualties was low - that, in effect, we didn't care how many people got killed so long none of us were among the dead. At the time it was thought a horrible moral judgment on Americans which could not be true - but history has shown otherwise and it is now a basic part of Pentagon military strategy. Even so, there is always the chance that our national conscience could be awakened - the way the civilian casualties in Mosul breached the headlines being a fleeting example - so all the more reason to keep even the number of soldiers involved hidden behind a PR smokescreen about "security."

At this point it's important to say no, no, no! Do not fall for the partisan ruse that this all has to do with TheRump, that it is all his doing. The issue, again, is not TheRump, it is militarism. This goes back far, far, before him.

Indeed, we need only go back one administration. Remember that Barack Obama came into office on the wings of optimism and hope and "yes we can" and promises to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He left office with "boots on the ground" in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria and a legacy of an illegal war in Libya, the expansion of the militaristic surveillance state, and having bombed more countries than George Bush did.

The US - the Obama administration - dropped over 23,000 bombs on six nations in 2015 and over 26,000 bombs on seven nations in 2016, totals which are in both cases surely low because a "strike" can involve more than one bomb. And, it needs to be noted, we as a nation stood largely silent - because we weren't the ones doing the dying.

And yet it's not unfair to say that Obama was at least to some extent trying to hold the reins, trying to exert some counterforce, refusing to just turn the military loose. But he faced the same enemy that multiple presidents have faced, the same entrenched - it's become a cliche but that's only because it's accurate - that same Military-Industrial Complex with an appetite for arms and an aptitude for aggression.

So no, this militarism is not something new with TheRump and not his creation and not his doing. What is different here, what is threatening here, is that he is prepared to stand by and let it happen.

And the potential consequences that presents for unknown numbers of people around the world is a true moral outrage.

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