Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Systemic Atrocity of Afghanistan's Occupation

by Ross Caputi                                       Guardian/UK                                         March 14, 2012

The death of innocent civilians is nothing new in Afghanistan, but these 16 victims, nine of whom were children, were allegedly murdered by a rogue soldier, rather than the usual killers – drone attacks, air strikes and stray bullets. This incident has elicited rage among Afghans and westerners alike. But why are westerners not equally outraged when drone attacks kill entire families? Drone attacks that kill civilians usually fall into our category of "collateral damage", because the dead civilians weren't specifically targeted, and we treat this category as an unfortunate consequence of war, not murder. Afghans see little difference – rightly so, in my opinion, because their loved ones are dead because of the conscious actions of Nato forces.

This distinction between collateral damage and murder seems to come down to the question of intent. Thomas Aquinas was one of the first to hone in on this distinction with his doctrine of double effect, which is still used today to justify collateral damage. It is believed in the west that some innocent death is excusable in war, as long as the deaths are not intended, and even if those deaths are foreseeable. But if civilian deaths are foreseeable in a course of action, and we take that action anyway, did we not intend them?

Yet, western audiences feel reassured knowing that most of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan were not intended; and they only become outraged when marines and soldiers clearly target civilians and kill women and children, urinate on their bodies, and plunder their body parts as trophies. From Abu Ghraib, to Fallujah, to Haditha, and now to Panjwai, US forces have committed massacres against civilians. These incidents stand out in the western mind, but to Afghans and Iraqis, they are no different from the daily slaughter of civilians by drones, air strikes, depleted uranium and stray bullets.

The consequentialist will argue that the good results outweigh the bad, that democracy, freedom and the liberation of Afghan women will improve the lives of Afghans so much that the deaths of a few are justified. This is an easy judgment for westerners to make from the comforts of their own homes; but it stinks of the same patriarchy and arrogance of the white man's burden that justified colonialism for so many years.

In my own experience, soldiers and marines face an unbearable quantum of pressure and responsibility, and this inevitably leads to atrocity. When I was deployed to Iraq in 2004, with 1st Battalion 8th Marines, we faced conflicting expectations from our leaders who wanted dispassionate obedience, from our society back home who wanted a Hollywood-style victory and a happy ending, from our families who wanted us to put their needs first, from our comrades-in-arms who wanted our loyalty, and from ourselves as we struggled to hold onto our humanity. As much we wanted to please everyone, we couldn't. We were only human, asked to bear inhuman burdens, and the result was inhumane behavior. However, in occupied territory, violence that might otherwise be turned inwards, sometimes gets expressed outwards.

In Fallujah, I witnessed all our frustrations, our loneliness, our grief, our confusion, hate, fear and rage being unleashed on Fallujah – and Fallujans paid dearly. I witnessed good people do horrible things. Almost anyone in such a situation would have become just as ruthless. Some of my closest friends mutilated dead bodies, looted from the pockets of dead resistance fighters, destroyed homes, and killed civilians.

Incidents such as what happened in Panjwai on Sunday cannot be chalked up to the actions of "one bad apple". Incidents like this one are the product of an immoral and inhuman occupation. The atrocities will not end until the occupation ends. When will we give up the illusion that war can be conducted humanely?


© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Ross Caputi, 27, served as a US marine from 2003 to 2006. He took part in the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. He became openly critical of the military and was discharged in 2006. Ross is currently a student at Boston University and is founding director of the Justice for Fallujah Project. He is working on a book working on a book currently entitled Both Ends of the Gun, with Feurat Alani.

More of Kyla’s Questions

Why didn’t you use the religious ‘loop-hole’ and point to your upbringing as the reason you were refusing to fight?      
Yes, I could have done this. For most of us it would have made no difference to the verdict. Many ministers appeared before our Appeal Board to say that their protégés was sincere and had long held pacifist convictions.  Only those who came from Quaker or Christadelphian families were recognised as genuine by the Board, since all other denominations had declared, in statements by their elected leaders, that this was a just war which they supported.  Towards the end of the war in 1945 another more liberal Appeal system was set up, which did take account of religious background and/or strongly held humanitarian views with good evidence. Many applicants were granted release a few months earlier on this account. Those who had what were considered to be merely political objections, or were too inarticulate to state a convincing case, were unsuccessful. I didn’t appeal at this time. Nor did my brother Chris or most of my closer friends.  We knew of so many who had little chance of gaining recognition here as genuine. Also we wanted to underline our rejection of the military demands that war made.
What work did you do at Mt Crawford, Wellington?
As regards work, its usefulness was never the main consideration. They invented jobs to keep us occupied; it was after all a prison on top of a hill, right away from any urban development.  We’d be given, for example, a dozen socks to darn during the course of a day, which was a dull job that we, six men at that time, could complete in 30 minutes.  Most of the work in detention camps and prisons was almost valueless. What mattered was to keep ‘disloyal’ men of military age out of circulation in wartime.
There were 6 exercise yards at Mt Crawford, one for first offenders, one for repeat offenders, one for infectious prisoners – usually sexually related infections - one for conchies and one for those on remand, and so on.  This is where we, and most other prisoners, spent a good deal of time when the allotted tasks were done.
Later I asked superintendent McGrath – who I actually think wasn’t a bad sort – if I could plant some bulbs against the walls of the yard where we darned socks.  It was the only part that wasn’t completely sterile and sealed, leaving an eighteen inch strip of earth around the perimeter of the yard.  I was pleased when he agreed.  Some of the prison garden gang turned up with a huge pile of compost, saying, ‘Where do you want this?” However, I was released before much happened with this idea. The prison garden was outside the walls, I liked working there – that felt useful.  It had a wonderful view across the Wellington harbour, including Somes Island where the German and Italian ‘aliens’ were kept. Rolf Kersten was there, until Rosemary’s Uncle Gordon was successful in appealing for him to be allowed to work on their Northland farm, reporting to police weekly. Only a very few were released in this way.  Uncle Gordon was a respected returned soldier from WW1.

What did a man have to do to end up in isolation?    
Those who elected to be entirely uncooperative by refusing to work, either in detention camp or in prison, would end up in isolation, usually on reduced rations of food. Ron M. spent about 3 years like that in Mt Crawford, with only one or two hours out of his cell each day. In detention camp the procedure was revised and offenders were sentenced to prison “for the duration of the war”. That is how I became a prisoner, where the work was equally dull for the most part, but at least it was under the normal justice system and not by courtesy of a wartime expedient. In actual fact, though this was not what I had in mind when I refused to work in detention camps, Mt Crawford prison was kinder to me than the other three wartime abodes that I encountered: Mt Eden Prison (4 months), Hautu Prison (5 months), and Strathmore Detention Camp, where I spent 3 months early on. But I had far fewer contacts with other C.O.s during the final three years which were spent at Mt Crawford.  This I regretted.
What was standard lock- up like at Mt Crawford?
Standard lock- up was 16 hours a day.  It was 17 hours in winter because you came in from outside earlier.  You imagine if you couldn’t read a book – and a large proportion of the prison population, as studies show, couldn’t read or write. There you were with four concrete walls, nothing to do.   It did turn people crazy.  I can remember several chaps who were quite gone mentally after a while. 
I did have one day out of jail.  I had to get some dental work done – I was taken with several others in the back of the prison van with two guards in front with the driver – although we weren’t regarded as potential escapees.  On this trip, I saw the American marines – just a glimpse.  They were on their way to the Pacific war zone. The Americans from the Deep South states were apt to be hostile to the Maori.  There were several brawls in pubs at that time – we’d hear this via incoming prisoners.  This sort of thing was kept out of published records.  I know there were some fatalities during those brawls.  Auckland had them too. 
Explain how messages – uncensored – managed to slip through to the outside world. 
Others could answer that better than me.  I believe some used urine, easily available but not always invisible on the paper you were given to write a letter in prison. I recall Roy using this method in Mt Eden and then trying to explain to suspicious officers why he had destroyed the result. Gentle heat was supposed to make the message clear.  I have heard a few hilarious tales on this topic. One message that was read out in our Parliament by a sympathetic MP had been written on toilet paper in a Rangipo Prison Dummy cell (an isolation punishment cell), then concealed under the metal knob washer on top of the chamber pot lid.  Another sophisticated system had a code that indicated a certain page of a borrowed and returned book, on which would be found tiny pin pricks under selected letters that gave the message. Jack R. wrote to, and finally proposed to, his detention camp dentist’s nurse in Taumaranui, helped by this method. A laborious way of sealing the deal but proven to be highly effective.  Jack and Jean are still together after more than 60 years. 
(to be continued)

This was Part Two of Kyla's Questions.
Click here for Part One of Kyla's Questions
Click here for Part Three of Kyla's Questions
Click here for Part Four of Kyla's Questions

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

How to create an enemy

Start with an empty canvas
Sketch in broad outline the forms of
men, women, and children.

Dip into the unconsciousness well of your own
disowned darkness

with a wide brush and
stain the strangers with the sinister hue
of the shadow.

Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed,
hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as
your own.

Obscure the sweet individuality of each face.

Erase all hints of the myriad loves, hopes,
fears that play through the kaleidoscope of
every infinite heart.

Twist the smile until it forms the downward
arc of cruelty.

Strip flesh from bone until only the
abstract skeleton of death remains.

Exaggerate each feature until man is
metamorphosized into beast, vermin, insect.

Fill in the background with malignant
figures from ancient nightmares – devils,
demons, myrmidons of evil.

When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.

The thing you destroy will have become
merely an enemy of God, an impediment
to the sacred dialectic of history.

by Sam Keen, an American former professor of philosophy and religion
Quoted by Cesar Chelala in an article “Creating an enemy of Iran”
Pub. By COMMON DREAMS on 18 March, 2012

Madness is not the reason for this massacre

Robert Fisk                                       Independent/UK                                       17 March 2012

I’m getting a bit tired of the "deranged" soldier story. It was predictable, of course. The 38-year-old staff sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, near Kandahar this week had no sooner returned to base than the defence experts and the think-tank boys and girls announced that he was "deranged". Not an evil, wicked, mindless terrorist – which he would be, of course, if he had been an Afghan, especially a Taliban – but merely a guy who went crazy. This was the same nonsense used to describe the murderous US soldiers who ran amok in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

Are we supposed to believe this stuff? Surely, if he was entirely deranged, our staff sergeant would have killed 16 of his fellow Americans. He would have slaughtered his mates and then set fire to their bodies. But, no, he didn't kill Americans. He chose to kill Afghans. There was a choice involved. So why did he kill Afghans? We learned yesterday that the soldier had recently seen one of his mates with his legs blown off. But so what?

The Afghan narrative has been curiously lobotomised – censored, even – by those who have been trying to explain this appalling massacre in Kandahar. They remembered the Koran burnings – when American troops in Bagram chucked Korans on a bonfire – and the deaths of six Nato soldiers, two of them Americans, which followed. But blow me down if they didn't forget – and this applies to every single report on the latest killings – a remarkable and highly significant statement from the US army's top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, exactly 22 days ago. Allen told his men that "now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday's riots". They should, he said, "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss," Allen continued. "There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are."

Now this was an extraordinary plea to come from the US commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to "take vengeance" on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder. I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this? I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings – and might decide to go on a revenge spree. Hence he tried desperately – in a statement that was as shocking as it was revealing – to pre-empt exactly the massacre which took place last Sunday.

Yet it was totally wiped from the memory box by the "experts" when they had to tell us about these killings. No suggestion that General Allen had said these words was allowed into their stories, not a single reference – because, of course, this would have taken our staff sergeant out of the "deranged" bracket and given him a possible motive for his killings. As usual, the journos had got into bed with the military to create a madman rather than a murderous soldier. Poor chap. Off his head. Didn't know what he was doing. No wonder he was whisked out of Afghanistan at such speed.

We've all had our little massacres. There was My Lai, and our very own little My Lai, at a Malayan village called Batang Kali where the Scots Guards – involved in a conflict against ruthless communist insurgents – murdered 24 unarmed rubber workers in 1948. Of course, one can say that the French in Algeria were worse than the Americans in Afghanistan – one French artillery unit is said to have "disappeared" 2,000 Algerians in six months – but that is like saying that we are better than Saddam Hussein. True, but what a baseline for morality. And that's what it's about. Discipline. Morality. Courage. The courage not to kill in revenge. But when you are losing a war that you are pretending to win – I am, of course, talking about Afghanistan – I guess that's too much to hope. General Allen seems to have been wasting his time. 


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Massacres are the inevitable result of foreign occupation

Until Nato leaves, it is certain to continue.

Seumas Milne                                        Guardian/UK 13                                         March 2012

It was an "isolated incident", US officials insisted. The murder of 16 Afghan civilians as they slept, Hillary Clinton declared, was the "inexplicable act" of one soldier. The slaughter of innocents in Panjwai, nine of them children, follows the eruption of killings and protests after US troops burned copies of the Qur'an last month. That came soon after the exposure of a video of US marines urinating on dead Afghans.

The evidence surrounding the Panjwai massacre is so far contradictory. If it was the work of a single gunman, he was likely to have been unhinged or motivated by perverted religious or racist hatred. But however extreme, it was certainly not an isolated incident. As in Iraq, the killing and abuse of civilians by occupation forces has been an integral part of this dirty war from its earliest days. As it drags on, ever more outrages emerge. Last year, members of a US unit were convicted of killing Afghan civilians for entertainment, cutting off body parts as trophies and leaving weapons with the corpses to make it seem as if they were killed in combat. Nor is such depravity just a US habit. British soldiers are currently on trial for filming their abuse of Afghan children, while US WikiLeaks files record 21 separate incidents of British troops shooting dead or bombing Afghan civilians.

Many civilians are killed in night raids or air attacks, such as the one that incinerated eight shepherd boys aged 6 to 18 in northern Afghanistan last month. Across the border in Pakistan, CIA "targeted" drone attacks have killed 2,300, including hundreds of civilians and 175 children – a massacre of another kind — with the collusion of Britain's GCHQ electronic spying centre.

Of course, the Afghanistan occupation is far from unique in its record of civilian suffering. The Iraq war was punctuated by occupation massacres from the start: And in Vietnam, hundreds of villagers were notoriously murdered by US soldiers in My Lai in 1968, among other bloodbaths. The same was true of Britain's colonial war against Malaya's communist guerrillas. Massacres are common in wars, but they flow from the very nature of foreign occupations. Brutalised soldiers, pumped up with racial and cultural superiority, sent on imperial missions to subdue people they don't understand, take revenge for resistance, real or imagined, with savagery.

That has been the story of the Afghan campaign: a decade-long intervention supposedly launched to crush terrorism that has itself spawned and fuelled terror across the region and beyond. This is a war that has failed in every one of its ever-shifting kaleidoscope of aims. The warnings of its opponents from the start have been gruesomely borne out. The Taliban control swaths of the country, Afghanistan is the opium capital of the world, women's rights are heading backwards, and the robber-baron Karzai government is reviled by its people. Where is the "good war" now?

Yet Cameron insists this "very good work" must go on. Despite the growing pressure to bring an end to a disastrous occupation, US demands on the Afghan government for a long-term "enduring presence" to save Nato's face are intensifying. But it's not going to be saved. There is no serious prospect of a change in the balance of forces before the end of 2014, when Nato forces are scheduled to end combat operations. With the US and Nato now committed to negotiation with the Taliban, the case for speeding up withdrawal has become overwhelming.

The best chance of preventing a return to civil war is an inclusive, negotiated settlement backed by the main neighbouring states. Spinning out the occupation to 2014 or beyond will only mean years more of massacres, dead soldiers and civilians and destabilisation of the region.

Like Iraq, the Afghanistan war has been a disastrous miscalculation for the western powers, which are having to learn the lessons of empire again and again. In the 21st century, more than ever, foreign military occupation will be resisted, paid for in blood – and rebound on those who try to impose it. 
Twitter: @SeumasMilne

Soldiers without a safety catch

We should think harder before we deploy troops. They are dehumanised by training, and made to kill.

Giles Fraser                                            Guardian/UK                                        12 March 2012

In 1947 the official US historian of the second world war, Brigadier General SLA Marshall, published his groundbreaking book Men Against Fire. Marshall's astonishing contention, debated vigorously ever since, was that about 75% of second world war combat troops were unable to fire their weapons on the enemy. Guns were discharged, but they would be deliberately aimed over the heads of the enemy. The vast majority of soldiers couldn't actually kill. And, in the midst of combat, they became de facto conscientious objectors.

Plenty of historians have questioned the way Marshall gathered his evidence. But few have denied that the vast majority of people find it extremely difficult to kill another human being. It is one thing to sit in a bunker in Nevada and anonymously direct a drone into attack with a joystick. It is quite another to track a fellow human being in the sights of your rifle or to stick a knife into someone's stomach. Natural human empathy generates huge psychological resistance to up close and personal killing. We have an inbuilt safety catch. So how is it that a US soldier can walk into an Afghan village in the middle of the night and calmly shoot 16 civilians dead? Nine of them were children.

One explanation is the use of psychological conditioning that the US army uses on its own troops in order to prepare them to kill more easily. Both the US and British armies took Marshall's book extremely seriously. A soldier who cannot kill is about as much use as an accountant who cannot count. So the military began to think harder about the ways in which they might override the natural human aversion to killing, turning to the newly developing science of cognitive behavioural psychology for advice. And it worked. When Marshall was sent back to the Korean war in 1953, he found that the new training techniques developed by psychologists had begun to work. Now 55% were able to fire on the enemy. And by Vietnam, it was up to 90%.

Since human beings first went to war, soldiers have looked for ways of helping them to avoid the full reality of their work. Mostly this is by the creation of emotional distance. The enemy is demeaned as less than human and their culture is ridiculed. And since the second world war two psychological categories in particular have been folded into the design of military training: desensitisation and conditioning. The use of violent films and video games make violence seem ordinary. The culture of barrack-room banter is aggressive and bloodthirsty.

As well as this, training is deliberately arranged so as to replicate a killing environment. No longer do soldiers shoot at circular targets; they shoot at dummies made to look as much like people as possible. Throughout training, killing is made all too familiar, the act of killing continually rehearsed and re-rehearsed. The process of becoming a modern soldier begins with a course of powerful behaviour modification. "A new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare – psychological warfare conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one's own troops," writes Lt Col Dave Grossman, a former psychology lecturer at West Point.

Following this latest massacre in Kandahar there will be much talk of a lone gunman going off the rails. But the truth is more disturbing. One cannot set in place the conditions for easy killing, removing the inbuilt human safety catch, and then simply blame an individual soldier who flips out. And there is no way to ensure that such things do not happen again. This is what happens when soldiers are subject to a systematic process of dehumanisation. The modern idea of a clean and humane war is a total myth.

Which is precisely why we ought to think a great deal harder before we start them.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

See this film and then say that bombing Iran is ok

You can only think it is morally legitimate when you have dehumanised Iranians as the enemy

Katherine Butler                          Independent/UK 28                                   February 2012

Here's a story. Urban-dwelling middle-class couple, one bright school-age daughter. Nice apartment, good part of town. Husband and wife juggle the demands of their respective careers and the twice-daily school run with the obligations of extended family (the husband's Alzheimer's-afflicted father is living with them). But the marriage is unravelling. She wants to relocate – abroad – he doesn't.

The fictional action I'm describing is the plot of A Separation, the remarkable film that won the Oscar on Sunday in the Best Foreign Language category. Its setting is Tehran. The big question prompted by the award – the first ever Oscar for an Iranian film – is this: could the box-office succeed where sanctions have failed? Could Oscars diplomacy deliver us from the military confrontation over Iran's nuclear programme that Israel seems to want and which the British Government has joined in threatening?

It would be naïve to imagine President Ahmadinejad, charmed by the Hollywood prize, suddenly announcing he will comply with the West's demands. Some factions in Iran may even choose to see A Separation's validation by the American movie industry as a provocation. Independent film-makers in Iran, seen as too beloved of the West, have been jailed. My guess is that the film's success will delight ordinary Iranians but be officially ignored – with any luck director Asghar Farhadi will be left to pursue his craft in peace.

The film could yet, however – and in a much more subversive way – influence the course of history, assuming that thanks to this Oscar, more people in Europe, America and Israel end up going to see it. Indeed, in my view, only when you have watched this painful film should you be permitted to have an opinion on how useful, sane or morally acceptable it is to even discuss bombing Iran rather than seeking a diplomatic end to the over-hyped stand-off about its desire for a nuclear capability.

Farhadi's drama has nothing overt to say about regime change, nuclear weapons or revolutionary Islam, although the catalyst for the couple's divorce is the wife's desire to leave the country so that her daughter can be educated abroad. But its focus on the everyday and on contemporary human problems is its power. It is a portrait of a disintegrating relationship against a backdrop of family obligation and social division, and everyone worries about paying the bills. It could easily be transposed to a US setting, in which you could imagine the lead characters being played by George Clooney and Julianne Moore.

The comments yesterday of Israelis who saw A Separation and told an AP reporter they were surprised that Iranians had fridges and washing machines were saddening, and revealing. But hardly surprising when you think about how Iran and Iranians are generally characterised in Western discourse. Our mental images of the country involve fearsome black-clad women or angry men chanting "Death to America". Words like "mullahs", "hardliners" and "threat" are usually linked in the same sentence. A news report about Iran not containing the words "nuclear ambitions", "nuclear scientists" and "terror" seems unimaginable.

Iran has become more of a concept, a frightening idea, than a set of people with a proud civilisation, a turbulent modern history, and a legitimate viewpoint or even humanity. And, of course, you can only convince yourself that it is morally legitimate to bomb other people – don't kid ourselves that Iran's nuclear sites could be destroyed without also bombing a great many Iranian women, men and children – when you have dehumanised them or reduced them to caricatures of evil. The enemy.

Iran's isolation in the world since 1979 is what sustains the rule there of a repressive elite motivated as much by money, and its own survival, as theocratic ideals. But, after 30 years of mutual suspicion, it has become difficult for most Westerners to think of Iranians en masse as anything other than terrifying, irrational freaks on a martyrdom mission, when there is a daily and hypocritical drumbeat led by Fox News neocons about the supposed threat they pose.

The characters in A Separation wear RayBans, drive Peugeots and are caught up in the daily drama of their own lives, not in wanting to wipe anyone off the map. Unlike the dangerously lazy narrative that is now received wisdom about Iran, the film is complex, sophisticated and nuanced. If even some of the cinema-going public come away thinking of Iranians as ordinary people like themselves, perhaps the sleepwalk to a futile war might become a little less inevitable than it now looks.

Drumbeat of War with Iran Has a Familiar Ring

Impetus towards war with Iran can only be explained in terms of a western desire for Iraq-style regime change

by Simon Tisdall                                                  Guardian/UK                                                  February 24, 2012

The drumbeat of war with Iran grows steadily more intense. Each day brings more defiant rhetoric from Tehran, another failed UN nuclear inspection, reports of western military preparations, an assassination, a missile test, or a dire warning that, once again, the world is sliding towards catastrophe. The case against Iran's nuclear programme is far from proven. It is widely agreed that limited military strikes will not work; a more extensive, longer-lasting campaign would be required. And Obama in particular, having striven to end the Iraq and Afghan wars, is loath to start another. But as with Iraq in 2003, the sense that war is inevitable and unstoppable is being energetically encouraged by political hardliners and their media accomplices on all sides, producing a momentum that even the un-bellicose Obama may find hard to resist.

Bogeymen. George Bush and Tony Blair claimed a moral imperative in toppling the "monstrous" dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. But the much vilified Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, is no Saddam, and neither is the country's bumbling Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian regime is repressive and sporadically brutal, but so too are many developing world governments. Unlike Saddam's Ba'athists, it has significant democratic and ideological underpinning. As a bogeyman Ahmadinejad is a flop.

Weapons of Mass Destruction. Saddam had no deployable or usable WMD, but his overthrow was primarily justified by the mistaken belief that he did. The present western consensus is that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability, but does not have an atomic bomb and is not currently trying to build one. Khamenei said this week that nuclear weapons were "useless and harmful" and that possessing them was sinful . Netanyahu's belief that Israel faces an imminent, existential threat is visceral rather than fact-based. Israel's refusal to acknowledge its own nuclear arsenal, let alone contemplate its reduction, further undermines the case for action.

Terrorism. Plenty of evidence exists that Iran has supported, armed militants, jihadis, and anti-Israeli and anti-western armed groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, providing financial and political backing, arms and training. In this respect, its behaviour is more threatening to western interests than was that of Saddam's secular regime, no friend to Islamists. But limited or even protracted attacks on Iran's nuclear and/or military facilities would not end these links, unless there was a shift of political direction in Tehran.

Strategic power-games. Iraq was considered important for its strategic position at the heart of the Arab Middle East and its economic potential, especially its oil reserves. Similarly, there can be no doubt the US and Britain would like to see energy-rich Iran return to the western camp, as in the pre-revolution days of the Shah. Conversely, Iran's military is more powerful and more committed to the defence of the status quo, from which it benefits greatly, than was Iraq's. The potential disruption to oil supplies and western economies, not to mention the impact of asymmetric Iranian counter-attacks, makes a resort to war contingent on producing lasting dividends.

Political imperatives. In contrast to the splits over Iraq, the main western powers are united in their determination to bring Iran to heel. As well as Netanyahu, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama have all declared an Iranian bomb unacceptable. Their inflexibility thus makes war more rather than less likely should Iran refuse to back down. "Having made the case for urgency and concerted action, it would be difficult for Obama to tell the world 'never mind' and shift to a strategy that accepts Iranian membership in the nuclear club," said Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.

In short, the Iranian crisis differs from that over Iraq in 2003 in key respects. But the current impetus towards war can only be explained in terms of a western desire for Iraq-style regime change – because only regime change may achieve the de-nuclearisation the west insists upon. 


© 2012 The GuardianSimon Tisdall is an assistant editor of the Guardian and a foreign affairs columnist.

Gen. McCaffrey Privately Briefs NBC Execs on War with Iran

by Glenn Greenwald                                  Published by                           February 29, 2012

In 2009, The New York Times‘ David Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize for his two-part series on the use by television networks of retired Generals posing as objective “analysts” at exactly the same time they were participating — unbeknownst to viewers — in a Pentagon propaganda program. Many were also plagued by undisclosed conflicts of interest whereby they had financial stakes in many of the policies they were pushing on-air. One of the prime offenders was Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was not only a member of the Pentagon’s propaganda program, but also, according to Barstow’s second stand-alone article, had his own “Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” deeply invested in many of the very war policies he pushed and advocated while posing as an NBC “analyst

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey. . . . General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism. . . .

Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.

On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.

Despite Barstow’s Pulitzer, neither Brian Williams nor anyone else at NBC News ever mentioned any of these groundbreaking stories to their viewers (even as Williams reported on other Pulitzer awards that year); the controversy over the Pentagon propaganda program was simply suppressed. And NBC continued to feature those same ex-Generals as “analysts” — including McCaffrey — as though the whole thing never happened.

Apparently, not only does NBC continue to present McCaffrey to its viewers as some sort of objective analyst, but NBC News executives use him as some kind of private consultant and briefer on the news. ...

Read the full article with updates at © 2012

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?".

The New Cold War has Already Started – in Syria

by Robert Fisk                                       Independent/UK                                        February 26, 2012

If Iran obtains nuclear weapons capability, "I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons". Thus thundered our beloved Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in one of the silliest pronouncements he has ever made. Flaw number one, of course, is Hague's failure to point out that there already is another Middle East "nation" that has, in fact, several hundred nuclear weapons along with the missiles to fire them. It's called Israel. But blow me down, Hague didn't mention the fact. Didn't he know? Of course, he did. What he was trying to say, you see, was that if Iran persisted in producing a nuclear weapon, Arab states – Muslim states – would want to acquire one. And that would never do. The idea, of course, that Iran might be pursuing nuclear weapons because Israel already possesses them, did not occur to him.
Now as a nation that sells billions of pounds worth of military hardware to Gulf Arab nations – on the basis that they can then defend themselves from Iran's non-existent plans to invade them – Britain is really not in a position to warn anyone of arms proliferation in the region. I've been to the Gulf arms fairs where the Brits show alarming films of an "enemy" nation threatening the Arabs – Iran, of course – and the need for these Arab chappies to buy even more kit from British Aerospace and the rest of our merchants of death.
Then comes the historical killer in Hague's peroration. He warns of "the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented" which could produce "the threat of a new Cold War in the Middle East" that would be "a disaster in world affairs". Does he really have to mess up history so badly? Surely the most serious round of nuclear proliferation occurred when India and Pakistan acquired the bomb, the latter a nation which is awash with al-Qa'ida chaps, home-grown Talibans and dodgy intelligence men.
Still, it was good to be reassured that "we are not favoring the idea of anybody attacking Iran at the moment". Maybe later, then. Or maybe after President Assad eventually falls, thus depriving Iran of its only – and valuable – ally in the Middle East. Which is, I suspect, what a lot of the roaring and raging against Assad is all about. Get rid of Assad and you cut out part of Iran's heart – though whether that will induce the crackpot Ahmadinejad to turn his nuclear plants into baby-milk factories is another matter. For here's the rub. The mighty voices calling for Assad's departure grow louder every time they refuse to involve themselves militarily in the overthrow of the same man. Why doesn't he just go off to retirement in Turkey and stop embarrassing us all by bludgeoning his country with shells and sniper fire, killings thousands – journalists among them – while we rage on innocently from the stalls?
Hague waffles on and on about Syria, too, while presumably not "favoring the idea of anybody attacking Syria at the moment".  He was rightly denouncing the killing of Marie Colvin this week, but hundreds of other innocent human beings have been cruelly killed in Syria without so much as a whisper from Hague. And some of these were killed by the opposition to Assad; the murder of Alawites by Sunnis is becoming gruesomely familiar, just as the slaughter of civilians by Syrian government shellfire has become a template for this terrible war.
No, we are not going to involve ourselves in Syria, thank you very much. Because the new Cold War in the region which Hague was blathering on about has already started over Syria, not Iran. The Russians are lined up against us there, supporting Assad and denouncing us. Nor will a "new" Syria necessarily be the pro-Western democracy that Hague and others would like to see.  The Syrians will not forget the way in which the Brits and the Americans silently approved of the terrible massacre of 10,000 Syrian Sunni Muslims at Hama in 1982. Today marks the 30th anniversary of that onslaught, staged by the Brigades of Bashar al-Assad's Uncle Rifaat.
But, like Hague, Rifaat also has a doppelgänger. Far from being the killer of Hama – a term he disputes – he is now a friendly and retired gentleman, living in style and protection quite close to Hague's desk. Indeed, if Hague  turns left outside the Foreign Office and nips through Horseguards Parade, he can drop by and meet the man himself in – where else would he live? – Mayfair. Now that would be a disaster in world affairs, wouldn't it?©