Trump takes on the Military-Industrial Complex

 

U.S. President Trump’s goal of pulling troops from the Middle East threatens the established order that has dominated the American economy and foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

image: cartoonstock

The term “military-industrial complex” was first used by another Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He warned that government policy was being dictated by the war industry, euphemistically called the “defense industry.”  In his farewell address in 1961, Eisenhower cautioned that the United States must “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower believed that the military-industrial complex was subverting national interests and promoting participation in the nuclear arms race.

The last time that the military-industrial complex was threatened was after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. General Colin Powell worried about running out of enemies: “Think hard about it. I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains.”  He was wondering out loud whether the U.S. needed such a large army after the fall of Soviet Russia. What’s the point of having the world’s greatest military power and no dark forces to fight?

Powell worried needlessly. America managed to find new enemies.

Like many of President Trump’s moves, this one is poorly thought out. He is both pushing and pulling U.S. military supremacy. He wants to pull troops out of the Middle East while at the same time promoting U.S.-manufactured goods.

Manufacture creates jobs at home and the U.S. military provides a base for corporate colonization of the world.

Ten per cent of the American economy is directed at making weapons –most of which are sold to the military. The United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. In comparison, Britain, France and Russia, have 30 foreign bases combined.

The trouble with the business model is not the jobs it creates, it’s the endless war that America must fight in order to make sense of the manufacture of weapons for the “Defense” Department. If the weapons weren’t made to be used, what would be the point in making them?

The rationale of the military-industrial complex is wearing thin and withdrawal of troops has some sympathy. Public Affairs columnist Lawrence Martin says:

“It’s a timely reminder of the debacle created by Mr. Trump’s Republican predecessors. The Iraq disaster and its collateral calamities; American military intervention and nation building that proved futile; the never-ending war in Afghanistan; hundreds of billions spent and tens of thousands of deaths. For what? (Globe and Mail January 2, 2018).”

Derailing the military-industrial complex has long been a dream of global peace-lovers. But there is going to be a lot of push-back from American Generals who want to keep their jobs.

Perhaps President Trump’s next big idea will be to convert U.S.-made weapons into steel to build his Mexican wall. He’s already hinted at a new role for the military in his television address Tuesday to defend against the threat that bedraggled families from Central America pose. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” he tweeted earlier.

President Trump’s quixotic tilt at military-industrial complex is likely to fail but in the meantime, peace-lovers can hope.

 

Dieppe’s secret mission

Recently declassified documents reveal the true mission of the raid on the beaches of Dieppe on August 19, 1942.

   image: commons.wikimedia.org

The publicly stated reasons varied: to test Hitler’s defences in France; to placate Stalin in his calls for a second front to divert Germany’s attention away from Russia; to learn lessons in preparation for D-day (Canada’s History Magazine, Aug/Sept, 2017.)

However, the real reason was to steal the Enigma machine and give decoders like Alan Turing a chance to figure out what the Nazis were planning. It would reveal vital information about German positions, capabilities, and intentions.

Previous raids on the Norwegian island of Lofoten had been successful in stealing the three-rotor version.

Other than top command, no one knew the true mission –not the general public and certainly not the Germans. To mask the true mission, it had to look like a regular operation. Enough damage had to be done to installations to make it look convincing but not so much damage as to destroy the machines. Press reports described the large scale destruction of facilities. Not only did the propaganda bolster public moral but it deflected German attention away from the theft of cryptography. It worked at first.

But after a dozen more trawlers were taken, the Germans became suspicious and came up with a more complicated encoder: the four-rotor version of the Enigma machine. The three-rotor version was hard enough to crack but four-rotors would have been impossible without capturing more deciphering data.

Emboldened by the success of earlier raids and driven by the necessity of decoding German plans, raids became more daring and unrestrained. The ambitious “Dickie” Mountbatten was placed in charge. Three raids were planned in 1942.  The first was on a U-boat base at Saint-Nazaire. It had limited success but failed to capture the ciphers and cost an entire commando unit. The second raid on the port of Bayonne was a complete failure.

Undeterred, Mountbatten pressed with the third raid on Dieppe. His leadership was in question and he had to prove himself. Not only Mountbatten’s reputation was at stake, but so was Prime Minister Churchill’s.

Canadian soldiers were languishing in England and were itching to get involved in combat. When the opportunity came in the Dieppe raid, they jumped at it.

The Dieppe plan was complicated and everything had to go like clockwork to succeed. To avoid alerting the Germans by the sound of droning planes, no bombers were used. The 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment (Calgary) was to take Dieppe, the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Royal Regiment Canada (Black Watch) were to take adjacent beaches. Bunkers were to be attacked but not destroyed to spare the cipher equipment.

Things went badly from the start. Calgary tanks cleared the beach but got stuck in roadblocks. Other Canadian regiments were trapped on the beaches and were sitting targets for the German guns.

Six hours later, more than 1,000 soldiers lay dead on the beaches –most of them Canadians. About 2,300 were taken prisoners. No Enigma machines were captured.

October 30, 1942, the four-rotor Enigma was discovered by chance on a sunken U-boat off Port Said, Egypt.

 

Trump tweets while Afghanistan burns

President Trump seems only dimly aware the turmoil in Afghanistan. Or maybe he has foreign policy related on the country and is simply unable to articulate it in 140 characters. Most likely, and more disquieting, his contradictory and unintentionally humorous tweets truly reflect his confused views.

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On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers struck Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 80 and injuring 250 in the recent conflict’s most deadly attack. An average of 50 Afghan soldiers are killed a day, another 180 are lost to injuries and desertion. More than 10,000 soldiers died as well as thousands of civilians.

Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Scott Guggenheim, hopes the new administration can achieve what the Democrats couldn’t:

“It breaks my heart to have to say this, but the Republican government is going to be better than the Democrats for Afghanistan,” he told May Jeong in her investigative report for Harper’s magazine (February, 2017).

“The Republicans will say ‘These guys are fighting radicals; we have to stay engaged with them.’”

The Taliban has an opposing view. A spokesman told Jeong:

“He should withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and unlike other U.S. rulers, he should neither seek any more titles of ignominy for himself and American generals nor worsen American prestige, economy, and military by engaging in this futile war.”

The fog created by Trump’s lack of clarity has created an opportunity for Russia.  Vladimir Putin has reason to cheer the selection of Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is CEO of ExxonMobil and has met with Putin. Russia is investing in housing and factories in Afghanistan and recently sent ten thousand automatic rifles to Kabul in hopes of strengthening ties. An exit by the U.S. would aid Putin’s grasp for regional dominance.

Trump seems unaware of what his own military has to say. A Republican-led investigation determined that troops will remain at 8,400. The top commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says: “We have adequate resources.”

While the Republican’s views might be clear, Trump’s foreign policy for Afghanistan remains impenetrable. On one hand is his principle of “America first” which suggests isolation. On the other, he speaks aggressively of the Islamic State: “Their days are numbered.”

Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jeong:

“His policies on the campaign trail were so mutually contradictory and changeable that he much harder to predict than an orthodox president would be.” “He talks about Afghanistan only when he’s cornered, and when cornered, he has said he simply wants to get out.”

Trump has more power than either Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has the support of a Republican Congress and expanded executive powers.

But Trump’s war remains at home. He is paralyzed with his war against the media and his decrees by tweet only thicken the fog on foreign policy.

Jeong lives in Kabul and is fatalistic:

“The survivors of the conflict, awaiting the next chapter of diplomacy, have no choice but to be patient.”

Afghans live with hope and patience. That’s all they have with this president in power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syria’s climate refugees

“The start of the revolution was water and land,” says Mustafa Abdul Hamid, a 30-year-old farmer from Aleppo, Syria.

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The Arab Spring — that promise of political reform, the failed revolution, ISIS, civilian bombing, the misery of refugees, all started forty years ago with an ambitious plan to make Syria self-sufficient in food. Until they ran out of water, Syria had been relatively stable despite the oppressive Assad family regime.

The source of Syrian grief is climate change. In the 1970s, drilling wells for irrigation water seemed like a good idea. Back then, the military regime of the current president’s father launched a program to increase crop yield. As politicians are inclined to do, he paid no attention to aquifers or climate change.

“Farmers made up for water shortages by drilling wells to tap the country’s underground water reserves. When water tables retreated, people dug deeper,” explains reports John Wendle in Scientific American (March, 2016).

Wendle went to Syria to talk to farmers and to listen to refugees. “Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what could be in store for the larger Middle East, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world. The drought, they maintain, was exacerbated by climate change. The Fertile Crescent—the birthplace of agriculture some 12,000 years ago—is drying out. Syria’s drought has destroyed crops, killed livestock and displaced as many as 1.5 million Syrian farmers,” reports Wendle.

Life was good before the drought, Hamid recalls. He and his family farmed three hectares of topsoil so rich it was the color of henna. They grew wheat, fava beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Hamid used to harvest three-quarters of a metric ton of wheat per hectare in the years before the drought. Then the rains failed, and his yields plunged to barely half that amount. “All I needed was water,” he says. “And I didn’t have water. So things got very bad. The government wouldn’t allow us to drill for water. You’d go to prison.”

By 2005, the problem of water shortage was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored and Assad’s son, the new president, made it illegal to dig new wells without purchasing a license.

Syrians who had bags of cash to bribe official drilled ever deeper into the receding water table; until the money and/or the water ran out.

The drought, aggravated by climate change touched off social turmoil that burst into civil war. The source of climate change as the underpinning of Syria’s woes is confirmed not only by a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but by the farmers themselves that Wendle spoke to in refugee camps. “That’s exactly what happened,” they told him.

“What’s happening globally—and particularly in the Middle East—is that groundwater is going down at an alarming rate,” Colin Kelley of the University of California, told Wendle. “It’s almost as if we’re driving as fast as we can toward a cliff.”

Update on the Iraqi quagmire.

It’s time for the tredecennial review of the quagmire in Iraq. In my 2002 column, I cautioned:

“If Iraq were completely destroyed, it will break in three: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, inflaming more conflict.”

SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31:  A Shiite militian flashes victory sign after Iraqi forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)

(Stringer – Anadolu Agency)

Parts of that warning turned out to be true. Conflict has generated more conflict. The Kurds represent a coherent entity in the North, if not a Kurdish state. There is no Sunni state in the middle of Iraq but Anbar province is controlled by Sunni leaders of Saddam Hussein’s former party. Shiites are not just in the South. With the help of the U.S., they control government.

Whereas Canada declined involvement in the earlier invasion, now we are willing participants in the bombing of Iraq. The Harper government apparently believes that, while massive bombing didn’t fix the problem in the first place, a few more should do the trick.

Another difference is that the Prime Minster’s office sees the invasion as public relations opportunity. When Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the PMO issued a video reminiscent of U.S. President Bush’s macho response to the attacks of September 9, 2001. Reporter Patrick Graham describes the chest-thumping by the PMO:

“Three months after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack [on Cirillo], the PMO put out a jingoistic video  –a montage of the cenotaph and the gunfight on Parliament Hill that included a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot punching the air; presumably after a successful mission. The takeaway: Avenge Corporal Cirillo. Bomb ISIS (Walrus magazine, June, 2015).”

Canada’s bravado avoids a vexing question. How were millions of Iraqis overcome by a few thousand ISIS fighters?

“As Canada continues –indeed escalates –its war with ISIS, politicians and policy-makers need to grapple with that question in a serious way,” says Graham. “But based on it public pronouncements thus far, there is little evidence that government’s analysis has gone beyond patriotic slogans and images of pumped-up fighter pilots.”

The Shiite-Sunni conflict has extended fourteen centuries. Relations were calm until Hussein came to power in the 1970s when he banned Shiite ceremonies and ruthlessly put down a Shiite uprising.

The opportunity for revenge came when a Shiite was installed as head of the Iraqi government. With Prime Minister Maliki in control of the army, Sunnis were arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. Sunni tribal leaders, who had joined the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, were cut off from positions of power.

No wonder that many Sunnis have welcomed ISIS over a Shiite army. “From a Sunni point of view, the U.S. occupation simply was replaced with an occupation run by Tehran’s proxy armies [the Shiites].”

The undisciplined and corrupt Shiite army simply folded in the face of a small, determined, ISIS force. Army morale had been undermined by incompetent officers who were more interested in extortion than building confidence within the rank and file.

It will be interesting to see whether Canada’s new government will carry on with war as a public relations exercise or take a more nuanced approach. I’ll let you know in 13 years.

End this war against our planet

The war against our planet began so long ago that it’s hard to imagine a time when military merchandise hasn’t been used to wreak havoc; not just on the battlefield but against the very ecosystems necessary for our survival.

earth

The application of technology to the battlefield began in earnest with World War II with atomic bombs, rockets, and poisonous gas. The machinery developed in wartime has been grinding ever since –to the extent that we don’t know what a planet at peace looks like.

The exact start of the war against the planet may be debatable. Rebecca Solnit suggests: “Nineteen forty-five is sometimes designated Year Zero.”

The devastation of World War II was a precursor of what was to follow. Sixty million were killed in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific — 2.6 per cent of the earth’s population. The Soviet Union lost 1,700 towns and 70,000 villages and 24 million citizens. What the bombs missed, homelessness, displacement, poverty, and disease claimed. Many died in combat but millions more starved to death.

London lost one million homes and 30,000 were killed in one year alone. The bombing of Germany created firestorms and leveled cities. One survivor of the attacks on Dresden recalled the horror of seeing charred bodies and melted glass:  “We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burned to death, burning people running to and fro.”

The destruction of historic sites and cities exceeded anything that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS could muster combined. As bad as things were, they were about to get worse.

“From one perspective, what we call the world had never been more devastated. From another, however, the world was in magnificent, Edenic shape. No great garbage patch swirled around the Pacific, and albatrosses, sea turtles, and dolphins in remote reaches were not strangling on plastic they mistook for edible matter; we had not yet discarded the billion tons of plastic that will litter the earth for the foreseeable future, because plastic was a relatively new material just entering mass production,” says Solnit in Harper’s magazine.

Elephants and rhinos thrived in intact ecosystems. The Bengal tiger and the snow leopard were fine. The Atlantic cod fishery off the coast of Canada seemed inexhaustible.

War economies accelerated. The technology of war spun off seemingly benign products: plastics, fuels, fuel-guzzling vehicles. Ever more energy use accelerated the tonnes of garbage we throw into the air, water and land.

Anyone who is not delusional, amnesiac, or distracted can see what militarization has wrought. Those who are blind to the obvious pretend that: “pumping billions of tons of carbon into the upper atmosphere has no consequences, that the extraction processes — from mountaintop coal removal to fracking to pulling petroleum out of remote fragile places such as the ocean floor — are harmless.”

The war will end one way or another. The earth will prevail regardless of which side we are on.

Police and society

Kamloops’ support for Cpl. Michaud is well-deserved as he continues to recover after being shot during a routine traffic stop. Good relations between the RCMP and the Kamloops community indicates how different things are in Canada than the U.S. But we can’t take that for granted.

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(G20 demonstrations in Toronto, 2010)

It’s unlikely that the citizens of in Ferguson, Missouri, will be holding a fund-raising dinner for any of their injured cops any time soon. Not after the controversial shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by the police last August.

Not after the police in Ferguson responded to a peaceful demonstration by citizens, hands in the air pleading “don’t shoot,” in full military gear and created a city under siege.

That doesn’t seem to fit into the police force motto to “serve and protect,” does it? Just where did they get all that military gear in the first place? It turns out that U.S. police are the “beneficiaries” of hand-me-down gear from the most well-financed army in the world.

You see, once the U.S. army invades a country, it has a lot of stuff left over; especially when you consider that the economy is based on the production of new weapons.

That’s how Ferguson, population 21 thousand, ended up with armoured vehicles, night-vision goggles, assault rifles, and assorted battle gear on hand, just in case things get ugly, writes John Lorinc in Walrus magazine.

Things are not as bad in Canada but we must be vigilant of mission creep. A similar program exists in Canada where the Canadian Forces has been transferring night-vision goggles and field equipment to the RCMP for years, including “de-armed” armoured fighting vehicles. Saskatoon police recently used their own AFV in a stand-off, and released aerial footage of the event.

The Vancouver police department bought at Lenco BearCat armoured rescue vehicle in 2007. York Region, north of Toronto, acquired a $340,000 Quebec-made “rolling fortress.” In Montreal and Quebec City, cops have taken to wearing camouflage pants, a practice that has raised eyebrows.

Police must be armed with weapons to match those of deranged shooters. If police had the carbines promised in Moncton, perhaps the death count of three RCMP could have been reduced.

However, a properly armed police force and a militarized one are not the same thing. It’s a mental mind-set as much as a material one and it works both ways. Once a community sees police as protecting moneyed corporate interests and state ideology, rather than the community’s, the trust is broken. Once police view criminal elements as being so wide-spread as to poison the community they serve, the community becomes the “other.”

Neil Boyd, criminologist at SFU doesn’t see militarization in Canada to the same degree as the U.S. However, “It is worrying on one level, because we think of militarization as armed conflict between states,” Boyd said. “As a society, that’s not consistent with the police model of keeping the peace. The question we have to ask is, Are the police more inclined to take an us-and-them approach, or are they simply acquiring more technology? ”

Canadians must remain vigilant against the militarization of police and the mind-set that can follow. Civil society depends on that delicate balance.