Invasion of Iraq

The supposed ‘war on terror‘ took a severe misstep with the US invasion of Iraq.

The groundwork for the preemptive invasion of Iraq was laid out by the National Security Strategy of 2002, which refined the concept of preventive war to say that the United States reserves the right to attack any country with the “intent and ability” to develop weapons of mass destruction, which essentially means any nation our leaders deem fit.

Subsequently, all of Bush’s initial reasons for invading Iraq were proven false: Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he’s an imminent threat to US security, Saddam provided al Qaeda with weapons and training, and insinuations that Saddam was somehow behind the attacks of 9-11. With these reasons failing, Washington then shifted its stance to promoting the president’s ‘vision’ of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.

So we are meant to believe that the United States has no interest in controlling the second-largest oil reserves in the world, which would give us leverage over Asian and European economies in the future. Rather, this is a mission in the name of ‘democracy’: to liberate the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant; there’s no doubt about that, but Washington’s justifications to attack Iraq are lacking in credibility and timeliness. After all, Saddam was strongly supported by current administration officials and their mentors during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, and continually supported through his worst atrocities (the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, the crushing of a Shi’ite rebellion that may have overthrown Saddam, etc.). The US continued to provide him with arms and funding (over $5 billion on credit between from ’83-90), as well as technology and biological agents that could be adapted to weapons of mass destruction.

In the early nineties, the Gulf War led to a decade of harsh economic sanctions on Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (mostly children). When asked on national TV about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “we think the price is worth it.” These sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, increased civilian dependency on their dictator, and eliminated Saddam’s capacity for aggression. This made Iraq one of the weakest countries in the region; Kuwait and Iran did not even regard them as a threat. So you can see that the brutal Saddam was much more dangerous back when he was our friend and ally, rather than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

Nevertheless, the drumbeat for war ensued; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice each played on the fears and emotions of the American people. They warned of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Africa, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, yellow cake, mustard gas, al Qaeda ties, etc. Failing to obtain UN support, the invasion proceeded with a ‘coalition of the willing’ (primarily the UK & Australia), in which only four other countries supplied troops.

The war was deeply unpopular with the citizens of all the coalition countries, except within the United States, where the administration’s message resounded to exploit the fears of its citizens. They predicted we would be ‘greeted as liberators‘, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war, and Rumsfeld doubted it would ‘take 6 months‘. Post-invasion, they assured the public that the insurgency was in its ‘last throes‘, that the violence was just the ‘birth-pangs of a new Middle East‘, and that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended‘ in Bush’s famous ‘mission accomplished’ speech.

Contrary to their predictions and assurances, the Iraq occupation has lasted for over four years so far, cost the American people over half a trillion dollars, and caused the deaths of nearly 4,000 American troops (plus over 50,000 wounded). The country has fallen into sectarian civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions while American troops are left in the middle. About one million Iraqis have died as a result of this fighting; more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced, while two million refugees are living abroad. These results are unquestionably contributing to the destabilization of the Middle East.

“War on Terror”

We have all heard of the ‘War on Terror,’ re-declared by President Bush following the 9/11 attacks. I say ‘re-declared’ because pretty much the same rhetoric was used by Ronald Reagan in 1981, before much of Central America was devastated by terror with US involvement.

Anyhow, the real problem with the re-declared ‘war on terror‘ is that it prescribes endless war against a faceless enemy. Terrorism is a tactic used by people in many countries, including the US; it is not possible to wage war on such a thing; there is not a specific set of people that can be targeted…they are everywhere and more are created every day.

Terrorism, as defined by US Code, is the calculated threat or use of violence with the aim of intimidating and provoking fear and damage in order to achieve political, religious, ideological and other goals, typically directed against civilian populations.

If we apply this definition honestly, we will find that most of the rest of the world already regards the United States as a leading terrorist state. In the last half century, the US has taken or backed military actions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor…you get the picture.

In fact, the US is the only nation ever to be condemned by the World Court for the ‘unlawful use of force‘ (in Nicaragua v. United States, 1986). Washington ignored the order to pay reparations to Nicaragua, then vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions calling on all states to ‘observe international law‘. So the ‘war on terror‘ is an extreme double-standard; the terrorism we target is only the terrorism of our enemies, not of our allies, nor of ourselves.

The goal following the September 11 attacks was to make our country more secure in order to prevent a future terrorist atrocity on our soil. Contrary to achieving this objective, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the threat of terrorism and made our country less safe. Anyone with an understanding of history will realize that an open war on the Arab world would be the answer to Bin Laden’s prayers.

Massive military retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq (while depleting our resources) will tear civilian families apart, leaving thousands of desperate parents and children left with nowhere to turn but to the cause of the terrorists. With the rising appeal of a global jihadi Islam, recruitment for the Al Qaeda networks have increased, while Iraq itself has become a ‘terrorist haven’ for the first time.

What sort of vicious enemies and horrendous atrocities will our children have to endure due to the ‘blowback’ caused by our actions in the Middle East and elsewhere? These ‘terrorists’ do not hate the freedoms of America; they hate American foreign policy, which has aggravated the struggles of their people.

If we devote our resources to addressing the roots of their sentiments and begin to break down terror networks through coordinated intelligence, rather than blind military invasion, we can reduce the threats we face here at home and make the world more livable for future generations.

Blowback

The attacks of 9/11 were truly a vicious act, causing the deaths of about 3000 innocent civilians. Such an atrocity is condemned the world over and those responsible should most certainly be brought to justice. Following the attacks, many people (including the president) asked the question: “Why do they hate us?

Indeed, how could someone hate such a benevolent nation, promoters of peace and democracy the world over? Bush’s response to this question was that those involved are evil-doers that “hate our freedoms“. This sort of answer fails to address the root of the problem. While it may be comforting to pretend that our enemies ‘hate our freedoms’, it is not smart to ignore the history of the real world, which reveals more important lessons.

If someone were to ask me why the US was attacked on 9/11, the most concise answer I could give would be one word: blowback. You may be familiar with the term; it was coined by the CIA, meaning the unintended consequences of covert operations. Back in the early eighties, the CIA (along with Pakistani, Egyptian, French & British intelligence) was involved in recruiting, training, and arming extreme Islamic fundamentalists to fight a ‘holy war’ against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden joined our call for resistance and accepted our military training and equipment, along with countless other mujahideen “freedom fighters” (as Reagan called them). After Afghanistan had been bombed to ruins and the Russians suffered a Vietnam-like defeat, the US turned their backs on the death and destruction they had helped to create.

With the country of Afghanistan left in a power vacuum, the Islamic militant groups struggled for power in civil war (using the arms we provided), eventually leading to the rise of the Taliban, whose extreme views caused the deterioration of Afghan rights and freedoms, especially for women.

Bin Laden continued to get angered by US policy abroad…its support for Israel’s military occupation, the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, etc. The last straw for him was after the Gulf War, when we kept American military bases in Saudi Arabia to support its authoritarian regime. Saudi Arabia is bin Laden’s home country, but more importantly, it is the holy-land of Islam, in which bin Laden would not tolerate an ‘infidel’ presence (viewed as similar to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan).

Since then, bin Laden has declared jihad (holy-war) on the United States, the deadly consequences of which we all witnessed on September 11th. So we are badly mistaken if we think that we in the US are entirely blameless for what happened on 9/11. Believing it was a random act of aggression by people that ‘hate our freedoms’ is not only dishonest; it is a way of evading responsibility for the ‘blowback’ that US foreign policy has created.

Girl Punished for Being Raped

Recently in Saudi Arabia, a nineteen-year old gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison and two hundred lashes. You read that correctly. A gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison! The Shiite Muslim woman was convicted of violating Sharia law on contact between men and women.

The 19-year-old girl was traveling in a car with a male friend last October when the car was attacked by a gang of seven men who raped both of them. Four of the attackers were convicted of kidnapping, but the court also sentenced the rape victim and her friend to receive 90 lashes each for the crime of “illegal mingling”. Recently, the court increased the woman’s sentence to 200 lashes and six months in jail.

There has been little response from the US government, who considers King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia to be a key strategic ally in the region.

What does this say of our desire to promote human rights and “spread democracy in the Middle East“? We complain of the Taliban’s poor treatment of women, yet Saudi Arabia (our trusted ally) is the world’s most repressive regime. Women in the country are denied normal rights; they are not allowed to drive, vote, study engineering or law, travel without approval, testify in most courts, or work in most government offices.

The fact is that the United States government has a long history of supporting dictators and human rights violators, as will be shown concretely in future posts.

What is a Corporation?

So just what are these corporate beings tightening their grip on world power? And how do they operate?

A corporation is defined as a legal entity which has a separate legal personality from its members; it is legally awarded the rights of an individual: to sue, to own property, to sign contracts. However, unlike an individual, these entities also possess three important legal characteristics:

  • transferable shares – ownership may change without affecting legal status
  • limited liability – shareholders’ potential losses for the corporation’s debts and obligations may not exceed their personal contribution paid for shares
  • perpetual lifetime – the assets and structure of the corporation exist beyond the lifetime of any of its shareholders.

Please read those once more and consider their meaning.

These corporations are legally considered to be people, with all the rights of citizens but few of the moral restrictions; plus, with a perpetual lifetime, they can go on forever. Their only concern is to increase profits for the owners, which often has adverse effects on the environment and the community.

The history books are full of incidents of corporate greed and exploitation. Corporations hurt workers of the community with layoffs, outsourcing, union-busting, and sweatshops abroad. They harm consumers with dangerous products, toxic waste, pollution, and synthetic chemicals. They wrong animals with habitat destruction, factory farming, and animal testing. And they damage the earth with carbon dioxide emissions, oil spills, water pollution, and nuclear waste.

In a globalized world of interconnected foreign markets, governments are rendered powerless in setting restrictions on these behemoths. In the meantime, these profit-hungry corporations spend enormous amounts of money on lobbying Congress and financing political campaigns to ensure their financial interests are met. As a result, they are continually bailed out by the US taxpayer with government subsidies that limit their risk and ensure profitability. The mechanism is essentially to socialize risk and cost to the taxpayer, while power and profit is privatized to the corporation.

Media Cheerleaders

It is always best to look at things objectively and honestly in order to understand the true nature of things. Doing so will allow us to approach our problems with the proper mindset. But how do we view our own country? It is not as simple as looking in the mirror. Instead, the window through which the mass of society views their country is the media: television, radio, newspapers, etc.

In the United States, the media is made up of a group of large, multinational, conglomerate corporations, including AOL Time Warner (CNN), CBS/Viacom, Disney (ABC), News Corp.(FOX), and General Electric (NBC). Together, just a handful of corporations own over 90% of US media outlets: television, newspapers, book publishers, magazines, radio, music, and film…nearly everything you see, hear, or read is a product of these corporations.

They function with the sole purpose of any other corporation: to maximize profits for the shareholder. Take it from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner: “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.”

Wealthy business elites sit on the boards of these corporations, each with financial interests and business contacts in other corporations. For instance, GE and Westinghouse are enormous companies heavily involved in weapons manufacturing and nuclear power; they are owned by the same people as network TV stations NBC and CBS (respectively). There is a severe conflict of interest when the companies you trust for information are the exact same companies that are being awarded millions of dollars in contracts for manufacturing bombs and fighter jets to fight battles abroad.

For a real democracy to function properly, it is absolutely essential that its citizens are well-informed and that its leaders are ruthlessly held to account; in this respect, our media has failed. Most of the mass media serves as a diversion from issues that truly matter. Think of the last news program you happened to see; consider the time devoted to local stories, professional sports, or celebrity gossip.

Topics that fill the news hour are often trivial, blurring information and entertainment in order to boost ratings. The reporting on real issues is often a repetition of government press releases with little independent investigation. To ensure access to top-level government officials, journalists are pressured to accommodate the administration by reporting favorably and not asking tough questions.

Judith Miller’s front page articles in the New York Times relayed misinformation from government sources, and played a critical role in the lead-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. She claimed: “My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Funny, I thought the specific function of a journalist was to independently assess information, question their sources and evaluate material before reporting it.

Her critical journalistic mistakes have since led to the selling of a war that has already resulted in nearly 4,000 American deaths (more than occurred on 9-11) plus 30,000 wounded, a cost of over half a trillion dollars to US taxpayers, the deaths of approximately one million Iraqis, and the departure of another two million Iraqis.

On one end US taxpayers have financed the cost of the military invasion and occupation, but on the other we are also funding government contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq, awarded to private corporations with ties to the administration and the media.

So keep in mind that the bulk of information you see, hear, or read in our country has been processed through the filter of a corporate media. Do you think we can trust the benefactors of war to provide us with objective information?

Richard Nixon had it right when he wrote: “Short of changing human nature, therefore, the only way to achieve a practical, livable peace in a world of competing nations is to take the profit out of war.”

The Power of Money

We have seen that our political choices in this country are quite limited, but how did this occur? What are the forces that prevent the United States of America from becoming the model of democracy it claims to be?

The founders of our nation laid out a structure of government designed to preserve the power of wealthy landowners. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the new government must “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Control of political power in the new system was to be maintained by the “wealth of the nation,” for they understood the risk in losing their wealth for the benefit of society.

In the early years, only these white, wealthy landowners could elect their representative government. Over the next two centuries, the masses began to organize and exercise their Constitutional rights. Women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and trade unions all struggled to increase the rights of the individual; they ended slavery and segregation, established minimum wage and the eight hour work day, and gave the majority of the population their first chance to vote. Despite these popular stuggles’ advance towards democracy, the wealthy classes remain in control of political power in our country.

The aristocrats of yesterday (those wealthy landowners) have been replaced by more powerful entities, known commonly as ‘corporations’. While they possess the legal rights of an individual person, corporations cannot be prosecuted as such and are only partially liable for debts. Their reach of power extends far beyond our borders, to the international markets of a globalized world, yet there is no set of international laws to keep them in check.

They use their influence to convince foreign politicians to privatize their country’s resources, auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder at the expense of the local community: public water in Bolivia, bananas in Guatemala, oil in Nigeria or Burma, just about everything in Indonesia, etc. Not only do these mega-corporations have a strong hold on world power, they have a stranglehold on US politicians and control our entire ‘democratic’ election process.

We have seen that our election choices are usually limited to two wealthy, business elites. The structure of this bipartisan system reinforces a sense of defeatism among the American people, making them feel as if their vote makes no difference or that they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. In fact, we have one of the lower voter turnouts in the world; only 50% of eligible voters make it to the polls, compared with some other countries where voting is compulsory.

In reality, the system of government in the United States is what is called a polyarchy, in which mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites of the business or corporate sector. This sector is in control of nearly all power and money in our country: banks, investment firms, oil companies, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, the technology industry, advertising, and let’s not forget, the corporate media.

We are told of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but is it the will of the people guiding this great country to a better future? For now it may the almighty dollar that has the grip of power in our country, but we citizens cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while our quality of life is being deteriorated.

As the Declaration of Indepedence reveals, when our government becomes destructive to the will of the people, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Our politicians and their corporate companions do not control the people; we control them, and we have an obligation to stand up and speak out when our government fails us. The crucial time has arrived for each one of us to pay close attention, get organized, and exercise our rights if we care to to see a better world for our children.

The Illusion of Choice

With respect to the political compass, I would like to comment on the political landscape of the United States. Every few years in our country, normal citizens are a given a choice between essentially two candidates for public office, either Republican or Democrat.

Our spectrum of choice is a very narrow selection of what in reality are two factions of the same business party that dominates American politics. Each viable candidate in the running for public office relies on a large backing from American corporations, to which they are expected to serve specific financial interests. The main candidates may differ on a few social issues (abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc.), but their economic and foreign policies are often very similar.

Election campaigns are run by a public relations industry looking to sell their candidate to an audience, avoiding real issues and relying on image to market their product. Third party candidates are usually excluded from debates and do not receive media coverage.

Take a look at our options in the 2004 Presidential Election:

2004 Election

The names most widely recognized in this chart are George W. Bush and John Kerry, the Republican and Democratic nominees. The third party candidate with the most support behind them was Ralph Nader; he was not allowed to participate in debates, did not have the financial backing of large corporations, and was even left off the ballot in some states.

Now take a look at the political compass of our upcoming Democratic and Republican primary candidates :

2007 Election

The names most popularly recognized (Clinton, Edwards, Guiliani, McCain, Obama, Romney) all lean to the Authoritarian Right. The two candidates of the Democratic party that lean slightly to the Libertarian Left (Gravel & Kucinich) have been essentially ignored by the corporate media. Neither were invited to attend the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Iowa, Gravel was recently excluded from a debate by NBC, and when they do debate they are often given less time than their political counterparts.

So ‘we the people‘ do have our choices every few years, but those choices are severely limited by the PR industry running the campaigns and the corporate media that provides coverage to the mass audience. It is quite revealing to contrast either of these presidential election choices with the political compass of my family, as revealed in the previous post.

Nearly all of my family falls somewhere between either Ralph Nader and John Kerry (2004) or Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards (2008). So how is it possible that members of my family cast their vote for Bush in the 2004 election?

The PR industry running election campaigns tend to focus on qualities, rather than on real issues. It is often very difficult to tell where a specific candidate stands on the issues. I don’t think it would be possible to vote for John Kerry if you were basing your vote on charisma – he has about as much as a door stop.

Anyhow, it is this illusion of choice (Authoritarian Right vs. slightly less Authoritarian Right) that needs to be repaired if America is going to become the democracy it claims to be.

Politics of an American Family

I have often found a clash in the political views of my family. Occasionally, there may be a light argument between myself and my parents or sisters, but nothing too drastic. Out of curiosity, I had my each of my family members participate in an online political test to see where their views fall on the political compass.

Standard rhetoric limits the spectrum of political thought to a ‘left’ or ‘right’ ideology. While this may be acceptable in discussing economic issues, real political affiliation is more complicated than the standard left-right line. The political compass test plots the result of political affiliation in both economic and social dimensions.

They closely evaluate the public statements, manifestos, interviews and, most importantly voting records of world leaders to find out where they fall on the compass.  Feel free to take the test yourself (post your results in the ‘comments ‘section below), but for now, here are the current results of my family’s political affiliation (click to enlarge):

Politics of a Family

Based on these results, you can see that most of my family falls within the inner few units of political center. In contrast, I have developed a much more leftist, libertarian viewpoint.

Focus

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is James Patrick Taylor. I grew up outside of Chicago in a town called Naperville, the only boy in a family of six children. I did well enough in school to go off to college in central Illinois. It was there, beginning with the atrocities of 9/11, that I began to take an interest in world affairs.

I graduated with a chemical engineering degree, but a lack of desire to put it to use working for a large corporation, as a few of my friends began to do. Since school, I have done quite a bit of world traveling to broaden my perspective of our place in the world.

I have come to realize that there are good, kind people in every country on this earth. I believe there is an overall desire to do good and to leave this world in better shape for future generations. Sadly, there are also people in this world that fall victim to a desire for money and power. These are the wealthy elites that hold the current grasp of world power.

My specific focus in this blog will be on the United States of America and its participation in world affairs: past, current, and future. As a citizen, I feel that I bear a part of the responsibility for the actions of my government.

I understand it may be difficult to hear the facts of our past and current participation in world affairs; the truth is not always pretty. But it is critical to understand the role we have played in the past in order to accomplish the tasks we face in the future.