Working towards peace and sustainability

Some Thorny Issues Often Overlooked

As we observe the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic U.S. War on Iraq, there are issues likely going unexamined in the mainstream media that we at Peaceworks think must be addressed.

First of all, the war was illegal under international law. It was a war of aggression made by our nation against another that had neither done anything to us, nor even threatened to do so. It was not authorized by the U.N. Security Council. In fact the Council was asked to authorize the war and refused to do so. Yet President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Sec. Rumsfeld, Sec. Powell, National Security Advisor Rice and other high officials all have walked away scot-free. None have been charged with the war crimes they are clearly guilty of.

Likewise, there has been no effort made to account for the harm done to the Iraqis; harm that continues to this day, nor to make reparations for these harms. We know that at least hundreds of thousands, and possibly as many as two million, died as a result of this illegal and immoral war. Our government intentionally did not keep track of the excess deaths due to the war. Nor did they accept responsibility for the rise in sectarian warfare that resulted directly from the war, including the rise of ISIS. We do know that approximately five million Iraqis were uprooted from their homes, about half left Iraq, seeking sanctuary in other nations and the other half were internally displaced.

The U.S. War on Iraq significantly destabilized the region, ironically increasing Iran’s influence and, in the process, fueling an arms race and power struggle between Iran and their Saudi neighbors. The U.S. invasion was ostensibly part of a Neo-Con effort to promote democracy throughout the region, but it clearly did not even begin to accomplish this, and, in reality, it was likely never a real objective of the war’s architects.

While the overwhelming majority of the casualties from the war were Iraqis, approximately 4,500 GIs have died in the Iraq War to date and more than 22,000 GIs were wounded in the war, which cost U.S. taxpayers trillions, with further costs to be incurred for decades to come. While other nations invested in their people, providing high quality, free education to their students, and invested in infrastructure, including renewable energy, our government has squandered lives and treasure, leaving us immiserated in the process. 

In the meantime those who participated in the war, and thus were also among its victims, have continued to be pawns exploited to further political agendas. When the war was at its peak, we were told to “Support our troops,” which was really just a clever way of insisting citizens “Support the war.” War proponents implied that those who opposed the war were undermining the morale of those who’d be sent to Iraq to kill and die. Actually, from Peaceworks’ perspective, the most supportive thing we could have done for those troops, who, like all of the American people, had been lied to regarding the threat of Iraqi WMD, was to bring them home safe and alive ASAP.

Now many of those who participated in the Iraq War have returned home. Far too many have had their lives turned upside down due to the war. A significant percentage struggle with PTSD; many others have physical disabilities that will affect them the rest of their lives. Those who’ve been to war are more likely to be homeless and to struggle with substance abuse problems.

Yet they are a convenient prop for pols who constantly declare their support for these “brave young men and women” who they always tell us went to war to “defend our freedom.” It’s up to us to set the record straight and point out that, while these vets generally volunteered based upon wanting to serve their country, in reality none of what they were sent to do in Iraq had anything at all to do with defending the country. In fact, no U.S. war over the past seven decades has been about defending our nation.

The responsibility for war crimes lies with those at the top who gave the orders. We should neither blame those who were hoodwinked into participating in this illegal war, nor should we hold them up as positive role models. Clearly we need better education—teaching critical thinking skills—and media that asks the tough questions and presents all perspectives.

In the buildup to the Iraq War, despite the news blackout of anti-war voices, tens of millions of us spoke out and raised concerns. We questioned the claims of WMD. We foresaw the likelihood of a destabilized region and many years of conflict. We raised concerns regarding the legality of making war on Iraq. And we talked about the costs in life, limb, resources and money.

Those politicians who supported going to war against Iraq should be held accountable for their lack of good judgment and character. And those who went to war and now are in office or seeking office should not be allowed to use their participation in this immoral, illegal and counterproductive war as a resume builder and qualification for office. Unfortunately, many, on both sides of the aisle are trying to do just this.

As we’ve seen with the Vietnam War, there is often an effort on the part of the militarists to rewrite history and convince us of the legitimacy of wars that the public, long ago, realize were, at the very least, counterproductive and not in our national interests. It’s incumbent upon us to reject such rewriting and move forward having learned useful lessons and applying them to insure that there is no repeat of the tragedy that is the Iraq War.

Addressing Perpetual War

In recent years the peace movement has often felt like a neglected stepchild, largely ignored by many left-liberal groups. It seems that ending war and militarism is just not on their agenda. When the Women’s March was organized at the time of Trump’s inauguration, opposition to war was not on their radar. Although it was added to the mission statement, it’s received little attention and is not among the eight Unity Principles on their website. And among many politicians otherwise deemed “progressive” we’ve seen no sense of urgency regarding ending the “endless war” or even for beating some swords into plowshares.

Of course it wasn’t always this way. During the later years of the Bush administration the Iraq War became an albatross around the neck of the GOP. Many citizens were deeply opposed to the war. So, a goodly number of Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, made ending the U.S. role in Iraq a significant plank in their platforms.

But Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War did not represent a broader rejection of U.S. militarism and the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) that Eisenhower warned the nation against back in 1961. Obama, in spite of his Nobel Peace Prize, dramatically escalated drone warfare, surged troops to Afghanistan, bombed seven predominantly Muslim nations, intervened in Libya, Syria, Somalia and numerous other countries and initiated a trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program.

The lack of meaningful progress on the peace front during Obama’s eight years in office is really no surprise. There has been a continuity of support for global hegemony throughout the entire post-WWII era. While there have been outliers here and there, the mainstream of both major parties has supported massive military budgets and the dominant presence of the U.S. military on every continent, in every ocean, in the skies, in outer space and in the cyber realm. The military calls this “Full Spectrum Dominance.”

During the Cold War the supposed threat of Communism was the justification for super-sized budgets and a continuous stream of wars and interventions—some overt, others covert or proxy—none of which had anything to do with defending the United States—and none of which ended in victory. These were sold to the American people as being fought to “defend freedom” or “support democracy.”

After the Cold War ended it became more difficult to justify such a massive military. Post-9/11 the need to fight a “war on terror” became the rationale, although the purported enemy was a ragtag non-state actor with no territory, no military assets and only a handful of fighters. What was never acknowledged was the reality that the growth in so-called “Islamist terror groups” was largely blowback — that is, the result of and reaction to U.S. intervention in the region.

Enter Donald Trump

While the left was appalled by the positions Trump took on virtually all issues, his neo-isolationist campaign rhetoric led some to believe that perhaps he’d be less interventionist than Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, the President is quite different from Trump on the stump. He has surrounded himself with generals and repeatedly threatened to blow North Korea off the face of the Earth.

Trump campaigned on the bogus claim that the U.S. military was “depleted,” and in office, he has pushed massive increases in the Pentagon budget. Sadly, a bipartisan majority in Congress gave him all he asked for and then some. The administration had requested upping the military budget for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) to $668 billion, an increase of $57 billion from the FY17 appropriation of $611 billion. Congress ended up authorizing $700 billion, adding $32 billion to the Pentagon’s request. The Senate vote was 89 to eight, with most Democrats, including our own Claire McCaskill, joining their GOP colleagues in showering extra billions on the military.

It is worth noting that, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the FY17 appropriation exceeded the military spending of the next eight largest spenders combined, six of which are U.S. allies. And the increase means that in 2018, U.S. taxpayers will be footing the bill for a military that costs more than the next 11 top spenders combined. Note, too, the “military budget,” which devours more than half of all discretionary federal spending, does not include the CIA, Veterans Administration, military disabilities and many other expenses.
Donald Trump at the Pentagon, January 18, 2018
The Complex

So, why is the MIC ascendant in the U.S.A.? Who benefits and how?

While a definitive answer is hard to pin down, a few possibilities, not mutually exclusive, include: A dominant military position goes hand in glove with the control of global financial institutions; it backs up control of resources, markets and labor in less developed countries by U.S. and transnational corporations. Geopolitical dominance assures the ability to intervene at will in conflicts, either directly, as in Libya, or by proxy, as in Yemen, or both, as in Syria.

A military that is involved in frequent conflicts is one that gets to test weapons in the field of battle. New technology provides a competitive edge both in combat and also in the world arms trade. Selling military hardware is very profitable. This is one of just a handful of markets in which U.S. firms are still dominant.

Having an adversary that can be portrayed as a threat is helpful in efforts to rally the populace around the flag and the government, which is seen as a protector of the safety of the nation. As Orwell put it, “War is peace.”

So, the Complex feeds forward. The contractors benefit. They spend tens of millions each election cycle on candidates and have spent more than a billion this decade on lobbying. Their return on this “investment” is huge, profits in the tens and hundreds of billions. Congress gets the donations and it also brings home the pork, military bases and contracts in their states or districts. An example, the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter is being produced by contractors in 46 of the 50 states. Even Bernie Sanders supports this program, as it provides jobs in Vermont. And the military, like any bureaucracy, thrives on an expanded role, more jobs, promotions, resources and a more central role in our culture.

Costs & Benefits

Militarist cheerleaders love to point out that the Complex provides a significant number of jobs. There is some truth here, given the massive amount being spent. But consider that, beyond spending sufficient to provide reasonable defense, military expenditures provide no benefit; they don’t protect us or the environment; they fail utterly to improve our quality of life. Unlike infrastructure, they are not an investment in our future.

Moreover, military spending is capital intensive and produces far fewer jobs than spending in most other sectors.  A 2011 study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Political Economy Research Institute found that dollar for dollar, green energy spending produces 16 percent more jobs than military spending. Healthcare produces 31 percent more. And education yields a whopping 125 percent more. And these are investments in a brighter future.

Speaking of education, consider that the $89-billion increase in military spending from FY17 to FY18 exceeds the $75-billion estimated incremental cost of making public colleges tuition-free, as Bernie Sanders proposed. And of course there are so many other unmet needs that we could be meeting if we reined in the Pentagon’s blank-check budget.

On the flip side, the GOP tax cuts for the wealthy are going to swell the deficit and provide a rationale for putting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and many other programs on the chopping block. Clearly we’d do better to cut the military instead.

The Bottom Line

Why, you may ask, does the U.S. need a military with global reach? Other nations – China, Japan, Germany and others – seem to be doing quite well maintaining militaries sufficient to defend their countries from attack, but without establishing bases or maintaining fleets in every part of the world.

The simple answer is, “we don’t, but they—the MIC—do.” The citizenry would be far better off if our nation abandoned the role of global hegemon, led the world into multilateral disarmament negotiations, and redirected billions into investments in our people and infrastructure. The trick is finding a way to mobilize millions of citizens to unite behind a broad progressive platform that includes making the move away from militarism, and finding the points of political leverage to advance this agenda. All much easier said than done, but we at Peaceworks invite you to join in this struggle to create a more peaceful, just and sustainable future for everyone.

This article was written by Peaceworks Director Mark Haim. A slightly different version of the essay was published in the New York-based Indypendent at CLICK HERE.

Picture This—A Peace Economy, Instead of Permanent War

We invite you to consider the costs of U.S. militarism.

Ever notice how the media and the politicians are always using the term “defense,” when talking about the military? “Defense” seems so legitimate; so necessary. And it is so unlike what the U.S. military is actually tasked with as its primary responsibilities.
The costs of using the military for geopolitical hegemony globally are enormous. They drain—not bolster—our economy, ultimately hollowing it out due to lack of investment in people and infrastructure.

Most of our fellow citizens have no idea how lopsided this is; how out of kilter the amount American taxpayers are being forced to pay compared with the citizens of other nations.

War is awful and, as many have observed, in war there are no real winners, only losers. This said, in past wars, including World War II, opposing armies were vanquished and the fighting ended. More recent conflicts, despite its overwhelming technological advantage, the U.S. military has been unable to prevail. It’s hard to win wars when those being attacked are on the defensive in their own countries.

The nexus of economic muscle and political power is a tough nut to crack, but, if we have any hope for a peaceful future, we’ve got to take on this center of power.

It really is time for us, the people of the United States, to get our priorities straight and make this one of the defining issues as we move ahead. Peaceworks needs, and welcomes, your participation in this effort.