Archives for category: War

A progressive website in Greene County, NY is bound to spend a lot of time focusing on negatives and seeking prospects for improvement, just by the nature of things (and the nature of upstate politics). So it is a pleasure to briefly report on two feel-good events in our state last week, both from New York City.

The first and most important was the visit of Pope Francis to three East Coast cities, including New York. This Pope has inspired people from all faiths around the world, and his message resonates with secular citizens, too. His focus on fundamental fairness and the Golden Rule appeals to everyone in possession of any empathy at all, and his insistence that we—humanity—address the major issues of our day, such as income inequality, climate change and massive immigration, provides much-needed hope for many.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis in NYC. Photo:

The Pope concludes his American journey in Philadelphia today.

Our second bit of happy news stems from the New York Mets, who are once again amazin’. Yesterday the Mets clinched the Eastern Division title, albeit on the road in Cincinnati. (A large contingent of New Yorkers had driven out to Ohio for the event.) It’s been 9 years since the Mets’ last division title, a long drought that includes two late-season collapses, so this year’s triumph is especially sweet.

Matt Harvey with Mets fans
Matt Harvey celebrates with fans. Photo: Aaron Doster, Associated Press.

The Mets will take on the L.A. Dodgers, another team with strong pitching, in the first round of playoffs. It should be a lot of fun.

Andrew Cuomo, thwarted in his desire to avoid a Democratic primary next month and still smarting from criticism over his questionable handling of endemic state corruption, decided to take his first trip outside the country as governor.

He went to Israel, to voice his support for that country’s “right to defend itself.”

Cuomo Meets Netanyahu
Tough guys: Cuomo Meets Netanyahu. Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for NY Times.

As the New York Times pointed out, Cuomo is just one of a number of U.S. politicians hastening to score political points back home by traveling to Israel to show support. Israel may increasingly be a pariah on the world stage, but a majority of Americans continue to support the country regardless of how many war crimes it commits.

Did I say “war crimes?” Indeed I did. Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians qualifies, and Israel has done nothing but ratchet up its disproportionate use of force as the years go by. Yes, the country has a right to defend itself. But killing 1,900 Palestinians, nearly half of those civilians, while losing 60 soldiers (and 3 civilians) is not defense—it is a powerful, lopsided and unjustified offense. And the enormous number of Palestinian deaths is only part of Israel’s savagery; the widespread destruction of homes, property and facilities will cripple life in Gaza for a long time to come. Life that Israel’s “peacetime” policies already render exceedingly hard.

To say Israel’s actions can be blamed on Hamas (as Cuomo and Hillary Clinton have done) is to excuse the inexcusable. If Hamas has militants and equipment within a civilian population—a civilian population packed into a small sliver of land— does Israel then have the moral right to obliterate that civilian population? The U.N. and most of Europe do not think so, but America apparently still does.

You’re ever the diplomat, Andy.

The situation in Syria represents one of the thornier moral problems in recent years. Not in terms of the recent chemical weapons attack—that is clearly a moral outrage, and its perpetrators (the Assad regime, in my view) are war criminals. But Syria is complicated by recent American history and widespread moral ambivalence among U.S. citizens and others.

No one wants another Iraq. The resolution currently before Congress imposes strict qualifications on any American intervention to “punish” the Syrian regime. Yet there is a widespread belief among the American public (and the British public, and many other citizens in many other countries) that these qualifications are meaningless, and any American intervention would automatically lead to escalation and U.S. involvement in Syria’s horrific civil war. There is also a strain of xenophobia at work, in which ordinary people shrug off the gassing of some 1400 civilians in Syria and focus on more prosaic mattters at home.

Bashar al-Assad, war criminal
Bashar al-Assad, war criminal

Yet another argument against intervention is that the U.S. is applying selective morality in targeting Syria. After all, we didn’t go after Saddam Hussein for gassing the Kurds (though we soon went after him for other reasons). This is a valid argument, in that we have been selective in our moral criteria. But I don’t believe it is a sufficient argument against intervention in this case.

I am for U.S. strikes against Assad, for the following reasons:

1. Assad and his top officials are guilty of violating military and moral conventions that go back nearly a century. Chemical weapons are universally agreed to have no place on the battlefield, or elsewhere. Their use is an atrocious human rights violation, and the people who use them are justifiably regarded as criminals. We need to maintain this convention, along with the prohibition against biological and nuclear weapons.
2. The fact that the U.S. is being selective in its moral criteria, or for that matter has been guilty of its own criminal behavior in the past, does not render Assad’s behavior moot. Obama has a more developed moral sense than his predecessors, at least as regards this behavior. Just because we have not acted correctly in the past does not mean we should not do so now.
3. Failure to punish the perpetrators for the use of these weapons will put us on a slippery slope where they will be used again, and with increasing frequency. It also opens the door for other totalitarian regimes to test the world’s will when it comes to forbidden weapons. There are already rogue actors on the nuclear stage; do you want them to feel the world is powerless to intervene?
4. Given recent revelations about the NSA’s overwhelming technical capabilities, and our track record with special forces and drones, I have to think the U.S. is capable of targeting Assad himself and his henchmen, while selectively degrading the Syrian regime’s military capability overall. And targeting Assad, along with top military officials, is probably the most effective—and just—punishment we can devise.

Having outlined these reasons, it is still necessary to add caveats. We DO need to avoid indiscriminate use of force and civilian casualties in Syria. Killing more Syrians makes no sense on any level. Obama needs to make a strong case that we can act with precision and restraint, and only destroy what should be destroyed, then get out.

I realize there is a strong chance that Congress will not approve U.S. action. In that case, there should be no American intervention. Obama made a conscious decision to go to Congress (misguided, in my opinion, given the dysfunctional nature of the current Congress), so he needs to abide by their decision. There would still be things the U.S. could do, though. One is labeling Assad as the war criminal he is, and pursuing charges against him. That might take years, but so be it. We don’t know what the outcome in Syria is going to be; Assad might still be captured. If he is, he should stand trial for his crimes.

We will most likely have a chance to see the U.N. report from Syria before any U.S. action occurs. Assuming it verifies that the Assad regime was responsible for the August 21 chemical weapons attack, a strong, targeted and punitive U.S. response remains the best choice.

It’s not often that I or other progressives can find common ground with our conservative Congressman Chris Gibson. I feel he and other “gun rights” supporters have distorted the Second Amendment beyond recognition, for one thing. But on the Fourth Amendment, Congressman Gibson has it exactly right, and he deserves a salute for that.

Gibson has been vocal in criticizing the almost daily revelations of U.S. government spying on its own citizens, generally focused on the National Security Agency. He and 19 other members of Congress recently sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and NSA Director General Keith Alexander, essentially asking them to explain what the hell is going on. The letter has not received a response.

Congressman Gibson is co-sponsoring legislation which would limit the ability of the federal government to collect information on Americans who are not under investigation. The proposed law, known as the LIBERT-E Act, would also require opinions from the FISA courts to be made public. This would be an important step forward. Kudos to Chris Gibson for standing up for our Fourth Amendment rights.

A quick postscript on Edward Snowden
: patriotism works both ways. If, as Congressman Gibson believes, the U.S. government is subverting the Fourth Amendment with its NSA spying programs and if that is in fact a dangerous and wrong thing to do, it then follows that the person who revealed the NSA’s nefarious activity has done a good thing. I’d like to see our Congressman voice his support for Mr. Snowden, as Senator Rand Paul has done. Most of the GOP takes this response instead.

The issue of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars seems to have faded from public consciousness. It is important that Americans continue to recognize that these wars were sold to us with a pack of lies. They created unprecedented human misery, including the unnecessary deaths of thousands of young Americans, resulted in huge deficits (following a Democratic administration that left the country with a budget surplus), and failed to accomplish any of their stated aims of creating democracies and ensuring a guaranteed supply of middle eastern oil.

Significantly, when the Bush administration left office, Dick Cheney stated that he was satisfied that they had accomplished what they set out to do. What could that have been other than to make him and Bush’s supporters very, very wealthy, destroy the nation’s economy, and make the world a much more dangerous place.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led the Marine squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians (including women and children) in the town of Haditha in 2005, pleaded guilty today to “negligent dereliction of duty” in a deal that will bring him a maximum of three months confinement.

Government prosecutors declined to comment on the plea deal. Prosecutors failed to get even one manslaughter conviction in the case that involved eight Marines.

Wuterich had faced the possibility of life behind bars. After pleading guilty to the minor charge, Wuterich now faces a maximum of three months in confinement, two-thirds forfeiture of pay and a rank demotion to private when he’s sentenced, which will happen Tuesday morning. The plea agreement calls for manslaughter charges to be dropped.

Seven other Marines in his squad were acquitted or had charges dismissed.