Archive for the ‘US foreign policy’ Category

How US Aggression in Ukraine Risks Nuclear War

March 10, 2015

[April 11, 2015 update:  Thanks for stopping by.  The essay posted below outlines how recent provocative US and NATO actions could lead, intentionally or not, to nuclear war with Russia.  Since posting the essay, I’ve become aware that President Obama appears to be postponing the shipment of arms to the Ukrainian military, while the agreement known as Minsk II, negotiated by Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine, plays out.  But I also understand Minsk II is shaky.  So we may have at least a momentary reprieve, along with a more immediate possible trigger for war.  I discuss the background in the post below, but want to mention right here some sources I’ve become aware of, or decided deserve more emphasis, since writing the essay:

About the fabrications of General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander in Europe,;

For a ten-minute documentary that strongly suggests the involvement of the authorities in a massacre in Odessa last spring in which many anti-coup activists were burned alive, and which was a major cause of the ensuing civil war, search “Odessa documentary” at;

On the wall of disinformation, this from NYU and Princeton Prof. Stephen Cohen:  “The problem is that the Washington elite depends primarily on mainstream television and on the three newspapers: The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Our point of view never, since last February, when the crisis began, has appeared on their opinion pages, never. We’ve been excluded. [Former US ambassador to Russia] Jack Matlock hasn’t been there, [University of Chicago] professor Mearsheimer [see immediately below] hasn’t been there, my articles have been rejected. I’ve never seen this before in America, this is something very strange to me, because newspapers used to like controversy, but on this issue, they seem to have convinced themselves there’s only one point of view.”  “NATO’s games with Ukraine bring world to 5 minutes before nuclear midnight,” October 10, 2014, at;

For more on “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” by University of Chicago professor John J. Mearsheimer, published in Foreign Affairs, in September-October 2014, together with a critique of the article and Prof. Mearsheimer’s reply in the November-December 2014 issue, go to;

Frontline Ukraine: Crisis In The Borderlands by Professor Richard Sakwa published December 2014, reviewed at;

And, with its self-explanatory title, how “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True,” by Eric Schlosser,  at (I’m now reading and also recommend Schlosser’s book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.)]

*   *   *

I voted for Barack Obama for president twice, for one reason: I thought he would not get us into a nuclear war. Now I’m afraid even that reason for my vote is wearing thin, threatened by US and NATO aggression in Ukraine. As the US continues threatening to send so-called “defensive” weapons to the Ukraine government and to impose yet more economic sanctions against Russia – despite the recent ceasefire agreement beginning to take hold – the prospect of Armageddon by accident increases. Moreover, Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he would (understandably) regard the US arming the Ukrainian military an act of war, to which Russia would respond. I don’t think that means he would resort to nuclear weapons, at least initially. But if the already tense situation continues to heat up, anything could happen.

The latest is that the US is readying soldiers for Ukraine deployment. “The US Army is preparing to send approximately 300 troops at a time to train Ukrainian forces in western Ukraine, according to documents posted on a government contracting site.” Oh, but they’ll only be there as advisers, like in Vietnam. But then there are the “massive wargames in Eastern Europe and naval exercises in the Black Sea, [where] warships from the US, Turkey, Italy, Canada and Romania started drills” earlier this month. And then there’s the NATO military parade on February 24, held just 300 meters from the Russian border. “About 140 pieces of armor and 10 times as many troops, including US soldiers, took part in that event.” Naturally those suspicious Russians claim that “NATO is using the situation in Ukraine to push closer to Russia’s border.” And frankly, this makes me a little nervous myself.

But don’t we need to take on “the new Hitler,” as Hillary Clinton has called Mr. Putin, by any means necessary? Well, if Putin really were comparable to Hitler, at least we might have an excuse to be involved in Ukraine. But even then – updating our thinking from the 1930s – it should be the first rule of sensible geopolitics that nuclear powers never, ever fight. And it helps that Putin, to my mind, has committed no aggression in Ukraine.

We need to remember that the crisis began when US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, formerly senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, successfully plotted to overthrow Ukraine’s constitutionally elected government. The Neo-Nazi Svoboda Party and Right Factor militias seized weapons from armories and took power by force. To my mind, the US investment of $5 billion in this violent regime change was a form of aggression.

Since then, US, NATO, and Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of aggression in Ukraine. But none have offered any proof, or even substantial evidence. Most recently they have been reduced to claiming to have circumstantial evidence that Russia has armed the rebels in eastern Ukraine – alleging that the rebels have weapons they could only have obtained from Russia. And they are reported to have shown photographic evidence to a journalist for a Western news outlet – but none have been published.

On the other hand, if Russia had actually invaded Ukraine when Western officials claimed it had, we face the disturbing prospect that our old Cold War adversary is now able to render its troops – along with armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, and other heavy weaponry – invisible while crossing the Russian border. Don’t we have satellites that can read a license plate on the ground in Ukraine? And if our government had photographic evidence of an invasion, wouldn’t they be showing it to the American people and the world, just as Colin Powell showed the United Nations his “proof” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? So it must be that in their efforts to compete with the US military’s “stealth” bombers, the Russians have developed techniques to render heavy weaponry and entire armies invisible. Or – okay, who exactly is out to lunch here?

The Soviet Union suffered at least 24 million casualties in World War II. Well over eight million Soviet soldiers died fighting Hitler, in the process destroying 70% of the German Wehrmacht and 80% of the Luftwaffe.[1] If the Soviets were not at the time shredding so many German divisions on the Eastern Front, the Allies might well have had to swim back to England on D-Day. Yet in but one of many petty insults, the US and its allies patted themselves on the back this last June 6th without inviting Mr. Putin to the party. (US losses in WWII, including the Pacific, were 408,000.)

Dwight Eisenhower, the last US president to actually have experienced war first-hand, declined to intervene when Soviet troops were reclaiming Hungary for the USSR in 1956. Yet now Mr. Obama is spearheading a drive for further economic sanctions – arguably, acts of war – against Russia, and appears to be on the verge of sending sophisticated weapons to – where was it again? Oh, the Ukraine, which many Americans couldn’t find on a map, and whose current government is riddled with neo-Nazis.

If you get all your information from the mainstream media, such as the New York Times and Associated Press reports, confronting Russia now might seem scary but not crazy. After all, a recent editorial-page cartoon disseminated by the Washington Post (February 1, 2015) demonizing Putin reflects the widely held view that he has been destroying one country after another.[2] Didn’t Russia invade and ultimately destroy Iraq, in clear violation of international law as well as all the laws of morality and decency? Didn’t Russia lead the bombing campaign that destroyed Libya as a functioning state? Isn’t Russia still trying to destroy the Syrian government, yet another secular regime in the Middle East, thus giving rise to ISIS and strengthening other extremist movements?

Oh, sorry. That was us. All of it. Well, but hasn’t Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula?   It surely means nothing that over 170,000 Soviet soldiers died in 1942 defending Sevastopol in a brutal, 170-day siege, and another 100,000 died retaking the Crimean peninsula in 1944. Or that Crimeans voted by over 90% to ask to join the Russian Federation. Mr. Putin points to the example of Kosovo as justification for the Federation’s then annexing Crimea, stating at the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014:

“The decision to hold the referendum was made by the legitimate authority of Crimea – its Parliament, elected a few years ago under Ukrainian law prior to all these grave events….[T]hen based on its results, they adopted a declaration of independence, just as Kosovo did, and turned to the Russian Federation with a request to accept Crimea into the Russian state.

“…[T]he language of the United Nations court ruling…clearly states (as applied to the Kosovo precedent) that the decision on self-determination does not require the approval of the supreme authority of a country.”

While I’m not prepared to write the legal brief in support of that position without a little research, it’s hardly unreasonable. After all, Crimea was only transferred from Russia to the Ukraine by administrative action in the 1950s. In any case, while “[t]he State Department portrayed the referendum as a ‘sham’ … more objective observers acknowledge that the vote – although hasty – reflected a broad consensus inside Crimea to bail out of the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin a somewhat more functional Russia, where pensions are about three times higher and have a better chance of being paid.”[3]

Or maybe the US should give the Alamo, as well as the rest of Texas, along with Arizona, New Mexico, and California, back to Mexico, from which it stole them by war without even consulting the people then living there, let alone holding a referendum. As Abe Lincoln observed at the time, in waging war on Mexico the US was just acting like the farmer who said, “I ain’t greedy ’bout land. I only want what jines mine!”

But what about the rebellion in eastern Ukraine? Well, when neo-Nazis overthrew the democratically elected government of Ukraine in a violent coup, one of their first acts was to try to outlaw the Russian language in “their” country. And Yulia Tymoshenko,  former prime minister of Ukraine, apparently suggested Ukraine’s eight million ethnic Russians should be “nuked.”[4] And “[t]hen, there was the massacre of ethnic Russians burned alive in Odessa’s trade union building on May 2, with neo-Nazi militias again on the front lines. Like other topics that put the U.S.-backed coup regime in a bad light, the Odessa massacre quickly moved off the front pages and there has been little follow-up from international agencies that supposedly care about human rights. [See’s ‘Ukraine’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Reality,]”[5]

So maybe this made the millions of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine just a bit nervous. And they started pushing, not for secession, but a degree of local autonomy, in a Ukrainian Federation. But instead of negotiating with them, the Ukrainian government called them “terrorists,” launched a full-scale military assault, and pounded the major cities of eastern Ukraine with heavy artillery. Frankly, if the Russians at that point began providing them with the means to defend themselves, I would not regard it as the business of the USA to object, let alone intervene.

Suppose such things were happening in the Western Hemisphere. Suppose Russia had enlisted many of the countries of Central and South American to join a military alliance hostile to the USA. Suppose that it then spent $5 billion overthrowing the elected government of Mexico and installing there a regime hostile to US interests. Would the United States stand idly by for such developments? Anybody who thinks so must not have been born yet, or not paying attention, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Kennedy administration brought the world to the brink of nuclear war over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Perhaps not unlike the account in American schoolbooks of the US war on Mexico, the entire recent history of Ukraine has been a matter of misleading, false and deceptive advertising by Western governments and media – falsehoods by omission as well as flat-out lies. For example, the violent coup that overthrew the elected government has been forgotten. And it appears that those snipers firing into the crowds in Maidan Square may have been working, not for the government, but for those who ultimately overthrew it by force. Moreover, considerable evidence suggests it was not the rebels but Ukrainian military aircraft that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH170, a Boeing 777. And Russia has been accused of aggression in Ukraine on multiple occasions, without, thus far, any proof having been offered.

However, one major Western media outlet published an accurate analysis – once – on the origins of the current crisis: Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the US armed forces, on February 13 published a piece by Steven Hurst of Associated Press in which he stated that:

“Since the Soviet collapse — as Moscow had feared — [the NATO] alliance has spread eastward, expanding along a line from Estonia in the north to Romania and Bulgaria in the south. The Kremlin claims it had Western assurances that would not happen. Now, Moscow’s only buffers to a complete NATO encirclement on its western border are Finland, Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin would not have to be paranoid to look at that map with concern.”[6]

Our responsibility as moral agents demands that we concern ourselves with what our government is doing in yet another country halfway around the world. But in addition to fundamental morality and decency, I believe human survival is threatened here. One excellent analysis of the risks has recently been published by William R. Polk, a key member of the Kennedy White House team that handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dr. Polk recalls the 19th century experiment in which a biologist found that if he placed a frog in boiling water, the frog immediately leapt out, but that if he placed the frog in tepid water and then gradually heated it, the frog stayed put until he was scalded to death. Dr. Polk warns us not to be like that frog, as events unfold in the Ukraine confrontation. The events are profoundly frightening. “But,” he writes, “they are so gradual that we do not see a specific moment in which we must jump or perish.” And so he lays out the process of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and shows how the process of that crisis compares with what we face today over the Ukraine.[7] Here’s how Dr. Polk summarizes why we are at increasing risk of nuclear war:

“1) … Russia and the United States remain parallel nuclear powers … each having the capacity to destroy the other — and probably the whole world. …

“2) Both Russia and the United States are governed by men who are unlikely to be able to accept humiliation … and would be forced to act even at the cost of massive destruction to their countries. So pressing the leadership of the opponent in this direction is literally playing with fire….[A]t a certain point in their mutual threats, events replace policy and leaders become bystanders.

“3) [Neither] the Russian [nor the] American people … is apt to be open to intimidation.

“4) Both the Russians and the Americans are guided in their foreign policy by what they believe to be ‘core concerns.’  For … Americans … this comes down to the assertion of a ‘zone of exclusion’ of outsiders. America showed in the Cuban Missile Crisis that we would not tolerate, even at almost unimaginable danger, intrusion into our zone. … [T]he Russians, [h]aving suffered … horrifying costs of invasion … particularly in the 20th century, … can be expected to block, by any means and up to any cost, intrusions into their zone.[[8]]

“5) We said we understood this fundamental policy objective of the Russians, and officially on behalf of our government Secretary of State James Baker, Jr. agreed not to push our military activities into their sphere. We have, however, violated this agreement and have added country by constituent country of the former Soviet Union and its satellites to our military alliance, NATO.

“6)  We are now at the final stage, just short of Russia itself in the Ukraine, and, as the Russians know, some influential Americans have suggested that we should push forward to ‘the gates of Moscow,’ [and] … now see the necessary first steps to be the arming of the Ukraine. And finally,

“7)  [Any weapons we supply] are likely both to give the Ukrainians unrealistic notions of what they can do vis-à-vis Russia[,] and to be seen by the Russians as ‘offensive’ moves to which they might feel compelled to respond.…” As I mentioned, Mr. Putin has already said he would regard the US arming Ukraine as an act of war.

So what can we do? As Dr. Polk points out, the first thing we need to do is quite simple:

“In a word: stop. … [Unless we do,] … the logic of events could force the Russians and us to the next step and that step also to the next and so on. …”

Dr. Polk then suggests as a basis for terminating current, quite possibly suicidal, US policy:

“1) [We should understand that] Russia will not tolerate the Ukraine becoming a hostile member of a rival military pact. … Thus, to press for inclusion of the Ukraine into NATO is … pointing us toward at least a cold — if not a hot — war. …

“2) We must recognize that the Ukraine is not part of our sphere of influence or dominance. It is neither in the Western Hemisphere nor in the North Atlantic. On the Black Sea, the concept of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a [contradiction in terms]. The Black Sea area is part of what the Russians call ‘the near abroad.’ … Just as the Russians realized that Cuba was part of our sphere of dominance and so backed down in the Missile Crisis, they will probably [act] on the belief that we will similarly back down because [we realize] that the Ukraine is in their neighborhood and not in ours. The danger, of course is that, for domestic political reasons … we may not accept this geostrategic fact. …”

To begin backing away from this abyss of its own making, the US should first, “stop our military intrusion into Ukrainian-Russian affairs, so diminishing Russian fears of aggression, and, second, wherever possible and in whatever ways are acceptable to both parties to assist the growth of the Ukrainian economy and, indirectly, the stability and sanity of the Ukrainian governing system. …”

Of course, assisting the Ukrainian economy may be beyond the ability – and contrary to the desires – of US policy-makers. John Pilger outlines the impediments to US withdrawal from yet another foreign policy debacle:

“The rulers of the world want Ukraine not only as a missile base; they want its economy. Kiev’s new Finance Minister, Nataliwe Jaresko, is a former senior US State Department official in charge of US overseas “investment”. She was hurriedly given Ukrainian citizenship.

“They want Ukraine for its abundant gas; Vice President Joe Biden’s son is on the board of Ukraine’s biggest oil, gas and fracking company. The manufacturers of GM seeds, companies such as the infamous Monsanto, want Ukraine’s rich farming soil.

“Above all, they want … to Balkanise or dismember Russia and exploit the greatest source of natural gas on earth. As the Arctic ice melts, they want control of the Arctic Ocean and its energy riches, and Russia’s long Arctic land border. Their man in Moscow used to be Boris Yeltsin, a drunk, who handed his country’s economy to the West. His successor, Putin, has re-established Russia as a sovereign nation; that is his crime.”

The burden of responsibility is therefore on us: It is “to identify and expose the reckless lies of warmongers and never to collude with them. It is to re-awaken the great popular movements that brought a fragile civilisation to modern imperial states. Most important, it is to prevent the conquest of ourselves: our minds, our humanity, our self respect. If we remain silent, victory over us is assured, and a holocaust beckons.”[9]

Amen, brother. And let’s do it now. Continue to inform yourself. But meanwhile – right now! – call, write, email or shout to your federal legislators and the White House that you want the United States to stand for peace and security; to withdraw from its aggressive stance toward Russia; to stop threatening or even thinking about sending more arms to Ukraine; and immediately, at least to stand down from “hair trigger” status the nuclear weapons on Russia’s frontiers and in eastern Europe, or better yet, remove them.[10]

I have only outlined briefly here the main events and the risks I believe are raised by the current course of US action toward Ukraine. For a deeper understanding of the crisis and the risks it poses of nuclear confrontation and war, see the recommended reading, below, and for ongoing reporting from alternative perspectives, consult the resources listed further below.

Recommended reading (quotes in parentheses are taken from the recommended article):

William Blum, “Russia Invades Ukraine: Again. And Again. And Yet Again,”

William Blum, “How is It Putin is the One Compared to Hitler?”,

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (2003) (in which Dr. Chomsky shows how US political leadership has risked human survival for the sake of global hegemony repeatedly since the end of World War II).

Brian Cloughley, “Why the Western Media Pushes for War on Russia,”

Binoy Kimark, “House Resolution 758: Groaning Towards War,” December 09, 2014, posted at

Dmitry Orlov, “How Can You Tell Whether Russia Has Invaded Ukraine?”,

Robert Parry, “Failing Tonkin Gulf Test on Ukraine,” (“Though the last Congress already whipped through belligerent resolutions denouncing ‘Russian aggression’ and urging a military response – with only five Democrats and five Republicans dissenting – members of the new Congress could at least ascertain the facts that have driven the Ukraine conflict. Before the world lurches into a nuclear showdown, it might make a little sense to know what got us here. … For instance, Congress could investigate the role of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in orchestrating the political crisis that led to a violent coup overthrowing Ukraine’s constitutionally elected President Viktor Yanukovych a year ago.”)

Theodore A. Postol, “How the Obama Administration learned to stop worrying and love the bomb,” (The Nation, Dec. 10, 2014; in Dec. 29, 2014 print edition) (This article tells, among other things, how Obama’s plans to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal shortens the time a prospective adversary has in which to decide whether it is under attack and whether to launch a retaliatory strike, thus increasing the prospects for an “accidental” nuclear war.)

Washington’s Blog, “Congress Declares War Against Russia … Bipartisan Ridicule Follows,” posted on December 8, 2014 at (“Liberal former long-time congressman Dennis Kucinich agrees: ‘H. Res. 758 … is tantamount to a ‘Declaration of Cold War’ against Russia, reciting a host of grievances, old and new, against Russia which represent complaints that Russia could well make against the U.S., given our nation’s most recent military actions: Violating territorial integrity, violations of international law, violations of nuclear arms agreements.’”)

Statements of Russian president Vladimir Putin:

Press conference about Ukraine, March 4, 2014,; Video

Interview on German TV (Dubbed – Transcript) on November 18, 2014, posted at

Speech on his reasons for the annexation of the Crimea, March 18, 2014, posted at

Speech and a question and answer session at the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014, posted at

For ongoing updates (in addition to the sources of articles cited above):

Daily postings at, including articles by Mike Whitney, Michael Hudson, and others, some cited above in Recommended reading. (The Noam Chomsky Website) (The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond) (Russian 24/7 English-language news channel which brings a Russian view on global news).




[3] Robert Parry, “Failing Tonkin Gulf Test on Ukraine,”


[5] Robert Parry, “Failing Tonkin Gulf Test,” fn. 1 above.

[6] Steven R. Hurst, “NATO expansion after Cold War at heart of crisis in Ukraine,” February 13, 2015, posted at

[7] For the full article, see William R. Polk, “Cuban Missile Crisis In Reverse? The Cold War and Ukraine,” at

[8] William R. Polk, “Shaping the Deep Memories of Russians and Ukrainians,”

[9] John Pilger, “Why the Rise of Fascism Is Again the Issue,” On the prospects of the Ukrainian economy, see Michael Hudson, “The Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch: Ukraine Denouement,” February 16, 2015,

[10] As called for in WR Polk, Postscript to a Solution to the Ukrainian Crisis (February 27, 2015), personally emailed to the author; see also Dr. Polk’s website,

This essay was initially posted by CounterPunch at


False Advertising: The Marketing of Obama’s War on Syria

September 9, 2013

As the Obama administration continues to market its planned war on Syria as a “limited” strike and “shot across the bow,” the language of the resolution the Congress is being asked to vote on this week and the plans of the President’s national security team belie any such limited intention.

The text opens with the false claim that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons against its civilian population.  Of course, taking aggressive military action without UN authorization would be illegal under international law, regardless of anything the Assad regime has done.  But it bears repeating that the administration has produced no evidence to back up its claim, while the rebels clearly have chemical weapons capability and Carla Del Ponte, Member of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, last May said that a UN investigation indicated it was the rebels who had used nerve gas in a previous attack.

But beyond the fact that the war is being sold with lies, the fact that war is planned at all is being hidden by the administration and most or all of the mainstream media behind a false and misleading marketing campaign.  If the campaign is successful, we’re about to be treated to what is known among those who enforce the law of deception as “bait and switch” – when an advertiser draws the prospective mark in with one product while intending to deliver something else.

The truth is revealed in the language of the Authorization to Use Military Force as it emerged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week on a 10-7 vote.  The document, labeled S.J. 21 on the Senate website,, incorporates in one of its “Whereas” clauses that “the President’s goals of Assad leaving power” (along with “an end to the violence” and “a negotiated political settlement in Syria”) are necessary to a “stable, democratic future for Syria and regional peace and security,” and that achievement of this goal requires “decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria.”  The resolution goes on to state, “It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.”

The President himself came pretty close to calling for regime change by name when he told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting last week that the attack on Syria “also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region.”

There is later on in the Congressional document a prohibition on the use of “the United States Armed Forces” on the ground in Syria “for the purpose of combat operations.”  One may wonder whether that language is intended to cover CIA operatives, advisers, or military contractors.  But in any case, ABC News has reported that the President’s national security team is planning a “significantly larger” attack on Syria than the administration’s marketing campaign would lead us to expect.

The ABC broadcast mentions use of B-2 and B-52 bombers as well as a “relentless assault” with “the vast majority” of the 200 Tomahawk missiles on Navy destroyers already stationed off the coast of Syria.  The broadcast quotes a senior national security official as saying the US assault “could do more damage to Assad’s forces in 48 hours than the rebels have done in two years of civil war.”

Anybody?  Does all of this sound like it contemplates a “limited strike” or a “warning shot across the bow”?  (Recall that a shot “across the bow” doesn’t actually hit anything.)  And how comforting will it be if no US Armed Forces have their boots on the ground, while hundreds or even thousands of Syrian civilians are killed and maimed in another “shock and awe” campaign that may well even ignite a larger regional war?

Along with the drums of war, I’m hearing regime change.  And unfortunately, the sound has become all too familiar.

NO US War On Syria

September 4, 2013

President Obama now seeks Congressional approval for a military strike against Syria.

The Congress should save us and the President from this proposed folly by declining to authorize it.  The US and its allies should refrain from attacking Syria and instead promote a durable ceasefire and a political solution.

Assuming chemical weapons were used in Syria last month, who used them will likely remain unclear.  Carla del Ponte, former Swiss war crimes prosecutor and a member of a UN commission of inquiry on Syria, said last June in an interview with Swiss Italian broadcaster RSI that, “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.”

An attack on Syria without UN authorization would in any case be a clear violation of international law.  It would also be ill-advised, hypocritical, and deeply immoral.

As a senior British military commander told the Financial Times (8/29/13), “The idea that the west can neatly restrict any attack to a short duration punishment with the limits drawn exclusively by us is naïve in the extreme.”

If the President is really upset by the use of chemical weapons, perhaps he could arrange compensation for the victims of US use of other internationally condemned weapons of war, such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Agent Orange in Vietnam.   This is not to diminish or denigrate the horror of chemical weapons.  But unexploded cluster bombs can release over a wide area tiny bomblets that can do terrible harm to children who pick them up.  Iraqis are suffering terrible birth defects, especially in Fallujah, in the wake of widespread use of depleted uranium by the US military.  White phosphorus gas melts the skin and burns to the bone.

For more on these issues, see “Killing Civilians to Protect Civilians” by law professor Marjorie Cohn and attorney Jeanne Mirer, at

Avoiding the Even Greater Depression: We Can Still Build A Sustainable Recovery

September 2, 2010

Former assistant Treasury secretary Paul Craig Roberts rightly argues that new federal stimulus financed by deficit spending and spent in the “throw money out the window” manner can’t revive the economy because there are no jobs to call workers back to: The jobs have been outsourced to China, India, and elsewhere via the so-called “free trade” agreements. (“Economists Haven’t Got a Clue: Death By Globalism,” September 1, 2010, However, Roberts’ prescription is to cut the military budget to bring down the deficit. However, any form of austerity, including military budget cuts, would have the anti-Keynesian effect of depressing the economy further. We need more federal stimulus; the problem with the first attempt is that it was too small. (Martin Wolf, “Obama was too cautious in fearful times,” Financial Times, September 1, 2010; see further, e.g., Mark Weisbrot, “Why Fiscal Tightening Will Hurt Spain’s Economy: Drawing the Wrong Lessons From Germany’s Recovery,” September 1, 2010,; Mike Whitney, “Land of Squandered Opportunity: An Avoidable Depression,” August 5, 2010,

Of course, the military budget – and US military adventurism around the world – should be cut very substantially for reasons of policy and morality. So the solution is in substantial federal stimulus, to pump up aggregate demand, but financed by a combination of military budget cuts and deficit spending. The proceeds, if targeted to permanent job creation in energy conservation (e.g., weatherization of homes and businesses and other forms of increased efficiency), truly green energy production, mass transit, agriculture, and other fields – not “infrastructure” to preserve the dying auto-based economy – can grow the economy on a sustainable basis.
Thus far, only a fraction of the money thrown at economic recovery has been allocated to the “real” economy where many of the workers who still have jobs are struggling just to keep food on the table. Substantially more is needed in the short-term. But looking ahead, we should keep in mind that the economy that was operating prior to the onset of the financial crisis was unsustainable and cannot be revived, in part because it was based on over-consumption financed by excessive and continuingly increasing leverage (debt). An economy running on ever-increasing debt is one huge Ponzi scheme, and that’s what Treasury and the Fed are still trying to revive.

Instead, we should reexamine the various so-called “free trade” agreements to redress the damage Paul Craig Roberts describes and ensure that the effort to rebuild our economy is not undermined by the continued off shoring and outsourcing of jobs. These agreements include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act ( would address the provisions of these agreements that undermine our economy by rewriting the rules governing international trade to make it a positive force for working people in the U.S. and around the world. The TRADE Act is now cosponsored by more than half the Democratic Members of Congress. While details may still change, in broad terms, the TRADE Act would establish mandatory standards for future trade agreements regarding labor, the environment, consumer safety, trade in services, public procurement, agriculture, intellectual property, and other concerns; require the review and renegotiation of existing trade pacts, such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO, so that they meet the new standards; and reassert congressional authority and public oversight in the trade policymaking process.

Even more immediately, we need repaired and improved infrastructure, with the emphasis on energy conservation, mass transit and renewable sources, education to prepare workers for the jobs of the future, and a universal healthcare system to enable U.S. firms to be viable and compete. Investing almost entirely in mass transit rather than automobile-related infrastructure could be a critical part of the solution. We should rebuild our rail system for the shipment of goods as well as alternative transportation. Restoration of train service in the vicinity of major cities would alone greatly decrease the need for air transit of a few hundred miles, which is comparatively inefficient and wasteful of scarce resources. The initial federal stimulus continued to reflect a belief that resources are unlimited, all but ignoring the need for a new efficiency. As James Howard Kunstler observes (

“One very plain and straightforward example at hand is the announcement … of a plan to build a high-speed rail network. To be blunt about it, this is perfectly … stupid. It will require a whole new track network, because high speed trains can’t run on the old rights of way with their less forgiving curve ratios and grades. We would be so much better off simply fixing up and reactivating the normal-speed track system that is sitting out there rusting in the rain—and save our more grandiose visions for a later time.

“… With the airlines in a business death spiral, and mass motoring doomed, we need a national passenger rail system desperately. But we already have one that used to be the envy of the world before we abandoned it. And we don’t have either the time or the resources to build a new parallel network.”
We also have the opportunity to re-tool old factories for the production of products used in the new green industries. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has sponsored a bill that begins to address this need. We should explore the regionalization of manufacturing to reduce shipping costs and provide jobs throughout the country, providing opportunities in states where manufacturing has not previously been a major economic activity.

There is considerable public support for such measures. A bipartisan poll recently conducted by Mark Mellman and Whit Ayres shows U.S. voters are unified in their concern over the loss of manufacturing jobs. In a poll of 1,000 likely general election voters, “We have lost too many manufacturing jobs” is the top concern among independents and working class voters, even compared to government debt, loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high cost of health care, illegal immigration or terrorism. Eighty-seven percent favor having a “national manufacturing strategy,” 77 percent say that “jobs being shipped overseas” is among the issues they worry about most or worry about a great deal, and 92 percent have a somewhat or very favorable impression of goods made in America. Other highlights from the poll are that 86 percent of voters want Washington to focus on manufacturing, and 63 percent feel working people who make things are being forgotten while Wall Street and banks get bailouts. Two-thirds of voters believe manufacturing is central to our economic strength, and 57 percent believe manufacturing is even more central to our economic strength than high-tech, knowledge or financial service sectors. The poll shows overlap among Tea Party supporters, independents, non-union households and union households on these issues. And it found all that without even offering the more fundamental choices, such as withdrawal from NAFTA, for which voter support has been growing for some time.

Margaret Kimberley ( makes some additional useful suggestions, such as true healthcare reform (which would relieve considerable stress on existing businesses) and drastic cuts in wasteful as well as dangerous military spending (see further below). Apart from the horrendous impact on millions of people, the lack of universal healthcare places U.S.-based businesses at a competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in other industrialized countries, all of which have such programs. More generally, the social safety nets in other countries – unemployment benefits, welfare systems, and pension systems – are more generous, and these not only benefit their people as individuals and families but also strengthen their economies as a whole. (Jeremy Gantz, “America, The Is A Better Way: It’s Called Germany,” July 23, 2010,

There is yet an additional dimension to the difficulty of economic reconstruction for long-term prosperity and sustainability. When we recovered from past recessions, we had abundant natural resources. With cheap oil now substantially gone and the Old Economy threatening the biosphere itself (breathable air, drinkable water, arable land), it’s both futile and unwise to attempt a “jump start.” We need an economy restructured as if people and the Earth matter, not billions to build or rebuild highways and tax breaks to buy cars and trucks nobody wants anymore. James Howard Kunstler again:

“The truth is that we’re comprehensively bankrupt, and no amount of shuffling certificates around will avail to alter that. The bad debt has to be ‘worked out’–i.e. written off, subjected to liquidation of remaining assets and collateral, reorganized under the bankruptcy statutes, and put behind us. We have to work very hard to reconfigure the physical arrangement of life in the USA, moving away from the losses of our suburbs, reactivating our towns, downscaling our biggest cities, re-scaling our farms and food production, switching out our Happy Motoring system for public transit and walkable neighborhoods, rebuilding local networks of commerce, and figuring out a way to make a few things of value again.
What’s happened instead is … that our politicians [are mounting] a massive campaign to sustain the unsustainable. That’s what all the TARP and TARF and PPIP and bailouts are about. It will all amount to an exercise in futility and could easily end up wrecking the USA in every sense of the term. If Mr. Obama doesn’t get with a better program, then we are going to face a Long Emergency ( as grueling as the French Revolution.”

The creation of more jobs at higher wages will require a complex process of reconstructing an economy as if people and the Earth mattered. We need something – indeed many things – to be substantially different, including, for example, the means of producing food by sustainable agricultural practices. We need very substantial changes to the system of food production, with less chemically dependent agribusiness and much more locally based, smaller-scale and sustainable farming. Given the myriad difficulties of the present moment, the new agriculture envisioned by Wes Jackson in Robert Jensen’s excellent interview in CounterPunch ( and the 50-year plan to create it are eminently realistic, and would be one good way to start. We need not only new and better ways of farming but more people on farms, and if there isn’t the money to pay them but there are people starving for lack of work, that’s a flaw in the economy that can be fixed by human action.

Most immediately, more funds should be allocated to facilitate economic recovery. And the first priority should be further financial assistance to the States. What Robert Reich pointed out in his blog post ( on 4/09/09 entitled “Why It Makes No Sense for States to Cut Services and Raise Taxes Now” turned out to be right on the money: huge state and local budget cuts have essentially negated almost half of the federal stimulus.”

Late reports indicate Obama is conferring with his advisors to devise a few more tax cuts that would reward job creation. If only they had had this crew on the Titanic; those deck chairs needed rearranging just before they sank! Give me a break – or lots of Democrats are in for a long vacation. Obama should demand another stimulus, including enough to help the states maintain vital services and avoid tax increases, and Congress should heed the request. Ths current political environment makes this difficult, and the GOP will do everything possible to prevent it and/or paint it in a bad light. Mike Whitney, “The GOP’s Midterm Strategy: Make Sure Obama Fails,” But the political environment also demands that the Obama and the Democrats do something drastic, and they may as well, for once, do the right thing. Edward Luce, “Obama’s Democrats face midterm election meltdown at every level, according to polls,” Financial Times, 9/1/10, p. 1.

Another step that could be implemented relatively quickly would be the cessation of our foreign military adventures deceptively advertised as the “war on terror,” under whatever new marketing terms, now shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The so-called “war on terror” has been an enormous waste of resources as well as human lives, in that a substantial consensus among knowledgeable analysts finds – as was predicted – that the result has been not a decline, but an increase in terrorism. At the same time – and apart from the appalling and immoral loss of human life – an increasingly glaring fact about these wars is that we just can’t afford them anymore. We’re waging them on credit, and increasingly on credit from foreigners. And the resources wasted on these destructive activities are wholly unproductive from an economic standpoint (, as well as needed elsewhere.

More deficit spending of the “throw money out the window” variety would probably not even achieve much for the reasons Roberts cites, and would at least ultimately make matters worse, while fiscal austerity by any means, including by cutting military spending without compensating action to replace the demand that spending now represents, will pretty much insure the Even Greater Depression of which Mike Whitney has written so well and so many times of late, most recently at (“The Recovery Is Dead: The Backward Slide Into Recession,” 8/31/10).   A carefully targeted and structured federal stimulus program would take considerable finesse to pull off, but would offer hope of a real recovery and a better future.