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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

War & Statism vs. the Rule of International Morality

War empowers the State. Wars unify loyalty towards the State. Wars don't benefit average citizens, nor society, but rather they reaffirm the State.

I've read--I believe it was on lewrockwell.com--that war is the exercise of the most powerful form of Statism. Through a draft, the State exercises the right to sacrifice the life of any able-bodied young adult, regardless of their personal views on the war they are forced to fight.

The survival of a society is rarely at risk in the wars of today. Unlike ancient societies, societies of today are rarely threatened with eradication. Genocide does occur, but is rarely total, so nowadays the purpose of war is not to completely destroy another society but rather to disrupt it, and force it comply with the will of a stronger State.

For the States involved, their survival is dependent upon a war's outcome. Look at the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan or the destruction of Saddam's regime. War is ultimately a battle between States; each government's authority over its people is put in jeopardy. While its citizens fight, they fight not for their own needs or even their collective defense, but to achieve the goals of a State over which they exert almost no influence.

Wars are fueled by nationalism, which is the concept that members of a society are unified by their allegiance to the same State. Millions are captivated by nationalism's premise that citizens of one nation are endowed with a set of dominate characteristics, or share some almost supernational destiny differentiating them from foreigners.

Through nationalism, we are led to believe that our government is good, and the government of certain enemies--invariably chosen by the state and not by its citizens--is bad. The other side naturally presumes the same of us.

Harnessed by the State, borne on the back of its citizens, nationalism engenders war. Nationalism combined with twentieth century inventions like the machine gun and mustard gas have produced predictable results. So strong was the notion of loyalty to the State that we have had not one but two World Wars. We are told that so great was the injured sense of pride among Germans that they needed a whole second war to redeem their self-esteem lost in the first.

Virtually every any government has at one time used the institution of war to empower itself. Maintaining loyalty of the people to the institutions of governance is vital in preserving the State from internal revolt, which is its primary threat.

By unifying the external threat, nationalism glazes over differences among component groups of its citizenry and in so doing maintains the tenuous idea that we are more unified than we might otherwise realize. And what better means of firming our common bonds than the periodic sacrifice of those who serve in the "collective defense"?

The blood of our fallen soldiers binds citizens to the wars they fight by virtue of the personal sacrifices they make. The deaths of our troops serve a purpose valuable to the State. In surviving, combat veterans testify to the pointlessness and inhumanity of war. In dying, our troops validate the cause they fought for--ostensibly our defense--and evoke great patriotism.

The loss of soldiers is framed as a heroic sacrifice, whatever the circumstances. They are honored as heroes regardless of the contribution their lives make towards ending the war, or "achieving victory".

Avoided are disturbing questions about the logic behind the war itself, and any debate over whether the loss of lives actually accomplishes anything.
The State seeks to avoid any negative publicity that can lead to doubts as to the stated purpose of the war, or its winnability. Body bags are hidden, as if their exposure would put the ratonale for dying under too much scrutiny.

As casualties mount, the loss of lives justifies the war, and embitters one nation against the other. As the conflict lengthens, people tend to question whether or not the war is worth its growing human toll. Citizens end up questioning the State's claim that the war is needed to protect us, or that our survival will be dependent on a winning outcome.

For a people to come to grips with war, they must understand the functions assigned to them by the government. They must see how their collective impulses control the actions of the State, and how the hot brand of nationalism has shaped our collective conscience.

In the short-run, support for a war is based on popular support, which is subordinate to the emotions of the masses. The war's validity or ultimately even its winnability are secondary, but concerns over these issues grow. The people are of course vulnerable to the idea that they are good, and their cause more deserving of victory than that of their foe.

War has become an exercise in denial. Media plays a role, hiding the images of horror and death that can only lead us to question the morality of war, and by proxy the validity of any war to which we are party.

Formerly, this self-endowed favoritism may have been manifest in religion: God is on our side. Today, religion plays a undeniable role shaping the mindset of Muslim fundamentalists, who see us as infidels. Yet for established democracy, nationalism has replaced religion as the primary motivator for war.

Secular and logical, we in the West see the taking of outright plunder or the seizure of land as distasteful. Yet in our not too distant past we've done horrible things to dispossess the natives. Even now, in Israel, huge tracts of land stolen from Palestinians go under the bulldozer.

During the medieval ages, the systematic annihilation of indigenous populations required a overriding excuse. Concepts like colonialism emerged to soften the guilt that murder and theft might engender. Religious icons and representatives strode alongside conquistadors in their rampage through what is now called Latin America. For many, it's simply not enough that some nation or king wills a war, but that God must demand it.

Blind loyalty can emerge as a form of mass delusion--just look at how the Germans and Japanese were swept away by nationalism. The individual citizens of both countries tend to be quite logical. They suffer from no lack of education or capacity for reason. So if these people fall for nationalistic impulse, no country is immune the ultimate weapon of Statism: war.

War is a popular method for increasing the size and power of the State. The US has launched numerous wars: on poverty, drugs, and now on terror. All have yet to be won and require ever-larger sums to finance. Most wars carry with them burdens to be assumed by the populace, which justify increasing the powers of State and its level of control over the population.

Wars have become the method of choice to increase government control over our lives. More important than emerging victorious is the pursuit of war itself; the State has come to draw on open-ended war as a source of sustenance. It's the process of waging war that presents a victory to the State; victory can only bring an end to war, and with it an end to the expansion of State authority. The State must avoid the perception that it's losing, but the threat can't be entirely neutralized either.

The Present Case

Our most recent war has been framed as one fought for our survival, like clashes of ancient civilizations wherein the loser loses all.

The influence of nationalism does have limits. Judging by the recent election, the American people have grown weary of the concept that we are always on the right side and our enemies the wrong one. Perhaps Americans have garnered the necessary emotional maturity to realize that that our society is not morally superior, or our cause automatically on the side of justice. They may also realize that the leaders don't speak for them, and that the choices our leaders make to go to war may not always be fair or just.

It is quite a testimony to the power of delusion that some in our nation believe that victory can be achieved solely through the exercise of unconditional , open-ended support by the citizenry. This most uncritical perspective requires believing in the infallible wisdom of our leaders and the perfect foresight of their decisions. Yet, largely to redeem the failure in Vietnam, many believe to this day that it could have been won if not for the impact of dissent. In one way this attitude avoids confronting the possibility of defeat, which to some can be more threatening than the idea of endless sacrifice.

Fight them there, or we will end up fighting them here, so the argument goes. Our leaders' justifications for preemptive war may not be so logical to the people over there, who had no intention of attacking us over here, but are now being victimized because they were labelled a threat.

It is more than possible the victims of our aggression abroad now feel compelled to attack us here so we don't attack them there. The logic creates a never-ending loop of preemption and reprisal, which if left unchecked will create open-ended warfare, probably not too different from what transpires inside Iraq today.

Modern technology has made war all the more efficient, and gross disparities in military power apparent, but humans have always adapted. We see now in Iraq as we saw in Vietnam the amazing ability of indigenous fighters to adapt their tactics to negate the military superiority of the invaders.

Blending in with native populations, insurgents can strike at will. Supplies can be cached in sympathizer's houses, to shrink their supply lines while we are forced to use choppers to ferry even basic supplies and fuel. And the failure of the US to secure stockpiles of explosives early in the invasion has provided insurgents with a nearly unlimited supply.

The American people have in the course of the past 3 and 1/2 years gradually become more knowledgeable about what's going on as the Mainstream Media releases evidence of failure piecemeal. In response, they've become decidedly antiwar. Democrats have swept Republicans out of both Houses of Congress riding the growing wave of the war's unpopularity.

Issue of Media complicity aside, it has come down to the voters to determine the future course of events. Our leaders lack the political will to leave Iraq; hopefully Democratic leaders will do as the electorate commands and end the Iraqi misadventure.

I saw on CNN's Tuesday night a poll that showed about one quarter of Americans support troops out now, another quarter want them gone soon. Only 17% want more troops now. [Editor's Note: I was unable to find a link to this poll I viewed on Anderson Cooper Nov. 14; I did however find a NYT article (Subscript. Req.) cited on HuffPo here showing 14% wanting more troops--you may want to read the commentary on McCain there as well.]

Guess which direction some policymakers, John McCain among them, want the US to turn? Towards the least popular option: more troops! While McCain might seem to be working on some counter-intuitive plan, he also mentions the word victory, as if it were a possibility under the present circumstances. Yes, declare a Pyrrhic victory, John, if salvaging our pride is a necessary prerequisite to withdrawal.

McCain's willingness to acquiesce to Bush on the torture laws is especially painful considering McCain was a torture victim while held as a POW in Vietnam. Perhaps McCain's position on more troops is as viable as his Presidential aspirations; maybe the Arizona senator has simply chosen to ignore the past few weeks and the massive electoral imbalance he will have to face if he expands the war.

The idea that applying escalation can help us get out is not new; Nixon called the effort "peace with honor". At the end of Vietnam, when the Paris Peace Talks floundered, Nixon ordered a massive set-up in bombing of North Vietnam. [You may have seen the movie Flight of the Intruder where a pair of rogue aviators raid Hanoi and in so doing tactily encourage a broader bombing campaign.]

The idea that applying more force will work to demotivate the enemy only works when facing a singular, symmetrically organized opponent. It remains to be seen whether throwing more bodies into a caldron of violence will motivate one or more opposing groups to end hostilities. In the fractionalized, non-symmetrical warfare in Iraq, there is no one to turn it off because there is no one leader or government at the opposite end of the spectrum leading opposition to the US.

Brad Johnson and William Dafoe might have been able to force the Vietnamese to end the war, but a pair of rebel air jocks can hardly turn off a civil war by lobbing a few well-placed bombs into some "SAM park" in the enemy's capital.

The Solution

The answer to Iraq lies not in what we do differently going forward, but in the past. In their never-ending quest for easy solution, Americans tend to neglect the past. We dismiss the concept of adherence to a set of laws as the most logical method to prevent war.

International laws have long recognized the flawed premise of preemptive war, and made it a crime. Hitler used the notion of an impending attack to justify aggression. Wisely, the Europeans have made preemption no excuse for war, and lying to start a war is definitely a war crime. Rather than tolerate repitition of Hitler's tactics, they started a International Criminal Court in The Hague, Belgium.

The former Yugoslvaia provided a key test for the enforcement of international law. Western media packaged the Bosnian conflict as Serbian aggression. The Media played on the concept of a rogue state led by Milosevich. Now while the Europeans seemed completely incapable of interdicting conflict in the former Yugoslavia, their system of justice did in fact eventually catch up with Milosevich, who ended up dying in custody ignominiously while waiting for trial.

What the European system may lack in terms of deterrent capacity, it makes up for in its dogged pursuit of justice for war criminals. Nothing may be harder to overcome than justice determined and arbitrarily enforced. While military conflict may seem the best form of punitive action, it really represents subjugation of the objective exercise of law to more base human instincts, and in so doing does little to advance any cause.

Trying former heads of state and top officials for complicity in war crimes does stand for justice. And the trials represent a form of deterrence; any would-be war criminal knows they'll be found and prosecuted.

Even now, Rumsfeld stands accused of war crimes in Germany; German law allows prosecutions of war crimes regardless of their place of origin. While American media pundits murmur how the German government and courts system won't "let things get so far", I'd be surprised to see Rumsfeld trot off on a European vacation anytime soon (or ever, as apparently there is no statute of limitations, either, for these crimes.)

The US has done everything it can to protect any international law or tribunal from trying its soldiers. Beyond the obvious excuse of trying to protect innocent US soldiers from being tried in kangaroo courts abroad lies a much more sinister intent to the US' dodge of international law and precedent.

Putting itself above the law feeds the hubristic notion of the US military as beyond accountability, as a force de majeure, the law in and of itself. Supranationalist, a great motivational concept, egoism is hardly an effective way to solve conflicts peacefully. Instead, the US is seen as imperialistic, which hardly encourages cooperation or support from the international community.

It's no surprise those who denigrate the rule of international law are the most likely to break it. Iraq war architect Richard Perle has said that the purpose of the Iraq war was to make obsolete the rule of international law [Source; for more, see Neocons and Israel below].

The recent passage of the Military Commissions Act shows just how far the US will go to defy the rule of international law. Protections were retroactively extended to all upper echelon military and political figures for their part in detainee abuse scandals in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and secret prisons run by the CIA.

It's no surprise that Bush now seeks legal cover in the last days of control of the Congress by his party. Milosevich would have done likewise. Now while Bush may not be tied to specific war crimes, there are those in his Administration who have advocated torture, and high-ranking officers within our military who've facilitate its use, in defiance to the Geneva Convention and the military own system of justice.

Investigating the legality of the Administration's conduct of the Iraq War will restablish the prominence of international law in our justice system.
There are pragmatic reasons behind the Geneva's laws, and among them is the desire to shorten war, and minimize its impact not only among the Occupied, but for the Occupier as well.

By adhering to and enforcing international law, the US can avoid future
Iraqs. By fullying investigating the origins of the Iraq War, future leaders will realize they must abide by the law, and not just look to pass retroactive laws exonerating them from what are clearly violations of the international legal code.

While all nations can make a claim that international laws not apply--that their circumstances or the immediacy of their cause require otherwise--it's precisely in following and adjudicating international law that the rules are followed and egregious transgressions like those leading to Iraq are avoided. No one country is above the law; no single ruler has the right to claim exemption to the statues, whatever his nation's laws may say.

As we deal with the nasty consequences of entangling alliances--in this case open-ended obligations two new democracies we've created through military intervention--, we must strive to hold our leaders accountable. This will set the stage for America's redemption in the world community, which is a necessity if we are to extract ourselves from Iraq, which is the clear intent of the American majority.

Staying the course has become a giant political and military challenge. The White House is seeking a new course as evidenced by Rumsfeld's firing and Bush's apparent willingness to consult with James Baker's Iraq Study Group (not to be confused with the White House Iraq Group which promoted the war.)

The US must reestablish its commitment to international law in order to regain its credibility. If not, Congress must force the Administration to abide by repealing laws like the Military Commisions Act. Still, for as long as Bush stubbornly follows a foreign policy course set by neocons, who are undeniably under the influence of a foreign power--Israel, Iraq will grow into an even larger problem.

Neocons and Israel

The role of international law was eagerly targetted by the neocons:
...disdain for international law is very clearly expressed in considerable detail in a 1996 document prepared for the incoming Natanyahu government of Israel of that year entitled, A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm", prepared by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, James Colbert, and Robert Loenberg in their capacity as members of The Institute for Advanced Strategy and Political Studies' "Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000" a Washington/Jerusalem based think tank providing policy analyses for the government of Israel.

This document is remarkable for its very existence because it constitutes a policy manifesto for the Israeli government penned by members of the current US government. From the perspective of a reader of this document and from one who has also watched its program unfold during the course of the Bush administration, one can best view the confluence and the inseparability of the Israeli and the American governments. In addition to Perle, Douglas Feith is currently undersecretary of defense for policy, the departments number three man and a protege of Perle who has worked closely with him in the past. David Wurmser initially assistant to undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, at the State Department, the latter coming from the far right conservative American Enterprise Institute has since moved into the Vice President's office.

This document advocates the scrapping of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 - the "land for peace" formula - in favor of one based on the "balance of power". Since Israel possesses the 4th largest army in the world with essentially unlimited weaponry, unrestrictedly provided by the US, and since the Palestinians have no army at all, the "balance of power" formula application simply means that Israel should respect no constraints of its expansionist aspirations. Indeed, the authors state, "Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimensions, "peace for peace," is a solid basis for the future." Surely this also means "the unconditional acceptance of the Israel's unilateral definition of Israel's rights."

As we see more atrocities committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip, and the systematic disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, it's clear that the State of Israel intends on developing Palestinian land for its own use. So of course the UN and its observance of international law represent a threat to Israel's landgrab. Similarly, the suppression of Palestinians human rights has led to widespread condemnation of Israel by the world community.

Acts of terror by Palestinians provide the excuse for intervention by Israel. Exaggerating the scope of the terror threat excuses the taking of Palestinian land.

Similarly, the illusionary link between Saddam and 9/11 rationalized military action by the US against a wholly overblown threat. The US is now locked into an Occupation against its own interests, one which jeopardizes its leadership and goals in the wider Muslim world, which sympathizes with the worsening plight of the Palestinians and now, the Iraqis.

Iraq has been a war clearly not in America's best interest. Radical Islamists have profitted. Our military is weaker, incapable of containing other threats. The influence of the neocons is a reason why we invaded Iraq, in particular their strong sympathy towards Israel.

Iraq is to us as the Palestinians are to the Israelis: on the surface weak and easily conquered--perfect victims for unilateralism. Iraq was sold by the neocons as an easy win, perhaps because of neocon sympathies towards Israel. In the end, the neocons have gained the gift that keeps on giving, entrenching the US in a long-term war against Israel's enemies.

Now that the US is mired in the quagmire, it matters little to the neocons how the war was packaged or sold. Clearly the neocons care more for the ongoing strategic benefits US intervention may bring to Israel than they do for the Republicans, who are clearly suffering disasterous political consequences.

US Leadership Position

Unilateralism and preemption destabilize the security environment, and violates international law and established principles of morality. By definition unilateralism benefits one country and perhaps its closest allies, rather than the group, in the case the world of nations.

The US needs to ascribe to higher ethical standards in order to lead. World leadership is a fine American goal. The US should look to its own needs first, and shun any policy group whose allegiances lie with other states. In its quest for leadership, the US must routinely purge itself of any counterproductive policy regardless of its benefit to other states, allies or not.

Siding overwhelmingly with Israel entangles the US in its commitment to our alliance with that country. Allowing our relationship with a foreign power to shape our foreign policy imperils American leadership as the world's bias against Israel grows, deserved or not.

World opinion judges Israel's behavior with an eye a far less biased than our own. In pursuing Israel-centric policies in the Mideast the US inherits the image problems of the Israelis, which seem to be more or less constant or growing not only with the Arabs but other countries as heavy handed tactics yield tainted fruit and a bleak future for Israel's neighbors.

Observing the rule of international law embodied in the Geneva Convention allows the US to retake the moral high road. It's not too late to correct the crooked logic of the neocons which has cost the US its vital leadership position in the 21st century. Already rivals challenge our leadership; the Shanghai Cooperative Organization is thriving as a result of the US' international unpopularity which came out of the lingering effects of strong neocon influence over US policies.

Follow Up

i. I talked in my last post about the investigations forthcoming under the Democratically controlled Congress. Truthout.org has an article by Jason Leopold looking into any potential probe here.

These investigations will be very important in holding all those who lied to the American people to justice. Sadly, Pelosi and Conyers have precluded the possibility of an impeachment of Bush. While the process of impeachment may not be the best method for uncovering the lies that led to war, no representative has the legal right to find the President innocent, at least until the facts are brought to light and explored at length.

A Zogby poll show a majority want impeachment if it is warranted. According to HuffPo's David Swanson, 85% of Democrats in one poll support candidates open to impeachment [Source]

Let's hope that the Democrats intend to honor the will of the people who put them in office. Some people the antiwar movement may be quite right in encouraging people to tell their new representatives that they can be replaced, if they fail to obey the will of the majority. If the Democrats are foolish enough to let the war to continue into 2008, they could end up victims of the very same forces that brought them to power.

ii. Truthout posted this article from TomDispatch by Doug Troutman, a Vietnam veteran. I found the article poignant and extremely significant in honoring not only our veterans, but all who've died in war.

The personal experiences of men in combat are rarely glorified, but rather remembered as a time of extreme loss and hardship. Rather than revel in their roles as "heroes", combat veterans mourn their dead and often carry a bitter legacy over the inherent futility of war.

President Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld all avoided combat, and I believe that was the main reason they were so eager for war in Iraq. Lacking painful personal experiences, this group felt no burden of conscience in launching a war that has killed close to 3,000 American soldiers, wounded over 20,000, and killed a minimum of 150,000 Iraqis.



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