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It's 2016. Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are Falling?
The Forgotten War in Yemen and the Unchecked War Powers of the Presidency in the Age of Trump

The long national nightmare that was the 2016 presidential election is finally over. Now, we’re facing a worse terror: the reality of a Trump presidency. Donald Trump has already promised to nominate a segregationist attorney general, a national security adviser who is a raging Islamophobe, a secretary of education who doesn’t believe in public schools, and a secretary of defense whose sobriquet is “Mad Dog.” How worried should we be that General James "Mad Dog" Mattis may well be the soberest among them?

Along with a deeply divided country, the worst income inequality since at least the 1920s, and a crumbling infrastructure, Trump will inherit a 15-year-old, apparently never-ending worldwide war. While the named enemy may be a mere emotion (“terror”) or an incendiary strategy (“terrorism”), the victims couldn’t be more real, and as in all modern wars, the majority of them are civilians.

On how many countries is U.S. ordnance falling at the moment? Some put the total at six; others, seven. For the record, those seven would be Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and, oh yes, Yemen.

The United States has been directing drone strikes against what it calls al-Qaeda targets in Yemen since 2002, but our military involvement in that country increased dramatically in 2015 when U.S. ally Saudi Arabia inserted itself into a civil war there. Since then, the United States has been supplying intelligence and mid-air refueling for Saudi bombers (many of them American-made F-15s sold to that country). The State Department has also approved sales to the Saudis of $ 1.29 billion worth of bombs — “smart” and otherwise — together with $ 1.15 billion worth of tanks, and half a billion dollars of ammunition. And that, in total, is only a small part of the $ 115 billion total in military sales the United States has offered Saudi Arabia since President Obama took power in 2009.

Why are American bombs being dropped on Yemen by American-trained pilots from American-made planes? I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, a glimpse of the results.

“On the Brink of Abyss”

The photographs are devastating: tiny, large-eyed children with sticks for limbs stare out at the viewer. In some, their mothers touch them gently, tentatively, as if a stronger embrace would snap their bones. These are just a few victims of the famine that war has brought to Yemen, which was already the poorest country in the Arab world before the present civil war and Saudi bombing campaign even began. UNICEF spokesman Mohammed Al-Asaadi told al-Jazeera that, by August 2016, the agency had counted 370,000 children “suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” and the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) says 14.4 million people in Yemen are “food insecure,” seven million of them — one fifth of the country’s population — “in desperate need of food assistance.” Before the war began, Yemen imported 90% of its food.  Since April 2015, however, Saudi Arabia has blockaded the country’s ports. Today, 80% of Yemenis depend on some kind of U.N. food aid for survival, and the war has made the situation immeasurably worse.

As the WFP reports:

“The nutrition situation continues to deteriorate. According to WFP market analysis, prices of food items spiked in September as a result of the escalation of the conflict. The national average price of wheat flour last month was 55 percent higher compared to the pre-crisis period.”

The rising price of wheat matters, because in many famines, the problem isn’t that there’s no food, it’s that what food there is people can’t afford to buy.

And that was before the cholera outbreak. In October, medical workers began to see cases of that water-borne diarrheal disease, which is easily transmitted and kills quickly, especially when people are malnourished. By the end of the month, according to the World Health Organization, there were 1,410 confirmed cases of cholera, and 45 known deaths from it in the country. (Other estimates put the number of cases at more than 2,200.)

Both these health emergencies have been exacerbated by the ongoing Saudi air war, which has destroyed or otherwise forced the closure of more than 600 healthcare centers, including four hospitals operated by Doctors Without Borders, along with 1,400 schools. More than half of all health facilities in the country have either closed or are only partially functional.

The day before the U.S. election, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N.’s envoy on Yemen, described the situation this way: “People are dying… the infrastructure is falling apart… and the economy is on the brink of abyss.” Every time it seems the crisis can’t get any worse, it does. A recent Washington Post story describes such “wrenching” choices now commonly faced by Yemeni families as whether to spend the little money they have to take one dying child to a hospital or to buy food for the rest of the family.

The Saudi-led coalition includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Between March 2015 and the end of August 2016, according to the Yemen Data Project, an independent, nonpartisan group of academics and human rights organizations, the coalition launched more than 8,600 air strikes. At least a third of them struck civilian targets, including, the Guardian reports, “school buildings, hospitals, markets, mosques and economic infrastructure.” Gatherings like weddings and funerals have come under attack, too. To get a sense of the scale and focus of the air war, consider that one market in the town of Sirwah about 50 miles east of the capital, Sana’a, has already been hit 24 separate times.

Casualty estimates vary, but the World Health Organization says that, as of October 25th, “more than 7,070 people have been killed and over 36,818 injured.” As early as last January, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees reported that 2.4 million people (nearly one-tenth of the population) were already internally displaced — that is, uprooted from their homes by the war. Another 170,000 have fled the country, including Somali and Ethiopian refugees, who had sought asylum from their own countries in Yemen, mistakenly believing that the war there had died down. Leaving Yemen has, however, gotten harder for the desperate and uprooted since the Saudis and Egypt began blockading the country’s ports. Yemen shares land borders with Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman — the only Arab monarchy that is not part of the Saudi-led coalition — to the east.

In early October, Saudi planes attacked a funeral hall in Sana’a where the father of the country’s interior minister was being memorialized, killing at least 135 people and wounding more than 500. Gathered at the funeral, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), were a wide range of Yemenis, including journalists, government officials, and some military men. HRW’s on-the-ground report on the incident claims that the attack, which intentionally targeted civilians and involved an initial air strike followed by a second one after rescuers had begun to arrive 30 minutes later, constitutes a war crime. The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged responsibility for the bombing, blaming the attack on “wrong information.”

U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon was horrified and called for a full investigation. “Aerial attacks by the Saudi-led coalition,” he said, “have already caused immense carnage, and destroyed much of the country’s medical facilities and other vital civilian infrastructure.”

For once in this forgotten war, the international outcry was sufficient to force the Obama administration to say something vaguely negative about its ally. “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” commented National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price, “is not a blank check.” He added:

“In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values, and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict."

That "check" from Washington did at least include the bombs used in the funeral attack. According to HRW’s on-the-ground reporters, U.S.-manufactured, air-dropped GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs were used.

What’s It All About?

Why is Saudi Arabia, along with its allies, aided by the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, fighting in Yemen? That country has little oil, although petroleum products are its largest export, followed by among other things “non-fillet fresh fish.” It does lie along one of the world’s main oil trading routes on the Bab el-Mandeb strait between the Suez Canal at the north end of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the south. But neither Saudi nor U.S. access to the canal is threatened by the forces Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen.

The Saudis have specifically targeted the Houthis, a political movement named for its founder Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a Zaidi Shi’a Muslim religious and political leader who died in 2004. The Zaidis are an ancient branch of Shi’a Islam, most of whose adherents live in Yemen.

Officially known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), the Houthi movement began in the 1990s as a religious revival among young people, who described it as a vehicle for their commitment to peace and justice. Ansar Allah soon adopted a series of slogans opposing the United States and Israel, along with any Arab countries collaborating with them, presumably including Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. As Zaidi Muslims, the movement also opposed any significant role for Salafists (fundamentalist Sunnis) in Yemeni life and held demonstrations at mosques, including in the capital, Sana’a.

In 2004, this led to armed confrontations when Yemeni security forces, commanded by then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, attacked the demonstrators. Badreddin al-Houthi, the movement’s founder, was killed in the intermittent civil war that followed and officially ended in 2010. Al-Jazeera, the Qatar government’s news agency, has suggested that President Saleh may have used his war with the Houthis unsuccessfully to get at his real rival, a cousin and general in the Yemeni army named Ali Mohsen.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, the Houthis supported a successful effort to oust President Saleh, and as a reward, according to al-Jazeera, that same General Mohsen gave them control of the state of Saadra, an area where many Houthi tribespeople live. Having helped unseat Saleh, the Houthis — and much of the rest of Yemen — soon fell out with his Saudi-supported replacement, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In January 2015, the Houthis took over Sana’a and placed Hadi under effective house arrest. He later fled to Saudi Arabia and is believed to be living in the Saudi capital Riyadh. The Houthis for their part have now allied with their old enemy Saleh.

So, once again, why do the Saudis (and their Sunni Gulf State allies) care so much about the roiling internal politics and conflicts of their desperately poor neighbor to the south? It’s true that the Houthis have managed to lob some rockets into Saudi Arabia and conduct a few cross-border raids, but they hardly represent an existential threat to that country.

The Saudis firmly believe, however, that Iran represents such a threat. As Saudi diplomatic documents described in the New York Times suggest, that country has “a near obsession with Iran.” They see the hand of that Shi’a nation everywhere, and certainly everywhere that Shi’a minorities have challenged Sunni or secular rulers, including Iraq.

There seems to be little evidence that Iran supported the Houthis (who represent a minority variant of Shi’a Islam) in any serious way — at least until the Saudis got into the act. Even now, according to a report in the Washington Post, the Houthis “are not Iranian puppets.” Their fight is local and the support they get from Iran remains “limited and far from sufficient to make more than a marginal difference to the balance of forces in Yemen, a country awash with weapons. There is therefore no supporting evidence to the claim that Iran has bought itself any significant measure of influence over Houthi decision-making.”

So to return to where we began: why exactly has Washington supported the Saudi war in Yemen so fully and with such clout? The best guess is that it’s a make-up present to Saudi Arabia, a gesture to help heal the rift that opened when the Obama administration concluded its July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Under that agreement’s terms, Iran vowed “that it will under no circumstances ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons” in return for the United States lifting years of economic sanctions.

U.S. Boots on the Ground

The munitions the United States has supplied to the Saudis for their war in Yemen include cluster bombs, which sprinkle hundreds of miniature bomblets around an area as big as several football fields. Unexploded bomblets can go off years later, one reason why their use is now generally considered to violate the laws of war. In fact, 119 countries have signed a treaty to outlaw cluster bombs, although not the United States. (As it happens, Saudi Arabia isn't the only U.S. ally to favor cluster bombs. Israel has also used them, for instance deploying “more than a million” bomblets in its 2006 war against Lebanon, according to an Israel Defense Forces commander.)

We know that U.S.-made cluster bombs have already killed civilians in Yemen, and in June 2016, many Democratic members of Congress tried to outlaw their sale to Saudi Arabia. They lost in a close 216-204 vote. Only 16 Democrats backed President Obama’s request to continue supplying cluster bombs to the Saudis. Congressional Republicans and the Defense Department, however, fought back fiercely, as the Intercept has reported:

“‘The Department of Defense strongly opposes this amendment,’ said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Committee on Defense Appropriations, during floor debate. ‘They advise us that it would stigmatize cluster munitions, which are legitimate weapons with clear military utility.’”

Perhaps some weapons deserve to be stigmatized.

These days it’s not just American bombs that are landing in Yemen. U.S. Special Operations forces have landed there, too, ostensibly to fight al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the local terror outfit that has been expanding its operations amid the chaos of the war in that country. If anything, the air war has actually strengthened AQAP’s position, allowing it to seize more territory in the chaos of the ongoing conflict. In the ever-shifting set of alliances that is Yemeni reality, those U.S. special ops troops find themselves allied with the United Arab Emirates against AQAP and the local branch of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and also, at least temporarily, with a thriving movement of southern Yemeni separatists, who would like to see a return to the pre-1990 moment when there were two Yemens, north and south.

In the beginning, the White House claimed that the special ops deployment was temporary. But by June 2016, the Washington Post was reporting that “the U.S. military now plans to keep a small force of Special Operations advisers in Yemen… for the foreseeable future.” And that has yet to change, so consider us now directly involved in an undeclared land war in that country.

Compared to the horrors of Iraq and Syria, the slaughter, displacement, and starvation in Yemen may seem like small potatoes — except, of course, to the people living and dying there. But precisely because there are no U.S. economic or military interests in Yemen, perhaps it could be the first arena in Washington’s endless war on terror to be abandoned.

Missing (Reward Offered for Sighting It): Congressional Backbone

I vividly recall a political cartoon of the 1980s that appeared at a moment when Congress was once again voting to send U.S. aid to the Contra forces fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Having witnessed firsthand the effects of the Contra war there, with its intentional military strategy of attacking civilians and public services as well as its use of torture, kidnapping, and mutilation, I found those Congressional debates on sending money, weapons, and CIA trainers to the Contras frustrating. The cartoon’s single panel caught my mood exactly. It was set in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives. Suspended from each hanger was a backbone. A blob-like creature in a suit could just be seen slithering out of the frame. The point was clear: Congress had checked its spine at the door.

In fact, in every war the United States has fought since World War II, Congress has effectively abdicated its constitutional right to declare war, repeatedly rolling over and playing dead for the executive branch. During the last 50 years, from the Reagan administration’s illegal Contra war to the “war on terror,” this version of a presidential power grab has only accelerated. By now, we’ve become so used to all of this that the term “commander-in-chief” has become synonymous with “president” — even in domestic contexts. With a Trump administration on the horizon, it should be easier to see just what an irresponsible folly it’s been to allow the power of the presidency and the national security state to balloon in such an uncontrolled, unchecked way.

I wish I had the slightest hope that our newly elected Republican Congress would find its long-lost spine in the age of Donald Trump and reassert its right and duty to decide whether to commit the country to war, starting in Yemen. Today, more than ever, the world needs our system of checks and balances to work again. The alternative, unthinkable as it might be, is looming.

It’s 2016. We know where our bombs are. Isn’t it time to bring them home?

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Yet Another Undeclared U.S. War

Syria and the Left

Back in 2013, I was in Sydney, Australia, promoting Olivier Morel’s magnificent film, On the Bridge, a documentary featuring U.S. veterans, including myself, who struggle to assimilate to civilian life after returning home from the illegal and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the time, virtually no one could’ve predicted the outsized role Syria would play in the global geopolitical landscape. Today, stories about Syria fill the airwaves. Hashtags about Syria flood social media outlets. And progressive and liberal media outlets hardly contain their absolute disdain for Putin and Russia.

During the Democratic Primaries of 2015/2016, the Liberal Class was more than willing to risk a potential nuclear conflict with Russia in order to score petty political points against Trump and the Republicans.

This, my friends, is the true scandal, not Russia’s supposed meddling in U.S. affairs, which is not only expected, but quite limited compared to the absolute hegemony U.S. intelligence agencies have in the arena of coups and interference in sovereign democratic affairs.

Back in Sydney, I met filmmaker Sean McAllister, a stocky Brit with a worn and serious face, who told me, “The U.S. created a ticking time-bomb in Syria.” In-between drinking his many beers, he continued, “You guys [U.S. Military] blew apart the whole god damn region!” Nodding, I ordered us another round of drinks and asked him more questions.

“When did you first get to Syria? What do you make of the current situation? Where can people find reliable information?”

Sean wasn’t interested in my questions. He went on his own rants about the brutalities of Assad and what it was like being a prisoner in the Assad regime’s “modern gulags,” as he referred to them:

Who the fuck are these people to tell me that my experiences don’t matter? I’m not paid by the British government. I’m not some fucking spy. I was lucky. I was only in the regime’s prisons for two weeks. I heard people being beaten and tortured and the screaming. You know what it’s like. You went to Iraq. I know vets. I can’t sleep for shit. I have at least a few beers at night to calm down and sleep. This stuff, you know, it stays with you forever. People don’t understand.

Here, Sean was more than correct: people don’t know. Political situations become increasingly complex when extreme emotions are involved. When people are tortured, or when they’ve seen their family and friends murdered and maimed, it’s hard to rationally process complex political realities – emotions often take over. Yet, in order to properly deal with these situations, we must remain as rational as humanly possible.

***

Since then, I’ve been to plenty rallies, speaking engagements and panel discussions about the war/conflict/civil war/proxy war in Syria. And one thing is more than clear: being critical and seeking nuance is utterly difficult in a time when most people seek easy answers.

Let’s be very clear, there are no “good options” in Syria. Three years ago, people would tell me at public events that I was a stooge for the U.S. government because I would talk about Assad’s various atrocities and crimes, often citing my discussions with Sean, and because I refused to glorify Putin as some sort of anti-imperialist agent against Western aggression.

Today, people tell me that I’m a stooge for Assad and Putin because I appose “No-Fly Zones” and because I refuse to accept the notion that the opposition to Assad is some sort of coherent force that’s not dominated by extremists and terrorists. I don’t mind the criticism, but I do mind the inconsistencies.

The idea that the U.S. and the West should simply “do something” is completely misguided – both politically and ideologically – and ahistorical, to say the least. The U.S. and the West are largely responsible for the disaster in Syria, not only because of the decisions they’ve made or haven’t made in the past three or four years, which have been horrific enough, but primarily because of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the precursor to the conflict in Syria. The West is also responsible for creating the framework for such conflicts, as 100+ years of colonialism and imperialism have sowed the seeds for ongoing unrest and violence.

It’s increasingly difficult to determine or predict what’s best for Syria as a nation because the conversation is no longer about Syria. Some argue the conversation has never been about Syria or the Syrian people. For some time, the debate has been focused on inter-regional conflicts (Sunni vs. Shia),(Iran vs. Saudi Arabia), (Israeli interests), broader geopolitical interests, global power struggles between Russia and the U.S., and so on. Sober analyses and suggestions are in short order when it comes to Syria. One of the few shining lights has been Phyllis Bennis.

For Americans who are genuinely interested in stopping the violence in Syria, Bennis offers three suggestions that are viable options for progressive activists in the U.S. Remember, Americans can have an impact on what THEIR government does, not what the Russian government or the Syrian government chooses to do. Hence, it’s important to focus on what can be achieved:

1) You can’t defeat terrorism with war, so stop killing people and destroying cities in the name of stopping others from killing people—that means stop the airstrikes and bombing, withdraw the troops and Special Forces, make “no boots on the ground” real.

2) Work to achieve a full arms embargo on all sides, challenging the US and global arms industry. Stop the train-and-equip programs. Stop allowing US allies to send weapons into Syria, making clear that if they continue they will lose all access to US arms sales. Convincing Russia and Iran to stop arming the Syrian regime will become more realistic when the United States and its allies stop arming the other side.

3) Create new diplomatic, not military, partnerships involving outside powers and those inside Syria, including regional governments and other actors. Real diplomacy for ending war must be at center stage, not fake diplomacy designed to enable joint bombing campaigns. All must be at the table, including Syrian civil society, women, and the nonviolent opposition as well as armed actors. Support UN efforts toward local cease-fires and new diplomacy.

The reason I think Bennis’ suggestions are so important is because they cut across sectarian ideological and political divides which have crippled the Left’s ability to properly confront the unfortunate and complex situation in Syria. The first thing to do for leftists is to agree on a set of principles. Here, we’ve failed to do so since 9/11.

***

Back in 2011, I remember marching in Madison, Wisconsin, during the anti-Walker/pro-union protests and having a friend from Iraq Veterans Against the War ask, “What do you think about the situation in Libya?” At the time, my answer was quite simple, as it remains today:

If the Libyan people can oust Gaddafi on their own, then by all means, oust Gaddafi and deal with the consequences. That is their choice. But if the question is, ‘What should the U.S. do?’ Well, the U.S. must remain as disengaged as possible because in the end, it’s none of our business. While Gaddafi is no leftist or friend to leftwing political activists or movements, that doesn’t mean the U.S. has the right to overthrow the Libyan government. Saddam Hussein was a horrific person, but that doesn’t mean the U.S., or anyone else for that matter, has the right to overthrow the Iraqi government. The same is true in Libya, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.

After returning home from Madison, I was scheduled to give a speech in Evanston, Illinois. At the event, I spoke about my experiences in Wisconsin and why I opposed the Obama administration’s policies in Libya and the broader Middle East and North Africa. Toward the end of my talk, a decent gentleman stood up and asked, “Well, what do you propose!?”

The question was genuine, but the manner in which he asked it sorta pissed me off. There was this sense that I just didn’t give a fuck about the Libyan people and that all these well-intentioned liberals who were proposing bombing campaigns did indeed care about Libyan lives.

Then, as now, I ask the same questions, “Where were the liberals when the Saudis were torturing and beheading their own people?” After all, Obama recently signed the largest weapons deal in the history of the planet with the Saudi regime. Is that acceptable? Is it acceptable to allow the Saudis to destroy Yemen with carte blanche?

While it’s hard to admit, the truth remains: Iraq was in better shape with Saddam in power. Libya was in better shape with Gaddafi in power. And Syria is in better shape with Assad in power. Does that mean I support these dictators and regimes? Absolutely not.

The point is that the West has no business meddling in the affairs of other nations, unless, of course, people in the U.S. don’t mind other countries meddling in our affairs. And judging from the ongoing and absurd reactions of liberals who now wish to blame their electoral losses on the Russians, Americans don’t like the idea of outside influences on our so-called “democratic processes.”

The U.S. has been overthrowing democratically elected governments for decades. Now, Americans get a taste of what their government has been doing for over a century. As the old saying goes, “Welcome to the club.”

***

Unfortunately, the Left has a long tradition of supporting failed ideologies and political regimes. Many leftists supported the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89). Leftists also supported Stalin, Lenin’s madness, Mao’s atrocities and Pol Pot’s insanity. In fact, I still run into people who think the Soviet Union represented some sort of alternative to Capitalism and Imperialism. If these people weren’t so serious, it’d be a joke, but their ideological fantasies are actually quite dangerous.

Those sort of absurd political positions represent one of the reasons why leftwing political movements have been so unsuccessful compared to their rightwing counterparts: namely, because leftwing political movements support maniacs who are on the same level as the rightwing maniacs we so often deplore.

Anyone glorifying Assad and Putin isn’t a serious leftist, nor are they a serious human being. Serious leftists remain critical of power, regardless of where that power is located. Governments are the problem. Corporations are the problem. Powerful individuals are the problem. Banks are the problem. Militaries are the problem. Organized religion is the problem. And none of these phenomena are concentrated in a specific locality, region or nation. These problems infect all cultures and societies.

***

Where is the Left’s culture of internationalism? One of the main reasons I initially became involved with leftwing political movements as because of their willingness to reject the sort of rabid and uncritical nationalism that pervaded American society in the years following 9/11.

My time in the U.S. Marine Corps illuminated the hollow nature of American nationalism, and the abject failure of tribalistic ideologies. My primary concerns were much greater than the U.S. or my family and close friends. I began to see myself as being a part of a global society – a society built on trust, solidarity and compassion, not hyper-competition and individuality.

We have more in common with working-class and poor people in Russia and Syria than those people have in common with their leaders and vice versa. My comrades, my allies, those I have solidarity with, are the working-class and poor people around the world who hold little power, yet provide the very foundation for global capitalism and state power.

For some reason, the Left no longer speaks in such terms. Leftists today are focused on maximizing our potential within a neoliberal context, but those options are limited, and fading.

***

The planet is being destroyed. Syria is being destroyed. The U.S. is being destroyed. The very best aspects of our various cultures are being destroyed by global capitalism and the commodification of anything and everything. Whatever makes a buck, we’ll sell it. Fuck it. Who cares? The planet, much like a paper bag or a used condom, has served its purpose.

Human beings, particularly those living in the industrialized landscape we’ve created, have no use for a dying planet. As a result, billionaire moguls such as Elon Musk hope to colonize Mars. I hope he fails. In fact, we should make sure they fail, as we should be committed to making sure this failed evolutionary experiment ends on this planet. The idea that human beings should spread our madness across the universe is indicative of the insane ideologies and worldviews we’ve created as a society and culture.

Mars? Maybe we should figure out how to live on this planet before we destroy another planet. As my friend Derrick Jensen often says, “How many plants, trees and living creatures can you recognize within ten feet of your house or apartment?” If that answer is limited, there’s a problem.

Human beings, as Derrick notes, are always asking whether we’re alone on this planet. Only an insane and propagandized culture can believe we’re “alone” on a planet with billions of living organisms. When will we learn? Can we learn? Are we willing to learn?

***

Back to Syria, what, exactly, do people want to do? Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has suggested that a “No Fly Zone” is an “act of war.” In other words, unless the U.S. and its allies are willing to go to war with Russia, their strategies must drastically change, and quickly, if we hope to achieve some level of peace and stability.

Some folks argue that Assad must go. Okay, but who will replace him? In the absence of a serious and coherent opposition, what can we expect from average people – working class, poor or otherwise? Without question, options are limited.

As Noam Chomsky recently admitted in an exchange with Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson:

[Dan and Saul] Is there any hope for working with Russia on this?

[Noam] There may be some hopes. In the case of Syria, there’s simply no alternative (no realistic alternative, short of destroying Syria) to having some kind of transitional government with Assad certainly involved, maybe in power. It’s ugly, but there’s no alternative. My good friend [Gilbert Achcar] has an article in The Nation [that] says — although he wrote it right before the cease-fire — that the cease-fire will never last, because as long as Assad remains in power, the opposition will continue to fight until the death of Syria. So he says we have to do something to get Assad out of power, but that can’t be done. That’s the problem.

[Dan and Saul] That’s such a grim set of alternatives.

[Noam] It’s pretty grim, yeah. And for Syria, it’s just horrendous. And the one saving grace is, if you look at history, at the end of the First World War in Syria, it was just about as bad as what’s happening now, and they probably had the worst casualties per capita of any country in the world during the First World War. It was very brutal, with hundreds of thousands killed. It was a much smaller country then, but they did recover somehow, so it’s conceivable, but it’s pretty awful. And it’s just very hard to think of any recommendations. I mean, I don’t know what Obama could’ve done that’s better [than] what he did do.

In other words, the idea that the Left or various other progressive political forces in the U.S. or elsewhere could’ve done more than what they did is fabricated at best, and an outright lie at worst. Plenty of activists and academics tried their best to avoid the worst case scenario in Syria, but with limited results.

***

In the end, the question for activists in the West, and particularly in the U.S., is: What can we achieve? Surely, we can’t achieve much in terms of altering or directing Syrian or Russian policies, yet we can impact U.S. foreign policy decisions. Hence, we should start where we have power. I keep hearing and reading leftists in the U.S. argue that we should be more critical of Putin and Assad – okay, that’s fine, but what’s the goal?

If activists in the U.S. think that they can significantly alter Russian or Syrian policies, they are greatly mistaken and they do not understand how power works in the real world.

If activists in the U.S. hope to significantly alter U.S. and European policies in Syria, they have serious and viable options. Some of the first options, of course, would be to stop all air strikes, boots on the ground, special forces operations and weapons deals and political support to nations who continue to foster increased militarism and violence in Syria. That includes cutting off the Qatari, Saudi, Pakistani, Iraqi and Israeli governments. Here, activists in the U.S. have a serious chance of defeating the legacies of imperialism and authoritarianism..

If activists in the U.S. continue to act as mouthpieces for various western NGOs and government agencies, they will become increasingly marginalized and ignored, as they should.

Activists in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West, should act on a set of principles and values. The primary of which being the notion that Western military interventions will unquestionably and invariably make things worse, regardless of the context, region, etc. Any potential or actual benefits are incidental.

***

The most important thing to remember, at least as far as I can tell, is that most of us are on the same side. We should have no allegiances to the Syrian, Russian or American governments. Leftists should have no vested interests in maintaining the violence and ongoing destruction of Syria. Yet, here we are, increasingly engaged in a discussion and debate on their terms. We must break free from this sort of intellectual and political slavery.

What do we want? That’s the question. Leftist must develop serious political alternatives to existing regional, national, sectarian and corporate conflicts. In the absence of serious alternatives, the status quo, which is completely unacceptable, will continue, unquestioned and unchallenged.

Syria and the Left

We Need a New Kind of Anti-War Movement
It’s time to divest from U.S. militarism at home and abroad and reinvest in black, brown and working-class communities.

Editor’s note: This testimony was presented at the People's Tribunal on the Iraq War, which took place December 1-2 in Washington D.C. under the leadership of CodePink, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington Peace Center, and numerous other organizations.

There is a fundamental relationship between the oppression experienced by black people living in the U.S. and the oppression experienced by people around the world living under the U.S. empire. We are connected through legacies of white supremacy, imperialism and neoliberal policies that advance corporate power at the expense of our communities.

The Movement for Black Lives is an anti-war, internationalist movement. We demand an end to the wars being waged in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, across the continent of Africa, in our own neighborhoods here at home and around the world, a reinvestment in black communities domestically and reparations for the endless death and destruction that our people, and all working-class people, have experienced at the hands of the corporate war machine.

We recognize that the State’s decision to invest in mass incarceration and policing over programs that build the futures of black people—like free public education, affordable housing and a guaranteed federal jobs program—is directly tied to their same decision to invest in waging war and expanding U.S. military presence abroad. The U.S. government spends more resources criminalizing poor people, incarcerating poor people and paying corporations to destroy our communities and then paying them again to “build them back” than it does on actually creating policies and programs to advance our wellbeing. We demand an end to the profiteering off our suffering, our death and our destruction.

The war in Iraq has led to the destabilization first and foremost of the Iraqi people, but it has also contributed to the destabilization of communities across the globe, including black, brown and working-class people in the United States. Money that could be used to create jobs, build schools and equip communities with the resources they need to thrive is instead being used to wage terror against our people here and around the world, all while fattening the wallets of major U.S. corporations. Each day, the United States spends nearly $ 10 million in Iraq, totaling over $ 2 trillion since the start of the war, with no end in sight. In the years since 9/11 and the establishment of the U.S.-driven global war on terror, U.S. military spending has increased by 50 percent, with hundreds of billions going directly to private corporations. Each year, we spend nine times more on war than on education and 20 times more than on social security and unemployment programs. This choice means that instead of affordable education and job opportunities for young people, we are sending many of them off to war—or waging war against them with police violence here at home.

My partner Steve, like many in our generation, could not afford college. His historically black college, Florida A & M University, saw massive budgetary cuts under former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was leading the war in Florida against public education, black people and the working class while his brother George waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq. FAMU has also experienced cuts federally under almost every recent presidential administration, including President Obama. These cuts were targeted directly at historically black colleges and universities precisely because they are black. As a result, his school lacked a strong financial aid program despite its status as a public university. His single mother couldn’t afford to support him either. Steve went into the military because he felt it was the only path forward. Going to war felt like a better gamble than a guaranteed life of poverty.

Steve’s story is not the exception, but the rule of Iraq-era veterans. This government’s decision not to invest in the lives of working-class people, but in massive bailouts for Wall Street, means that increasingly, the working class—not the governing class—is sent to war. More poor people have gone and been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any wars prior. Working-class people should not have to kill to make corporations richer, just so they can pay for college and maybe get a good job.

Since 9/11, the war on terror has killed at least 1.3 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone. In addition, the U.S. has expanded western colonial control over Africa in the name of fighting terrorism through the establishment of the U.S. military program, AFRICOM. The U.S. has killed thousands across the globe through drone policy and increased militarization of our communities domestically through surveillance, increased policing and mass incarceration. Companies like G4S have been contracted by the State to incarcerate black people in the U.S., uphold apartheid in Palestine, guard Iraqi oilfields and attack water protectors in favor of big oil in Standing Rock. We know our struggles are not exactly the same, but it should be very clear that we are fighting against the same systems.

Today, we live in a society that imagines itself at war with an unnamed enemy that will always be there, so much so that we would rather spend resources killing people than building the futures of young people. The U.S. war machine, just like the prison machine, runs on lies about who we are, what our problems are and what solutions should be put forward to address these problems. It has created a culture of violence that presumes black and brown people are innately criminal and terrorist, that people ought to kill one another all the time whether or not war is declared, and that death and incarceration are the only solutions to the problems we face. The war machine centers money-making over actual diplomacy. It turned Iraq into a fully privatized market, a playground for corporations to make money off of lies, invasion, death, occupation and “reconstruction” of Iraqi communities.

The post-9/11 war machine has boasted a culture in which corporations are openly profiting off of the destruction of black and poor people. It happened in Iraq, it happened in Afghanistan, it happens at home, it’s spreading and we need to stop it.

Throughout history, black and brown people have been the driving force pushing the U.S. toward the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. Today, we continue this legacy through courageously fighting to end the war against our people, repair harm and attain the political and economic power necessary to determine our own destiny. We do this because we know another way is possible. The black radical tradition calls on us to build a broad-based left agenda rooted in ending imperialism, white supremacy and capitalism. We will not win if our only call to unite is to end this war. We must be equally invested in building black, brown and working-class communities here. We need a clear call for reinvestment. This is an opportunity for our various movements to come together under a single agenda.

This is a fight against neoliberalism. This is a poor people’s movement against the uber-rich, regardless of political party, who see us as collateral in their scheme to make billions. Donald Trump has presented himself as the anti-war, anti-interventionist, populist president for and by the people. It is clear that the neoliberal war-making of the Democratic party is a total disaster, so instead we have a fascist who claims anti-interventionism. Trump has co-opted our language against intervention even as we see arms companies’ stocks rising since he became president.

The only way we can defeat this fascism is by building a strong anti-war position, one that sees the wars being waged against our comrades around the world as connected to the wars being waged against working-class people in the United States. We need to build a position that sees the expansion of policing and militarism against black people, immigrants of every race and working-class folks in the U.S. as connected to the expansion of U.S. military presence abroad.

The time for status quo is over. An anti-war movement that does not engage black people locally is not enough, and a black liberation movement that is not loud and clear in its call to end U.S. imperialism is also not enough. This is not to say our struggles are the same, but rather, we must recognize that we are struggling under the same systems and that we know we cannot break free from these systems if anyone around the world continues to suffer under them.

So what will you do if Black Lives Matter is a put on a terrorist watch list? What will you do if Trump follows through on his calls for mass deportations or for the establishment of the Muslim registry? What are we all doing about Standing Rock?

We live in the belly of the empire and because of this we bear a particular responsibility for what is happening around the world. There is no longer time to see our struggles in silos. We must work together to tear down U.S. empire. There is no excuse. Global liberation depends on it.

We Need a New Kind of Anti-War Movement

Source: ONTD_Political

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