Thursday, April 10, 2008

Persian Arabesque

The reporting on Monday's Petraeus-Crocker testimony focused heavily Iran. The WP ran an op-ed piece about "the Iran problem". Apparently, the US mission in Iraq these days is to counter Iran. WP columnist David Ignatius argues that "...Somehow, the next president will have to fuse U.S. military and diplomatic power to both engage Iran and set limits on its activities. A U.S.-Iranian dialogue is a necessary condition for future stability in the Middle East."

Will someone please tell me what America's interests are in the Middle East and with Iran in particular? Is Iran or any Middle Eastern nation attempting to invade the US? Is Iran trying to replace our Constitution with fundamentalist religious law? I understand that some factions and organized groups in the Middle East and South Asia want to kill Americans and westerners in general but aside from the particular and relatively limited threats they pose (which is still a big deal if you’re happen to be killed or maimed), they cannot fundamentally alter or change American or western society. Their most potent weapon is our own overreaction and panicked response.

Iran, on the other hand, is a significant economic and military power in the region. That works for Iran because the region is home. I expect Iran, like any nation, to keep a close watch on its "near abroad" because that is where its most vital interests are likely to be affected most seriously. Iran also has a long history of power and influence in the larger region, including the nation currently know as Iraq, dating to well before western civilization figured out that the earth was not flat. I fully recognize and understand Iran’s interests and aspirations in the region.

So I keep hearing about vital American interest in the Middle East but I have difficulty understanding them and why they are vital as to take us to the brink of war. Maybe I'm just being obtuse. I realize that the United States is a World Power of Great Consequence and Significance but it seems that we are trapped in the myth of our own greatness so that everything is in our interest. Like any nation, we have a near abroad, where our most vital interests lie. (I include preserving individual and Constitutional liberties within that near abroad; I do not limit it to geography and strategy. Mexico would be an important geographic near abroad.) But when everything affects us, we quickly find ourselves at risk to others who may have strategic and economic advantages that offset our supposed super power. We end up stretching ourselves too thin in resources, insight, skill and nuance to address even our most vital interests effectively. It's a strategy any insurgent facing a powerful adversary quickly learns.

Of course, I know we want the East oil (and everyone else’s) for our own economic growth. We want to ensure continued access to that oil. Desperately, because that's all we know. It's always been so cheap and plentiful. Of course, in a true global market we would just buy what we need. Oops! I keep forgetting we don't have any money any more. We do still have some military left, we have chosen to establish a strong presence in the Mid-East and are pursuing that mission at whatever it costs.

America unconditionally supports the State of Israel, which pisses off most Arab and Muslims who still resent being forcibly driven from their homes when Israel was established, the continuing expropriation of Palestinian for Israeli settlements and Israel’s increasingly militarized response to the legitimate national aspirations of an indigenous people, aspirations not unlike those that inspired the State of Israel. Smarter people than me have failed to resolve this conflict so I don’t even pretend to have an answer. I will venture to say that almost a century of violence and oppression in that region will not end because one side or the other gains a temporary advantage by force or guile. And remember, temporary in that part of the world is measured in decades and centuries.

Aside from the specifics of our own national interest, Americans also claim a broad interest in freedom and democracy throughout the world, so maybe that's why it's so necessary to send our troops to die in Iraq or Iran. Of course, it would have been easier to have left the democratically elected Iranian government in place back in 1953 but that government was hostile to our specific economic interests (read: oil), which trumped the more vague freedom and democracy interest.

Confused? Don’t feel bad. If you were a US soldier you could be confused and then dead. No one will ever be sure why.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Responsibility in War

Saturday on About Face, a caller said that he considers individual soldiers responsible for their own dehumanization, that they chose their career and that they perform the necessary tasks of waging war. The caller did not absolve the country of ordering that dehumanization either, but he noted that individuals make choices. As a result, the caller said he would not allow a person wearing a military uniform into his house.

That’s pretty harsh but I can’t dispute what he says since I made those same choices years ago and have lived with the consequences ever since. Until the past few years, though, I gave service members a pass on their choice of profession. I assumed that most joined the military for a variety of personal, economic and patriotic reasons at a time when they sincerely believed that it offered legitimate options for national service and a career. Some probably joined specifically for the psychotic challenge of combat but I prefer to think they are a small minority. The rest acknowledge that killing and violence may be a consequence of their service but consider that consequence to be for the nation’s necessary protection, so then it’s okay. Many individuals making these choices are still in high school or very young adults. For them, only the actual experience of war will slam its reality into the rest of their lives.

Where I can’t give a pass is to those who should know better, including the majority of Americans who have already rejected this war and its disastrous occupation but do not insist that the president and Congress end this ruinous policy. The public is unwilling to challenge a rogue administration that has demonstrated a stunning level of mendacity and incompetence in the past six years. The public won’t challenge a war that it does not think worth the cost. After all this time, Americans should know better and I believe they actually do know better. But their acquiescence enables CheneyBush to continue a brutal military occupation that produces the deadly mayhem described by the Winter Soldiers.

For those who perform the tasks of occupation, their duty and experience often conflicts with and erodes their conscience. War becomes a series of violent memories and images burned into the soldiers’ lives forever. Perhaps, the cost to these soldiers, to their families, to the military community would be justified if the mission actually helped America. Maybe in some fantasy CheneyBush world it does, but in the real world the cost is all the more obscene because the Iraq occupation actually harms our interests and threatens our security. America is supposedly a nation of practical, common sense people yet we tolerate this waste of blood and treasure. If the American public chose to resist this war policy, our service members would not face a conflict between duty and conscience.

That said, at the end of the day war is only possible when individuals decide to pull the trigger. As soldiers, we convince ourselves that it’s for the good or that we have no choice or we’re doing it for our buddies but those are the rationalizations that allow war to proceed. That is why I can never give myself a pass on Vietnam. I made the choice and followed orders. I knew the score then and I’ve not forgotten it. That’s why I have spoken against war ever since.

After six years of CheneyBush wars anyone contemplating military service should fully recognize its brutal reality and realize that the United States has violated international law in its actions. Prospective recruits should know that beyond the physical risks, they will lose an important part of their humanity, so much so that they risk committing war crimes. I know military service comes all wrapped in gauzy patriotism and enlistment bonuses and they’re practically kids. That’s why the Winter Soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are so important; they are perhaps the only ones who can drive home the truth about the lack of honor in a foreign military occupation.

Unlike Saturday’s caller, I don’t hold service members responsible for their choices. It’s not my place to judge their responsibility. That’s up to the individual. Anyone who serves in war will never forget the experience and each veteran will come to terms with it one way or the other, for better or worse.

I take responsibility for my own actions. Almost 40 years ago, I chose to kill in a war I did not believe in. This time around, I did not face the same choice—no one’s asking me to pull the trigger—but I do have the choice of saying “No” to an egregious illegal foreign occupation. And I have the choice of reminding my fellow Americans until they finally realize that we cannot sustain a government against its own people. A nation attempts to do so at great peril to its treasury and its soul.

This is all a long way around to and from the soldier’s responsibility. The central point being that ALL Americans are responsible for the calamity our nation has caused in Iraq. Soldiers may bear some different responsibility but that is simply a difference in form, not substance. The soldier does not make war on his or her own nor can a nation go to war without soldiers’ willingness to project America’s lethal force on other people. CheneyBush’s wars are is a shared responsibility that no American can escape.

Many of us tried to stop this catastrophe and were wholly ineffective and impotent in the face of the incessant lies, distortions, manipulation and fearmongering from this administration and its running dog lackeys in the media. All we can do now is stop the damage and support the soldiers and other Americans who refuse to participate in an illegal war.

Then comes to mind a verse from Danny Schmidt’s elegy for 9-11, Already Done:
If there was hope down in the rubble I’d hope that it was this
That in our vulnerability we’d open up our fists
And lay hand upon the ruined and lay wrench on the come unfixed
And though we cannot heal them we shall see no more get sick.
It's already done

No more, indeed.