Tag Archives: military

Theatre For The Absurd, By The Absurd

Tea Party Republicans Blame Obama for the Shutdown They Planned... Nice try Satan.

A Tea-Party rally posing as a veteran-rally, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and Senator Mike Lee of Utah, pushed through the [admittedly nonsensical] barricades at the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. on Sunday, in what has to be the lamest attempt yet by Republicans to co-opt this entire government shutdown debacle in the hopes of coercing the uninformed that they are not singularly to blame for the impasse the country finds itself in.

Conor Friedersdorf shakes his head:

When the barricades are removed, whether because the Obama Administration is pressured due to the absurdity of it all or because the shutdown ends, conservatives will find a way to make Obama look bad in the next news cycle, and their political theater, whether successful or unsuccessful, won’t lead to any actual victories. They won’t marshall anything like the focus or grassroots passion that’s needed to actually improve the care of veterans in America or the degree to which our liberties are secure, because bettering governance is not their goal. Publicity stunts optimized for generating outrage in a given news cycle are all they’ve got, and even those haven’t been effective at winning converts.

And that’s the only motive here for these vandals posing as legislators and (in the case of Palin) patriots: their concern is how best to capitalise on the theatre of the absurd. But like Friedersdorf notes at the end of his piece, it might play well to the dying base of support they already enjoy, but they can hardly expect to win over any converts by staging this sort of inane political theatre.

At the rally in question, Sen. Cruz painted a picture of a malicious President hell-bent on using veteran misery to score political gains:

“Let me ask a simple question,” Cruz told the crowd. “Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

Sarah Palin was even more pointed in her comments:

“Our vets have proven that they have not been timid, so we will not be timid in calling out any who would use our military, our vets, as pawns in a political game,” Palin told the crowd.

But neither Palin nor Cruz went quite as far as Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (though by their total refusal to distance themselves from his comments, one could argue they silently affirmed that which you’re about to read):

Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group, said the country is “ruled by a president who bows down to Allah,” and “is not a president of ‘we the people.'”

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out,” he said.

Andrew Sullivan delivers a strong, well articulated response to Klayman’s racist, xenophobic assertions:

Let’s not be mealy-mouthed. This speaker, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, accuses the president of treason in this speech, of deliberately pursuing policies to kill members of the armed services, because he is an Islamist, and allegedly “bows to Allah”. What he is saying is the president is a deliberate mole of foreign agents determined to destroy the American way of life. And there is no pushback from the crowd and no pushback from GOP leaders.

This is what we’re dealing with. This is not an alternative budget; it is not another way of insuring millions and cutting healthcare costs; it is not a contribution to anything but to the logic of nullification of an election. It is yet another declaration of cold civil war – a call for a nonviolent refusal to be governed by a re-elected president because he is pursuing policies with which an electorally defeated minority disagree. Simply pursuing those policies has rendered Obama a “monarch” who is arguing “his way or the highway.” But all Obama is doing is implementing a campaign promise and settled law, while governing under a continuing resolution that reflects the sequester’s level of spending, a level agreed to by the Republicans. He wants a budget agreement between the House and Senate in a conference that the Republican House has long resisted entering. He has said that he is happy to negotiate with anyone on anything as long as the blackmail of a government shut-down and of a threatened global depression are ended. And his record shows that he has compromised again and again – as his own most fervent supporters look on in dismay.

In a few weeks, the government shutdown and [hopefully] the debt-ceiling debacle will be over. But the long term inadequacies of our political system will remain, and along with them these callous liars and disgraceful opportunists. We’re fortunate, though, that we live in a time and age where their exploits are documented by video evidence. We know exactly who and what we’re dealing with.

Photo: H. Michael Karshis


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Judgement Day

By Cato

Step 1: Turn on speakers
Step 2: Open this video in a different window.
Step 3: Read this news story while the previous link plays in the background.

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Best Of The Week

Relaxing at Venice Beach

It’s nearly the end of our first summer here on Left and Center, and we’ve quickly realized that August does indeed bring with it amazingly slow news-days. But I hope you’ll agree we still found some important things to discuss on this little blog.

The most popular post of the week doubled as one large capitulation from your Editor, one which I did not anticipate writing: Glenn Greenwald Vindicated, Surveillance State Out Of Control.

Other well-liked pieces included some baffling news out of the South, Louisiana Republicans Unsure If Obama Was More To Blame For Katrina Response Than Bush; our coverage of some seriously harrowing news from the Middle East, Did The Worst Chemical Attack In Decades Just Happen In Syria?; Two Opposing Views Of Bradley Manning’s 35 Year Sentence; a very welcome Study Which Finds That The More Sex You Have, The More Money You Make; and finally, the absurd fact that in the U.S., We Subsidize Religions To The Tune Of $83.5 Billion A Year.

Thanks for checking in, as always.


(Photo: Rafael Amado Deras)

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Egypt Quickly Descending Into Hell

The truth is that while Morsi and the Brotherhood derailed any hope of a Democratic transition from Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military is as much — if not more — to blame for the bloody massacres taking place all across that country.

It seems now that the cultivation of Islamic extremism was the military’s plan all along. For the past couple of months, they’ve made it nearly impossible for members of the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve any sort of recourse in government, almost begging them to turn to extremism and violence to get their points across. But wouldn’t incentivizing violence and extremism be a bad idea, long term? After all, terrorists don’t tend to just pick up their things and move away. Well, if the Egyptian military wants to present itself to the west — the United States — as a bastion against Islamic radicalism, what better way to do so than brew some good old fashioned radicalism right at home? How could the United States turn its back and take away the piggy bank then? It’s a cretinous, savage, barbaric mindset, but we’re talking about the Egyptian military.

Juan Cole aims his ire at the military-junta in particular:

The country is ruled by an intolerant junta with no respect for human life. Neither the Brotherhood nor the military made the kind of bargain and compromises necessary for a successful democratic transition. It is true that some armed Brotherhood cadres killed some 50 troops and police, and that some 20 Coptic Christian churches were attacked, some burned. But the onus for the massacre lies with the Egyptian military.

The only sane thing for the United States to do now is to pull any and all support for the military junta now running Egypt. But we won’t. As savage and perverse as the junta’s plan is (making the military a “bastion” against a terrorist threat they themselves bred), it provides the U.S. with an excuse to continue its ties to whoever is in control of the country.

Mubarak was never deposed. He lives on.

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Chart(s) Of The Day: Peace On The Horizon?


No, we aren’t going to live in a world without war, but the chart above and the corresponding work attributed to it show that as a global society, we’re devoting a smaller percentage of manpower and income to the military industry:

The black line is the average across countries of military spending as a percentage of GDP, using the Correlates of War (COW) estimate of total spending divided by World Bank GDP figures (which only start in 1960). The red line is the average across countries of armed forces per 1,000 population, again using COW estimates.

You see really striking long-run declines in the West, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and Asia. In these areas it almost looks as if demobilization from World War II has taken place gradually and over 60+ years. In Latin America and North Africa/Middle East, you see pretty striking declines since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps some decline in subSaharan Africa since around 2000.

One possible long-term explanation? Democracy:

On the domestic side of things, there is pretty good evidence that the spread of democracy has been a significant factor. Not worth getting into the details here, but if you look at the data country by country you find that on average, when countries transition to democracy their military spending and army sizes go down, quite substantially.* In fact they tend to go down when they transition from very autocratic to only somewhat autocratic (that is, to “anocracies”, or semi-democracies using the Polity data).

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Does Culture Make A Difference For P.T.S.D. In Soldiers?

In memory

One of the more underreported consequences of the terrible wars our country waged in Iraq and Afghanistan is the effect of P.T.S.D. — post traumatic stress disorder — on our military men and women. But while the rate of soldiers who suffer from P.T.S.D. in the U.S. ranges between 10 to 17 percent, the number is far lower when compared to veterans from the UK, who clock in somewhere closer to 4 percent. David J. Morris explains the difference, and debunks the theory that British soldiers have just found ways to deal with it better than their American counterparts:

P.T.S.D. cannot be reduced to a simple matter of differing cultural attitudes. Within the field of P.T.S.D. research, there is a concept known as “the dose-response curve.” In simple terms, the more horror and death you are exposed to, the more likely you are to experience post-traumatic stress. (This is not limited to shooting combat; it encapsulates exposure to any life-threatening danger.) And Americans have been exposed to a lot more horror and death than their British counterparts.

When I asked Matt Friedman, the director of the National Center for P.T.S.D., about the differing diagnosis rates and what this might mean for American psychiatry, he seemed to grow irritated. “The Brits were down in Basra. Ain’t nothing happening down in Basra,” he said. In a letter responding to the original Lancet study that compared P.T.S.D. rates of American and British veterans, Charles Hoge and Carl Castro, P.T.S.D. researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, made this very point, writing that “only 17% of UK service members reported discharging their weapon, compared with 77-87% of US service members; 32% of UK service members reported coming under small arms fire, compared with more than 90% of US service members.”

Morris then turns his attention to American attitudes on P.T.S.D., and how exactly we are failing our men and women in uniform who desperately need help:

The growing criticism of our current understanding of P.T.S.D. suggests that what was once ignored or treated as a failure of character—the soldier’s weakness—has now been medicalized to the exclusion of discussing its moral and spiritual dimensions. “It feels to me as if the U.S. civilian population has pathologized the veteran experience,” Elliott Woods, an Iraq veteran-turned-reporter, told me not long ago. “One well-intentioned person said to me the other day, ‘I can’t see how anyone could go to Iraq and not come back with P.T.S.D.’ ” Yet our social mechanisms for dealing with that problem are weaker than they should be.

One of the more harrowing statistics to come out of the last decade of war is related to military suicide – now an epidemic. In 2012, there were more suicides in the military than there were causualities in Afghanistan: 292 combat deaths to 349 suicides. The pervasive problem of P.T.S.D. is something our veterans will seriously struggle to shrug off. Some for the entirety of their lives.

(photo by Kevin Dooley)

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Massacre In Cairo: One Step Closer To Civil War

We don’t know the whole truth yet, but it hardly makes a difference in the grand scheme of things. 51 Egyptians are dead; shot to death by the same military force that ousted Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power a few days ago. Islamist protestors claim that the military opened fire on them, unprovoked, while they were engaged in a mass prayer outside the Cairo barracks where Morsi is believed to be held. Meanwhile, the military says that a “terrorist group” tried to storm the Republican Guard compound, killing one officer and wounding dozens, and only then did armed forces open fire on them. The end consequence is that the Islamist supporters of Morsi and the MB are calling for an all-out civil war, and the military forces can do nothing to stop it from happening.

The Guardian has a good summary of the events:

The Egyptian military says gunmen from an “armed terrorist group” and linked to the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist organisation with which Morsi is affiliated – tried to storm the building shortly after dawn, firing live ammunition and throwing firebombs, killing one police officer. But the Muslim Brotherhood said troops opened fire at protesters, including women and children, none of whom had attacked the troops. The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley spoke to a number of witnesses who gave differing accounts of what happened. Accounts from five of the wounded backed the Brotherhood’s version of events.

Both sides of what happened are too problematic to be taken as truth at this point. There doesn’t seem to be any valid reason why the armed forces — knowing the country is on the brink of mass violence — would indiscriminately open fire into a group of praying islamists. At the same time, the military’s claim that a “terrorist attack” needed to be quelled reeks of propagandism.

But an army spokesperson details the events to an extent worth considering:

The scene spiralled out of peacefulness at about 4am, he says. An armed group attacked the perimeters around the Republican Guard HQ, and the personnel responsible for securing the premises – from the army and police – were attacked by live ammunition, Ali says.

At the same time other groups started to climb up the buildings nearby and throw stones, molotov cocktails, bombs and heavy objects, Ali says, resulting in the death of one army officer and the injury of 42. Many of them are in a very critical condition, he says.

It was always expected that supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were going to be indignant that their government had been overthrown, and therefore some violence was always likely. What’s shocking and disturbing is that the interim government — who as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, needs islamist support in order to remain legitimate — would invite a civil war to brew by violently engaging the protestors. Egypt’s top Muslim cleric has already condemned the events and thinks that a civil war is on the horizon, the Salafist Nour party has withdrawn from government negotiations and have called for an investigation into the massacre, and on every street corner in Cairo, passionate and anger fueled Islamist radicals are preparing messages of uprising, violence and salvation for their supporters.

So how about that bloodless coup?

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Military Coup Ousts Mursi

Via a military coup, Mohammad Mursi is no longer the President of Egypt:

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Tweet Of The Day

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Fareed Zakaria: Stay Out Of Syria

As the consistent sane voice in these matters, Fareed offers his thoughts on whether or not the US should intervene in Syria.

“Fareed Zakaria GPS” airs Sundays on CNN and via podcast. Zakaria is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of “The Post-American World“, “The Future of Freedom“, and “From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role“.

Courtesy of the Dish’s Ask Anything interview series.

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Gillibrand and McCaskill Lay Into Military Brass at Sexual Assault Hearing


(Photo courtesy of Howard Mortman)

The Senate Armed Services Committee listened to the testimony of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today, on the subject of military sexual assault. If you noticed by looking at the picture above, it was a total sausage fest (11 men, 1 woman), but that aside, the big development out of the hearing was the expected opposition by the military brass for allegations of sexual assault to be taken out of the purview of the military chain of command, something Senator Gillibrand has initiated in legislation and something other armed forces – in countries like Germany and Israel – already do. The problem that the military brass refuses to believe is out of their control is that when allegations of sexual assault are left to the military to solve, most cases go unreported, and the ones that are reported are usually given little to no attention:

A Pentagon report in May showed the estimated number of victims of sexual assault last year jumped to 26,000, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those, just 3,374 cases were reported, indicating that many victims stay silent out of fear that they could face retribution or indifference if they speak up.

Those statistics have also been punctuated by a string of scandals involving military leaders – including some whose job descriptions include sexual assault prevention – being charged with crimes against women.

Still, the brass argued all day that undermining military commanders’ authority would diminish their stature with the ranks, and jeopardize the entire military operation. That opened the door for Senator Gillibrand to totally eviscerate past military dealings regarding sexual assault:

“Not all commanders are objective. Not every single commander necessarily wants women on the force, not every commander believes what a sexual assault is, not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together. You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you, that you will actually bring justice in these cases. They are afraid to report. They think their careers will be over.”

Senator Claire McCaskill educates the predominantly male military brass on the difference between an innaporiate work environment and, say, rape:

“This isn’t about sex. This is about assaultive domination and violence. And as long as those two get mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be at getting after the most insidious part of this, which is the predators in your ranks that are sullying the great name of our American military.”

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Syria is not our fight, ctd…

Salaheddin, AleppoSalaheddin, Aleppo (cc photo by Freedom House)

Daniel Larison competently argues that despite the neo-con base clamoring for military intervention into the bloody sectarian Syrian conflict, there is no good reason for the US to do so:

Like the Iraq War, a U.S. war in Syria would be unauthorized and illegal under international law, and America would have even fewer allies than it had in Iraq. Like Iraq, the costs and duration of a Syrian war have been minimized to make it appear to be a quick, easy, and cheap intervention. Unlike Iraq, there wouldn’t even be the pretense that the U.S. was acting to eliminate a potential threat to our security. Instead, the U.S. would be fighting solely for the purpose of overthrowing another government. While the Iraq War was mostly limited to that country, U.S. intervention in Syria would draw us directly into a proxy war with Assad’s patrons that would likely not remain confined to Syria. Finally, a Syrian war would be waged with the knowledge of all the things that went so horribly wrong in Iraq, which makes the impulse to intervene in Syria both inexcusable and inexplicable.

Larison goes on to thoroughly refute Bill Keller’s ridiculous case for intervention:

No two countries and no two conflicts are ever going to be identical, and some of the things that made the Iraq War a debacle may not be relevant to the Syrian case. However, military intervention in Syria would suffer from many of the same flaws as the Iraq War, and it would also have its own set of complications and unintended consequences that might prove to be just as bad or even worse than the Iraq War’s.

Fareed Zakaria, always the sanest voice in these matters, relays the potential consequences of an American intervention:

Would U.S. intervention–no-fly zones, arms, aid to the opposition forces–make things better? It depends on what one means by better. It would certainly intensify the civil war. It would also make the regime of Bashar Assad more desperate. Perhaps Assad has already used chemical weapons; with his back against the wall, he might use them on a larger scale. As for external instability, Landis points out that if U.S. intervention tipped the balance against the Alawites, they might flee Syria into Lebanon, destabilizing that country for decades. Again, this pattern is not unprecedented. Large numbers on the losing side have fled wars in the Middle East, from Palestinians in 1948 to Iraq’s Sunnis in the past decade.

It’s a shame – though not an unexpected one – that fervent supporters of the Iraq war are now willfully ignoring the lessons that should have been gleaned from that horrendous disaster. The Syrian civil war is an intensely complex conflict in one of the more fractured and splintered regions of the Middle East, and while we’d like to believe we can codify conflicts like this in such a way where the enemy is clear, the objective sound and the outcome guaranteed, the basic truth is that there are no good options when it comes to Syria. Furthermore, one need only watch this callous video of animalistic brutality perpetuated by one of the rebel leaders – who apparently Keller and McCain the rest of their cohorts would have us arm – to realize that both sides are descending into equal parts madness and barbarism. That’s the unfortunate truth about how regional, sectarian conflicts that have been brewing for more than a decade work. It’s painstakingly difficult to watch from the sidelines as countless are murdered and displaced, but I’ve said it before: in a situation where no good options exist, non-intervention is clearly the best, bad choice.

Previous posts on this issue here, here, here, and here.

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Your Quote for Memorial Day

Purple HeartPurple Heart (cc photo by SC Fiasco

“Remember this, take it to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”

Mark Twain, The Czar’s Soliloquy, 1905

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The sexual assault problem in the military just got a little worse

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for sexual assault prevention in the Armed Forces. Barely a week removed from the Air Force having to deal the head of that branch’s sexual assault prevention program getting nailed for sexual assault, now it’s the Army that’s embroiled in a situation of their own.

In the latest incident, the Department of Defense revealed on Tuesday a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army stationed at the Ft. Hood, TX military base is under investigation for sexual assault. Along with allegedly sexually assaulting two of his peers, the the sergeant is being investigated for possibly forcing a subordinate into prostitution. Making matters even worse, the soldier under investigation was assigned as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program coordinator for an eight-hundred person battalion stationed at the base.

Great. Not just another soldier with a penchant for rape, but a soldier in charge of making sure his battalion of 800 keep themselves from sexually assaulting their female peers. This new situation has to force some swift action from Congress. A particularly drastic bill set to be introduced on Thursday would completely remove the decision to prosecute all major criminal cases from the military chain of command.

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The head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault and Prevention program arrested for sexual assault


The pervasiveness of rape culture in the military is an ongoing problem. The Washington Post found that the amount of military personnel that anonymously reported instances of “unwanted sexual contact” rose roughly 33 percent last year, or about 26,000 military members. Actual reports made to the Pentagon number far less. The defense department, seeing the need to address this ongoing problem, launched an inter-branch program called Sexual Assault and Prevention Response, aimed at eradicating the culture that exists in the armed forces where sexual assault goes unchecked and mostly unreported. Continue reading

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