Iraq war

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& U.S. military& Iraq war& War and law06 Oct 2008 09:34 am

John Burroughs

In the October 2 vice-presidential debate, moderator Gwen Ifill ventured into a crucial area rarely touched by regular media. She asked:

Governor, on another issue, interventionism, nuclear weapons. What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?

Sarah Palin responded:

Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.

Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that’s a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.

But for those countries — North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il — we have got to make sure that we’re putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important.

When it was his turn, Joseph Biden did not answer the question, instead referring to John McCain’s vote against ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1999, and to Barack Obama’s work on “keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”

But Palin really did not answer the question either. She claimed that U.S. reliance on nuclear forces is “safe” and “stable” deterrence. One major question that comes to mind is whether Palin believes the eight other countries in the world with nuclear weapons also practice safe and stable deterrence. Her answer is no with respect to North Korea, and Biden also talked about the danger posed by Pakistan’s arsenal. That leaves six other countries (China, Russia, India, France, United Kingdom, Israel). Palin also said that “dangerous regimes,” Iran being one, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. But if deterrence works for the United States, why not for current nuclear have-nots?

More fundamental, though, and at the heart of the question posed by Ifill and not addressed by either Palin or Biden, is this: Deterrence is based on the will and capability to use nuclear weapons when deemed necessary. If you embrace deterrence, you embrace the possibility of use. Similarly, you can’t support the death penalty as a deterrent to horrendous crimes without supporting actual executions. Biden knows this. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in June 2007 entitled “CSI: Nukes,” he stated that the “U.S. has long deterred a nuclear attack by states, by clearly and credibly threatening devastating retaliation.” He went on to argue that the United States should accelerate work on capabilities to trace the origin of fissile materials used in a terrorist nuclear attack, in order to be able to deter the country where the materials originate. He did not rule out U.S. use of nuclear weapons against such a country.

My organization, the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, this year released a statement, summarized here, that does answer Ifill’s question. In brief, the answer is it is never lawful, moral, or wise to use nuclear weapons, and therefore the United States should abandon the policy of deterrence premised on possible use and work hard for the global elimination of nuclear forces. We emphasize that nuclear use is incompatible with the present-day U.S. conduct of military operations in accordance (in the U.S. understanding) with legal requirements of necessity, proportionality, and discrimination. That is true in all the myriad circumstances (certainly not only in response to a nuclear attack) in which the United States holds out the option of use of nuclear weapons: preemptive or responsive use against biological and chemical as well as nuclear capabilities or attacks; in response to overwhelming conventional attacks; and even in response to “surprising” military developments.


Iraq war& Social movements and protest20 Feb 2007 01:34 pm

Andrew Lichterman

In a previous entry about the January 27 Washington march and rally against the Iraq war, I wrote of my sense that our politics are badly out of balance, with our efforts too focused on distant decision-makers and our resources largely channeled into top-down, conventional pressure group campaign tactics (see No Short Cuts: From this March to the Next). Darwin BondGraham, an organizer and student at University of California, Santa Barbara, writes in a similar vein in his report on the February 15 student strike there. That event, and Darwin’s comments on it, provide another illustration of small steps towards an alternative approach to organizing, stressing the way that the big issues–war and peace, the structure of the economy–are manifested in our communities and our everyday lives:

“In truth the creative spontaneity of our strike was the outcome of a dissatisfaction many of us have had with the typical antiwar rally. Usually people are urged to gather so that they can then listen to a number of big name speakers tell them at length about the issues. Speakers typically dwell on abstract problems and political issues that are not concretely connected to the everyday lives of those listening. Sometimes the speakers dwell entirely on the problem, offering few solutions other than signing a postcard or giving money to the organization that put the rally together. People come and leave, and they are not left with a sense of participation that amounts to much more than having been a body in a crowd that will invariably be undercounted by the corporate media, if it is reported on at all….

In terms of measuring the impact of our strike I would estimate that the legitimacy lost to those who rule over our university and country was tiny, and that the actual impact our road occupation had on UCSB’s material/intellectual contribution to the war was very, very small. But it was a very, very small step in the right direction toward collective action that channels our anger and opposition in ways that chip away at the highly complex social division of labor, a chain of work, consumption and obedience that is the war effort. Its smallness was by no means an indication of its futility, but rather its powerful truth because the truth is that we can only contribute what we can based upon our social position. We can only oppose the war through our position’s specific links and what is needed of us to keep the war going. For students this means keep going to class, be a good consumer, don’t ask questions, let the UC take in military research contracts, ignore the nuclear weapons labs, let the armed forces recruit on our campus, and don’t forget to smile. There is no national or global position we can leap into by disembodying ourselves. Believing that there is has led many to waste considerable time and resources on traveling to Washington D.C. or some capitol city on a weekend to take part in a rally that beyond its symbolic significance is pretty ineffective. If latched onto by localities across the nation the strike model could result in the sort of localized movement necessary to stop the war through mobilizations that withdraw real support and challenge authority. Localizing the effort also builds long-term capacity to keep moving forward and changing society for the better….”

You can find Darwin’s piece in full at his blog, Sung a lot of Songs, here.

Iran& Iraq war& Social movements and protest13 Feb 2007 08:29 pm


Andrew Lichterman

On January 27, what was by any estimation an enormous number of people gathered at the U.S. Capitol to protest the continuing U.S. war and occupation in Iraq. Despite the diverse geographic origins and political persuasions represented in the huge crowd, the demand for a speedy end to the war and withdrawal of U.S. forces was clear. If nothing else, this enormous, unambiguous outpouring of anti-war opinion highlighted the distance between an increasingly angry and concerned populace and a professional political class largely in business-as-usual mode, with most still maneuvering to extract every possible advantage from the vicious bloodletting taking place on the other side of the world.

As I have written previously, I believe that too great a share of resources go into large, mediagenic events and to conventional efforts to pressure centers of government directly, at the expense of the sustained local and regional organizing and institution building essential to the kind of social change we will need to reign in the U.S. empire and the runaway global corporate capitalism that it sustains and dominates (see, e.g. Scale, Locale, and Demonstrations. Further reflections on this point and others regarding the state of the anti-war/peace movement follow in the latter part of this piece). But there are times when it is essential to muster as much “people power” as possible to just say NO, and this was one. It was such a moment not only because of the ongoing horror in Iraq, but because of the threat that the American juggernaut may roll on to Iran, unleashing consequences that only those utterly ignorant of history could claim to predict.

As the coming months unfold, we will see whether the Congressional opposition to the Iraq war amounts to anything more than the careful positioning of otherwise status quo politicians for gains in the next elections. We will also see whether there is real opposition among political elites to another war of aggression against Iran — or whether the “centrist” elements of the narrow U.S. official political spectrum are simply waiting to see whether the administration can generate a propaganda campaign sufficient to provide political cover for another Congressional mandate for war. In all of this, we will learn something about who truly rules this country. The idea that over half a decade of war-making, repression and torture on a global scale could happen by mistake or be sustained by a small “cabal” of ideologues is a myth. And if we attack Iran, it will not be because ideology somehow has run wild, with broad-based, complex social currents pushing the politicians unwillingly to the brink. The U.S. population today is largely an amalgam of quiescence and frustrated discontent, with only a distinct minority still blindly willing to follow the martial banner. In a nation where concentrated wealth translates quite directly into political power, we will attack Iran only if a dominant fraction of the most powerful interests desire it. (more…)

Iraq war08 Jan 2007 10:14 am


John Burroughs

New York artist Leonard Rosenfeld created this portrait of David Petraeus in 2004, inspired by Petraeus’s demand: “tell me how this ends.” As recounted by Washington Post reporter Rick Atkinson in a January 7 story:

“Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is President Bush’s choice to become the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, posed a riddle during the initial march to Baghdad four years ago that now becomes his own conundrum to solve: ‘Tell me how this ends.’

That query, uttered repeatedly to a reporter [Atkinson] then embedded in Petraeus’s 101st Airborne Division, revealed a flinty skepticism about prospects in Iraq–and the man now asked to forestall a military debacle.…

In asking that nettlesome question four years ago–’Tell me how this ends’–Petraeus alluded to the advice supposedly given President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s when he asked what it would take for the U.S. military to save the beleaguered French colonial empire in war-torn Vietnam: ‘Eight years and eight divisions.’”

The painting, entitled “General Petraeus: When will this be over,” was one of the works offered in a December 2004 art auction benefit for Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation (it is no longer available). It is part of Rosenfeld’s “Soldiers and Terrorists” series. Another portrait, entitled simply “Petraeus,” is on Rosenfeld’s website.

To address the question: The U.S. role in the war should end with rapid U.S. withdrawal, followed by a deep-going examination of the U.S. propensity for waging war in all parts of the world. The invasion of Iraq has demonstrated beyond doubt that the U.S. intervention in Vietnam was not some temporary aberration.

Disarmament& Military budget& Iraq war& Social movements and protest06 Oct 2006 05:41 pm

Andrew Lichterman

“Contemporary historians, confronted with the spectacle of a few capitalists conducting their predatory searches round the globe for new investment possibilities and appealing to the profit motives of the much-too-rich and the gambling instincts of the much-too-poor, want to clothe imperialism with the old grandeur of Rome and Alexander the Great, a grandeur which would make all the following events more humanly tolerable…. The only grandeur of imperialism lies in the nation’s losing battle against it. The tragedy of this half-hearted opposition was not that many national representatives could be bought by the new imperialist businessmen; worse than corruption was the fact that the incorruptible were convinced that imperialism was the only way to conduct world politics.” Hannah Arendt, Imperialism (Part Two of The Origins of Totalitarianism); (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), p.12

This week I received an e-mail fund raising pitch from an arms control group that bills itself as the peace movement’s electoral arm. I have removed the name of the group because the message typifies certain characteristics of “mainstream” discourse on issues of war and peace, characteristics that can not be narrowly attributed to– or blamed on– a particular individual or organization.

Here are the e-mail’s opening paragraphs, which capture the essence:

“Dear Friend,

Republicans have again reached for the gutter. You knew they would do it. In a desperate attempt to win the election, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) began running a deceptive TV ad attacking [name of state] Democrat [name of candidate] for receiving support from [name of group]. You can watch the ad on our website.

Contribute $35, $50, or more to [name of group] and help us respond to this Swift Boat style attack!

The ad is a typical GOP distortion.

It claims we recommend cutting $130 billion from the Pentagon’s budget. False.

What we do favor is cutting Cold War weapons and focusing on equipping our brave soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq with what they need: body armor, fully armored vehicles, Predator drones, the best communication equipment, and beefed-up Homeland Security - including protection of our food and water supplies, and chemical and nuclear plants.”

The e-mail massage also had a link pointing readers to a “list of security programs supported by [name of group],” including not only the body armor, unmanned aircraft, and armored vehicles promoted in the e-mail, but such programs as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship, better countermeasures for improvised explosive devices, and increased funding for precise, low-yield munitions–a good start on a shopping list for invasions and occupations present and future.

So: a fund raising pitch from a “peace” organization–not a “strategic” communication to hypothetical undecided swing-state voters, mind you, but a message aimed at being persuasive to their own “peace”-oriented base–that proudly proclaims that this organization does not advocate major military spending cuts, but instead advocates better weapons to fight bloody wars of occupation (with one of them, the Iraq war, also clearly being illegal from the outset). There was not a word in the e-mail to suggest that the Iraq war was a bad idea, or that endless pursuit of global military dominance is a bad idea, or that a military budget approaching a half trillion dollars a year is a bad idea.

This message echoes the approach taken by many Democratic Party politicians to “peace” issues this election season (and for many years now): it neither makes a case against U.S. wars of aggression, nor addresses the causes of the wars the U.S. fights. Instead, “opposition” is limited to “pragmatic” advocacy of what purportedly would be a cheaper, more efficient, less risky mix of weapons. But these weapons still will be used to advance a goal of permanent U.S. global military dominance that remains largely unquestioned by mainstream politicians and “arms control and disarmament” groups alike. And it is more than likely, if past performance is any guide, that little in this approach will change regardless of the outcome of the Congressional elections. If Democrats win, those who control the money and the visible platforms in the Democratic party and the constellation of thinly-disguised advertising agencies that roughly serve as its “intellectual” establishment will claim victory for their focus group-tested “moderate” approach. If they lose, they will seek to hang defeat on “the Left,” implying that “they” (despite being virtually invisible) somehow blurred the carefully confected vision of a slightly kinder, gentler empire that otherwise surely would have captured just enough of some all-important group of voters, however instrumentally stereotyped in this year’s jargon: NASCAR dads, security moms, the role of ordinary people in politics reduced to answers to questions we never get to choose.

It is impossible to know in the case of any particular organization or individual which motivation prevails–”bought by the new imperialist businessmen” or simply “convinced that imperialism [is] the only way to conduct world politics.” But what is clear is that most U.S. politicians and most U.S. “national security” and “foreign policy” professionals, regardless of party affiliation, fall into one or the other category. If there is to be a movement in this country for global justice and hence for any real peace, we are going to have to put it together largely without them. We can begin by refusing to give either money or votes to politicians, parties, and organizations who respond to U.S. wars of aggression by suggesting better ways to fight them.

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Iraq war& Social movements and protest12 Aug 2006 01:52 pm


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Andrew Lichterman

On August 9, 61 years after the United States dropped the second of the two atomic bombs used in war on Nagasaki, Japan, groups around the country gathered to protest continued U.S. commitment to war as a means of achieving political and economic ends, with a focus on the global corporations that profit from war and preparation for war. The focus was Bechtel Corporation, a company with a history intertwined with U.S. ascendance as the world’s dominant military and economic power and with its nuclear power and weapons industries. With billions in Iraq reconstruction contracts and billions more in U.S. military contracts, Bechtel continues to profit from U.S. war making.

In San Francisco, about 200 people gathered at Bechtel’s global headquarters for a program of speakers and music. Keiji Tsuchiya, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, spoke of his experience, and there were speakers addressing various aspects of of Bechtel’s global impact. A number of people blocked the entrances to the building complex housing Bechtel, resulting in a small number of arrests by the San Francisco police. A few people chanted “this is what a police state looks like” as one protester was carried off, but to those who experienced San Francisco street demonstrations in decades past (for example, in the 80’s under Mayor Dianne Feinstein), the police presence was pretty low key– no truncheons, no beatings, no one run over by motorcycles or stepped on by horses.

I had three or four minutes on the program for some remarks on Bechtel’s nuclear weapons role and its connection to their other activities; several people asked for a text. For those interested, it can be found after the “more” jump below.


Iraq war& Social movements and protest25 Jul 2006 07:58 pm

Andrew Lichterman

Grandmothers Against the War came to the multi-service Armed Forces Recruiting Center in suburban Pleasant Hill, California, yesterday, symbolically offering to enlist to prevent the waste of young lives in U.S. wars. The Army and the Navy locked their doors, but the Marines stayed open. Grandmothers and their supporters filed in; the Marines distributed literature with enlistment requirements and informed them that they would not need their service at this time. Four people who refused to leave the recruiting office were cited for trespassing by Pleasant Hill police and released at the scene.

The Contra Costa Times ran a good story on page 2.

Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Iraq war& Social movements and protest20 May 2006 10:18 pm


Jackie Cabasso

The April 29 March for Peace, Justice and Democracy was a huge success! Initiated by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and with 8 major co-endorsing organizations forming an unprecedented coalition*, the organizers estimate that 350,000 people participated. Equally important was the tone of the day - spirited yet serious, and focused simultaneously on many issues of concern to the peace and justice movement.The morning started out rather dramatically for the Nuclear Disarmament tent at the Peace and Justice Festival site. Our set-up crew arrived at Foley Square, loaded down with boxes of literature and displays, to find - to our dismay - that tent assembly was running way behind schedule, and that only about half of the tents had been set up. Ours was not one of them. We also discovered that our location, in front of the Federal Courthouse, was located in a wind tunnel and shaded from the sun by the surrounding buildings.

As we huddled together in the cold, we watched our huge tent (something like 20 x 40 feet) being assembled. We were given the go ahead to start moving tables and chairs into the space when a sudden gust of wind literally blew the frame apart and the upended the tent on the courthouse steps! Fortunately no one was hurt, but the tent landed with such an impact that it literally ripped a street sign out of the concrete sidewalk. We couldn’t resist darkly joking among ourselves that the upside down shredded tent looked like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. The Police immediately told us we couldn’t have a tent in that location.


Iran& Iraq war& War and law07 May 2006 09:02 am

John Burroughs

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 32 co-sponsors have introduced a resolution (H. Con. Res. 391) in the House of Representatives declaring that the House, with the Senate concurring, “strongly and unequivocally believes that seeking congressional authority prior to taking military action against Iran is not discretionary, but is a legal and constitutional requirement.” DeFazio and 61 members of the House also wrote to President Bush expressing the same view.

The resolution and letter provide a history lesson, for example quoting President Washington that “no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after [Congress] have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.”

In the case of the Iraq war, Congress basically rolled over, adopting a resolution that turned over the decision of whether or not to attack Iraq to Bush. His subsequent decision to invade was wrong, unwise, and contrary to the UN Charter. What has been lost in the chatter since then is that Congress abdicated its constitutional role. As the Washington Post reported at the time, it was not for lack of alternatives:

“A [resolution] sponsored by Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), would have authorized U.S military action only if it were sanctioned by the Security Council or by a second congressional vote later this year. It lost 270 to 55.

A similar resolution, proposed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was defeated 75 to 24 in the Senate.”

Let’s hope that Congress has learned something and as Rep. DeFazio urges will assert its constitutional role with respect to any military action against Iran, whether it’s considered weeks, months, or years from now. It’s also way past time to start bringing the UN Charter and other international law into the deliberations.

Iran& Iraq war& War and law06 Apr 2006 07:11 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The American Society of International Law adopted the following resolution at its recent annual meeting:

The American Society of International Law, at its centennial annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 30, 2006, Resolves:

1. Resort to armed force is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and other international law (jus ad bellum).

2. Conduct of armed conflict and occupation is governed by the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and other international law (jus in bello).

3. Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any person in the custody or control of a state are prohibited by international law from which no derogations are permitted.

4. Prolonged, secret, incommunicado detention of any person in the custody or control of a state is prohibited by international law.

5. Standards of international law regarding treatment of persons extend to all branches of national governments, to their agents, and to all combatant forces.

6. In some circumstances, commanders (both military and civilian) are personally responsible under international law for the acts of their subordinates.

7. All states should maintain security and liberty in a manner consistent with their international law obligations.

The fact that this resolution even should be necessary reflects the depths of our current crisis. As Scott Horton, a leading international lawyer, put it in a PBS interview following the Abu Ghraib revelations, “…if adherence to the Geneva Convention becomes a political issue in this country, we have fallen into a deep moral gutter.”

Regarding resort to armed force, the ASIL resolution similarly states what should be the obvious. When considering both the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and the possibility of military action against Iran, it is important to begin with the basic framework of modern international law. It is a framework this country played a major role in creating.

In the war crimes trials conducted after World War II, the United States and its allies declared aggressive war to be the most serious of all international crimes. Robert L. Jackson, the U.S. Representative to the International Conference on Military Trials, declared,

“We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.” Statement by Justice Jackson on War Trials Agreement; August 12, 1945.


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