The US supplies the guns

weaponsAfter the 9/11 attacks I wrote about 12 steps to respond to 9/11, because “we have to do something!” Number 3 on that list was for the US to stop being the world’s top supplier of arms around the world, at that time selling over 1/2 of all the weapons.

The New York Times Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, provides a helpful update, showing that the US market share has grown to 2/3, establishing a virtual monopoly:

Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

via Despite Slump, U.S. Role as Top Arms Supplier Grows – NYTimes.com.

When we wonder about wars around the world, why don’t we ask about our own role in supplying the weapons that people use to fight them?

Tom Engelhardt raises some more disturbing questions in his essay, Is America hooked on war?

References

Engelhardt, Tom (2009, September 17). Is America hooked on war?. Mother Jones.

Understanding what we’re doing in Afghanistan

It’s refreshing to hear an admission that we really don’t know much about the country we’ve invaded, and that it would help if we did. Wouldn’t it be even more refreshing if we bothered to do that learning before we invade the next country?

We’re trying to understand what are the … factors that the people of Afghanistan are willing to sacrifice … to achieve,” he says. “And, I think, that right now it’s different depending on where you go, but I don’t think we have as good a grasp of that as we should. –Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Aug. 11, 2009

via U.S. General: Taliban ‘Comfortable’ In Kandahar : NPR.

In This World

in this world-2There are times when a movie just grabs me, despite technical flaws, my low expectations, and even a boring DVD case cover. In This World is one of those. The political message is clear, but understated, conveyed instead by an intimate look at the consequences of war and greed on the lives of decent people.

The movie presents a fictitious journey that conveys disturbing truths of life “in this world” we inhabit. Although it’s low-key and rough as cinema, it produces an intimate connection to its characters, Afghan refugees Jamal and Enayatullah, as they travel from Shamshatoo refugee camp near Peshāwar, Pakistan, across Pakistan, through Iran, Turkey, Italy and France, towards London.

ITW_trailerLike thousands of others every year, their desperation feeds the multibillion dollar human smuggling business, an unconscionable stain on any of our pretensions to justice. The smuggling fuels crime, violence, corruption, illegal drug trade, and too often leads to death, no longer being “in this world.”

The actors are Afghan refugees themselves, and the encounters in the movie elide life and art. I was fascinated by the places they moved through, and their resourcefulness in learning how to cope with diverse languages and unscrupulous people.

The camps near Peshāwar are filled with people displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and later, US bombing. UNHCR says that there are currently “1.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 percent residing in refugee villages and the rest scattered among host communities.” But the total, including children born to refugees, may be several million. The humanitarian crisis is compounded now by two million civilians fleeing the fighting in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier.

Even though the story is depressing about our institutions, I finished it feeling hopeful about our human capacity. I wanted to travel the modern silk road and more still to learn about the world of these refugees and the policies that lead to their plight.

A new beginning against extremism

300px-CairoUnivObama’s speech yesterday at Cairo University (photo at left) was beautiful. It represents a new beginning against extremism both in the US and abroad. Even Osama Bin Laden recognized that it challenges a linchpin of al-Qaida’s message.

I don’t agree with many of the current Administration’s foreign policies (escalation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war, inadequate engagement with the Caribbean, especially with respect to Cuba, and not doing more for Haiti, failure to close Guantanamo and re-establish justice following years of officially sanctioned torture and renditions, etc.), but opening dialogue is a first step towards a rational, humane, and effective foreign policy.

The ending of the speech is classic Obama:

89px-A_Boat_in_the_Nile_RiverIt’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”72px-Barack_Obama_at_Cairo_University_cropped

The Holy Bible tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

See Obama hits a home run, by Robert Dreyfuss.

Hidden Her-story: The Top-Secret “Rosies” of World War II

leann_ericksonNorma Scagnoli referred me to a wonderful podcast by LeAnn Erickson, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts at Temple University. Erickson is an independent video/filmmaker, whose work has appeared on public television, in galleries, and has won national and international awards.

Entitled, Hidden Her-story: The Top-Secret “Rosies” of World War II, it was recorded in January at the EDUCAUSE 2009 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Philadelphia. I expected to listen for a minute and then go on to more pressing things, but after listening a little I decided that those things weren’t so pressing after all. It’s a fascinating story for anyone who has an interest in history, computers, women, education, mathematics, warfare, politics, Philadelphia, science, workplace equity, morality, or life in general.

In 1942, only months after the United States entered World War II, a secret military program was launched to recruit women to the war effort. But unlike recruiting “Rosie” to the factory, this search targeted female mathematicians who would become human “computers” for the U.S. Army. These women worked around-the-clock shifts creating ballistics tables that proved crucial to Allied victory. “Rosie” made the weapons, but the female computers made them accurate. When the first electronic computer (ENIAC) was invented to aid ballistic calculation efforts, six of these women were tapped to become its first programmers. “Top Secret ´Rosies’: The Female ‘Computers’ of WWII” is a documentary project currently in postproduction that will share this untold story of the women and technology that helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age.

Controls for the podcast appear beneath the description on the EDUCAUSE page.

Are Iraq and Afghanistan the US’s only wars?

I often see the phrase “manage two wars” in popular media. But are there just two wars now, and is it even helpful to think of US wars in the Mideast in this way?

The phrase refers the fact that President Bush, and soon, President Obama, need to manage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while also addressing needs in the economy, health care, environment, education, and other areas. One implication is that two wars is too many, and perhaps, if we could just wrap up the one that hasn’t gone so well (Iraq), we could then focus our energies on the one we should have addressed earlier (Afghanistan).

There are several problems with this way of thinking. The first is that it’s not true. The US battles in the Mideast aren’t restricted to two countries. In the last three months, US-operated pilotless drones have launched more than 20 missile attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, killing hundreds of people, some who are violent themselves, but many who are civilians as well. Americans don’t think of Pakistan as the site of a war, because US ground troops are not based there, but the fact is that our drones kill people and US forces regularly violate Pakistani sovereignty. Hundreds of NATO and US military vehicles destined for neighboring Afghanistan have been attacked and destroyed (in multiple attacks) by militants there. We risk a larger-scale war in, against, or through a bitterly divided country.

So, perhaps we should be saying “manage three wars”? or more if we look at the swath of interconnected conflicts running from Israel and Jordan, often including parts of Syria, Iraq of course, possibly Iran, Afghanistan, all the way to Pakistan?

Wars, or at least the kind of war the US has been engaged in, aren’t waged directly against nations or national armies, which means that they cannot be won in the conventional way either. The issue isn’t to track down and subdue a foe, but to engage with people and ideas. That larger enterprise is the one we’re losing, despite enormous cost in lives and dollars, as evidenced by al-Zaidi’s shoe throwing and the widespread support it received.

The idea of wars as neatly defined by national boundaries implies that we just need to pick our wars more carefully, and then prosecute them cleanly and efficiently. We have a management problem with two; wouldn’t one be better? But the reality is that it’s not better management in the narrow sense that’s needed, but a different way of thinking about how we can act productively in the world, starting with a reassessment of why we’re there in the first place.

Powell asks, “What if he is?”

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for President was a powerful statement from a much-respected figure. It will certainly help Obama’s campaign. But at least as significant was his challenge of Islamophobia:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as ‘Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well the correct answer is ‘He is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian.’ But the really right answer is ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer is ‘No. That’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

gugart@msn.com">Photo courtesy of Tom Gugiluzza-Smith, August 2008</a>I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his country and he gave his life. [Photo courtesy of Tom Gugiluzza-Smith, August 2008]

Powell is not the first to make this point, but it’s difficult to name another such prominent political leader who has done so. Others, including Obama himself, have focused on the fact that some statements about his ethnic or religious background have been false, not on the bigotry revealed by the very question itself. Ignoring the presupposition of those questions shows a lack of understanding and respect for the US Constitution, which should bring shame on Republican and Democratic leaders alike.

See Abed Z. Bhuyan, On Faith: Guest Voices: Powell Rejects Islamophobia

What we do not know: The betrayal of our values

I returned to the US in June after living a year living in Ireland. Many people have naturally asked, “What was it like? How was it different? What did you learn?”

It’s hard to know where to begin. I may have learned as much about myself and my home country as about Ireland, or other countries I’ve visited. And, mostly, if I learned anything, it was how much I don’t know about other people and places. As Confucius says: “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Our Hollywood Self-Image

But one specific thing I’ve become more aware of is a gap between what most Americans conceive as their moral stance on the world and what many abroad see as our actual practice. I suspect that many of us in the US identify with Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He’s decent, naive, idealistic, earnest, fair, caring, and above all honest, embodying all the American small town values. He’s not sophisticated or slick, but he’s the kind of person you’d like to have as a friend or trust for political leadership. Mr. Smith asks us to adhere to “just one, plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor” and reminds us that “there’s no compromise with the truth.”

What’s interesting today is that many abroad would also identify with Mr. Smith. And they admire the US for modeling his values, offering hope for other countries. They recall our promotion of the Kellogg-Briand pact, the struggle against authoritarian regimes, the Nuremburg trials, the United Nations, the Geneva Conventions, as concrete examples of how we have stood for truth, peace, courage, and justice, just as Mr. Smith might have wanted. Their values are our values; their people are our people.

But then, we part ways, because of something many Americans do not know. Continue reading

Catch 22 in Iraq

Michael Schwartz has an excellent piece in Mother Jones, Catch 22 in Iraq: Why American Troops Can’t Go Home, about why the Iraq occupation is likely to last a long time. He cites a recent video-conference press briefing for reporters in which Col. Jeffrey Bannister refers to the five-year plan, not just any old plan, but the plan. This implies a generally understood long-term mission, one which is not based on changes on the ground, such as a reduction in sectarian violence.

Moreover, he quotes and links to articles showing that the leading Democratic party contenders are fully with the program, seeing “vital national security interests,” i.e., oil in the region as grounds for continuing military force. The Catch 22 is that violent resistance to the occupation is defined as terrorism; thus, the military presence is needed to combat the very terrorism that it creates.

Schwartz’s article provides further evidence that the issue in Iraq is not promoting democracy, ending sectarian violence, reducing terrorism, promoting peace and justice in the Middle East, or any of a number of other worthwhile goals. It is to secure and maintain ample, low-cost supplies of oil to fuel the global economy, and especially for the Western nations, which use such a disproportionate share of the world’s resources.

All of this makes me think that my 12 steps to respond to 9/11, because “we have to do something!” is still relevant.

Aristide Briand

Today, I saw the monument to Aristide Briand on the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, where on August 27, 1928, fifteen nations signed the Pact of Paris, or Kellogg-Briand Pact, renouncing war. Briand won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, just five years before Jane Addams did.

There’s a story that he

attended a dinner in Geneva where the guests were given menu cards on which was printed a cartoon depicting the statesmen of the world smashing a statue of Mars while Briand, alone, talked to the god of war trying to convince him to commit suicide. The cartoon caught not only Briand’s main objective in public life – the elimination of war in international relations – but also his method: his penchant for personal diplomacy, his renowned persuasiveness, and his habit of attacking the heart of a problem rather than its symbols or symptoms

(see his bio on the Nobel Prize site).

The first article of the Kellogg-Briand pact states: “The High Contracting Parties solemly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” Should the US now formally renounce its signing of the pact or just pretend that what it’s doing in Afghanistan and Iraq isn’t war?