• Lessons Learned: Dead Bodies in Ukraine

    April 22, 2022 // 2 Comments »

     

    It is hard escape the images from the Ukraine but easy not to think about them.

    The bodies themselves are the only truth; for there but for the grace of them goes us. Were they Russian separatists, Ukrainian heroes, people on the way home from work, people far from home or abandoned by even loved ones in their own backyards, strangers in the north to blue water, patriots or fish mongers in the south? How little it matters when they are placed next to each other on the ground but politics, politics always makes for stranger bedfellows now and forever.

    As we make some deal over their deaths, war crimes accusations levied by a nation (it is America) who quit the International Criminal Court in 2002 ahead of the Iraq War and as CYA for Israel being charged for war crimes in the ‘Strip, what say the shadows, the 460,000 dead in that Iraq, never freed, or those 1,353,000 in Vietnam (say that one again, Vietnam, because yes it echoes behind each muddy footprint, down the halls of State and Defense, Vietnam, where the most senior generals learned their craft.) There is truth to the phrase “never again” but it is this truth not that one: we will never (admit to) lose another war which is why more are gonna have to die, because Putin’s win could be seen as again our loss.

    But… but… these in Ukraine are not American deaths, not really dead because of America, so we can point and declare right from wrong, right? Same as we decry those who judge us we shall judge trespasses against them. I saw a little of war, my year in Iraq, a civilian witness, saw more than a lot, saw a lot less than some, but even a little is enough. Because after the first one you can remember bodies become repetitive until all that matters is how many of them their are. The GOAT is six million, anything else something… less, made to matter by evoking the six million, or the 500 from My Lai, or 35,000 from Dresden, or the 800,000 from Stalingrad. Stalingrad taught us to think of “civilians and soldiers” was a joke left from the 19th century when armies walked to a nearby field, war a ritual, that “he who sheds his blood today with me shall be my brother” bullshit that has killed people forever.

    Karl Doenitz, the head of Germany’s U-Boat fleet during World War II stood trial at Nuremberg for war crimes, specifically unrestricted warfare against civilian shipping. Doenitz, in his defense, raised the fact that the Allies practiced much the same style of was at sea, and even sought testimony from U.S. naval personnel. Doenitz raised broad, almost philosophical questions about commerce warfare, including belligerent conduct by armed merchant ships, contraband hidden aboard “civilian” ships, war at sea as a required evil for a nation under blockade, war zones, commerce control, and unneutral service.

    But it was the non-rescue policy for enemy survivors which brought Doenitz to Nuremberg. Doenitz in 1940 issued Standing Order 154 to his U-boats, “Do not pick up survivors and take them with you… The enemy began the war in order to destroy us, so nothing else matters.” and at his trial raised the question of why it was allowable to seek to kill people literally one moment, before their ship sank, but not one moment afterwards. He pointed out weapons were designed not to win wars per se but to destroy people efficiently, as we now know with modern cluster bombs and so-called hyperbaric vacuum bombs in Ukraine. Doenitz was found guilty but his testimony resonated with other combatants. Over 100 senior Allied officers sent letters conveying their disappointment over the verdict. They understood killing was killing and that rules were for the victors to use, later, as politics required, and never wanted to find themselves so entrapped..

    We look at those horrible photos again from Ukraine. Who are the dead? Some are collaborators shot by Ukrainians, some are innocents shot by Russians, some are civilian combatants who nonetheless took up arms for one side or another. Some may even be ethnically cleansed people, or just fake images, or old photos. None of that matters. The media is telling us to react. All that’s left is for someone to find a way to have our computers deliver a little food pellet along with the ultraviolence. It’s just about stim, little jolts to the brain, isn’t it? None of us have any idea who the dead bodies are in Ukraine, and who shot them, and why. We just enjoy the thrill, and the flexibility of creating our own righteous story. But we don’t grieve, we politicize.

    The truth is much more restrained than reality as we understand it at this point in the war. Human Rights Watch documented Russian military forces committing law-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include one case of rape, and two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man. There were other non-specific instances of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood.

    Yes, that’s the sum of it. One rape, seven executed. No death is to be celebrated or dismissed but a handful of war crimes does not equal a holocaust, a genocide, or what Zelensky is claiming today. Over-stating the actual situation will only serve to make the public numb. The Ukrainians are approaching the jump the shark moment, and since we’re talking about propaganda here not deaths, the phrase is appropriate. Oh my God, HRW says the Russians looted firewood! What horrors will follow?!?

    But in the end there is always the small story, and the big story, often so big it runs over the edges of our monitors so because of its size we don’t see it. We talk about peace, but the only place we all seem to live in some sort of harmony is in the land described by the Panama Papers, countries and statelets that pimp out their economies and legal systems to the global rich (oligarchs and entrepreneurs, it’s just the difference in word choice and how many feet of waterline their yachts have) so that sanctions become  a poor man’s punishment.

    The cover story never really changed. Our parents were told the raison d’etre since at least WWII was to destroy Communism. We were promised once we achieved nuclear parity with the Russians it would all be over, then told once we won the next proxy war (Cuba, Greece, Laos, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria, Yemen…) things would be right. The bodies, you see, don’t matter. They never really matter in the biggest picture.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    Now with More Victory Added: Hashimi to Die, Iran Supplying Syria via Iraq

    September 10, 2012 // 1 Comment »




    I was interviewed last night by BBC Radio regarding the sad news that an Iraqi court sentenced fugitive former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to death for his involvement in the killing of two people.

    The news is sad not because Hashimi is likely innocent; almost all of the Iraqi leaders have blood on their hands (anybody think Sadr hasn’t whacked a couple of guys in his time?) The sad side is that this move represent a clear marker point for when historians will acknowledge the unambiguous and utter failure of the US to establish the rule of law in Iraq despite nine years of playing at it. Prime Minister Maliki began consolidating his power literally within hours of the last US troops leaving Iraq and has never slowed down. Announcing his government’s intent to “legally” kill off his Sunni opponent is simply another step beyond hope for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Oh, and some 92 people were killed across the country this same day by various suicide bombers and what have you. As best anyone knows, Hashimi is hiding out in Turkey waiting for the Apocalypse.

    And just to make sure it remains a valid player in the rough and tumble world of Iraqi politics, on the day of Hashimi’s death sentence, and following the killings of 92 Iraqis, the US Embassy in Baghdad released this Tweet:


    The other news from Iraq involves Syria.

    The New York Times dutifully tells us that Iran is shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Assad of Syria. The Obama administration is pressing Iraq to shut down the air corridor, raising the issue with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. This has all been going on for some time now, with the US making its pleas quietly (“soft power”) but Obama, by going public, imagines he is turning up the heat.

    Why, this is so important that Joe Biden is in charge. Uncle Joe discussed the Syrian crisis in a phone call with Maliki in mid-August. The White House has declined to disclose details, but an American official who would not speak on the record told the NYT that Biden had “registered his concerns” over the flights.

    Ooooooooh you’re in trouble now. We’ve “registered our concerns.” Watch out, next we’ll “view you with increasing concern.”

    That yawning sound you hear is from Baghdad. The Iraqis in general and PM Malaki in particular could care less what America thinks. Might have something to do with those nine years of failed occupation and reconstruction that turned his country into a crappy version of a used car junk yard, but what do I know.

    So yes, yes, another round in the US-Iran proxy war. I wrote about this w-a-y back in November 2011.

    The US is only now starting to publicly admit one of the many costs of losing the Iraq war, an empowered Iran bordered by at best a passive Iraq, more likely an allied Iraq. Never one to consider secondary or tertiary effects of failed empire, the US now cannot back away. Whatever forms of quiet persuasion the US thought would be effective in separating Maliki from his Iranian support have clearly failed, hence the (first?) public denunciations. What’s left to lose?

    Once again the US kicked over another MidEast ant hill (Syria) without any clear idea what the end game would be. Sorry Syrian peoples! Iran has pushed into the gap, its efforts made easier with Iraq allowing transshipment of arms. Of course the US is only publicly talking about overflights, but there is an awful lot of Iranian truck traffic into Iraq and the Iraq-Syrian border is wholly porous.

    I think we are seeing the first public admittance of failure in Iraq, albeit with an anti-Iran twist. But as I wrote in November 2011, this is nothing new. It just stinks more now for the extra time out in the sunlight.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    America’s Shadow Wars on the Rise

    August 11, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    Nick Turse’s changing face of empire series has been especially popular at TomDispatch. His most recent piece on how the U.S. military presence is spreading in Africa was publicly disputed by U.S. Africa Command, leading to a debate between AFRICOM and Turse about American actions. Now, his latest on proxy wars fills us in on where the American way of war is going: Washington Puts Its Money on Proxy War, The Election Year Outsourcing That No One Is Talking About.

    The U.S. fought a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, arming the mujahedeen against the Soviets and look where that got us: to 9/11 and into an Afghan War all our own. Nonetheless, tired of vast numbers of American combat boots on the Eurasian mainland, Washington has looked over history and decided to try again, writes TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse in the latest piece in his “changing face of empire” series.

    Proxy war, he tells us, is going to be a major component of the American way in the decades to come. While it may sound like a formula for success on the cheap, it is, he writes, a potential danger of the first order. “Right now, the U.S. is once again training, advising, and conducting joint exercises all over the world with proxy war on its mind and the concept of ‘unintended consequences’ nowhere in sight in Washington. Whether today’s proxies end up working for or against Washington’s interests or even become tomorrow’s enemies remains to be seen. But with so much training going on in so many destabilized regions, and so many proxy forces being armed in so many places, the chances of blowback grow greater by the day.”

    From Afghanistan to Honduras, Asia to Africa, Turse explores the stunning myriad of training missions the U.S. military has undertaken, something most Americans know nothing about. He explores our present proxy war in Somalia and other potential proxy battles to come. He considers how Washington is planning to outsource fighting duties to local proxies around the world, and just how it’s laying the groundwork for the extensive use of surrogate forces in the future, training “native” troops to carry out missions — up to and including outright warfare.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen