By Robert C. Koehler
Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran . . .
Thanks, John McCain! Let’s mix a little humor in with war. It’s so much easier to take when we do. By the way, have you noticed that we’re always on the verge of war?
“The bombing will be massive, but will be limited to a specific target.” So said a U.N. diplomat recently, according to the Jerusalem Post. Guess which country he was referring to.
An act of war is how we “send messages.” So the Trump hawks (this term may or may not include Donald himself) are thinking — if the paper’s sources have any credibility — of bombing an Iranian nuclear facility as an act of punishment because Iran “has announced that it intends to deviate from the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 and to enrich uranium at a higher level than the maximum it has committed to within the framework of the nuclear deal.”
This is all hush-hush, of course. War has to be planned in secret. The public’s role is definitely not to be part of the debate in the lead-up process or to question the facts that justify taking action. Its role is to cheer loudly when the hostilities begin, fervently hating the specified enemy and embracing the new war as a necessary, last-resort action to protect all that we hold dear.
Its role is definitely not to question war itself or to bring up the inevitability of unintended consequences, whether that be the death of babies or the poisoning of the environment. Its role is not to suggest that creating peace is essentially the opposite of waging war, or to cry out:
“War-making must be renounced. It is past time for the paradigm shift. We have one planet and we must see ourselves as one and we must take a stand.”
These are the words of Dud Hendrick of Veterans for Peace, and I pause here and let the words settle — in all their complexity — into the collective consciousness.
Perhaps what is most stunning about them is their complete absence from the corridors and smoke-filled rooms of American government. Instead, in virtually every story I read about one aspect or another of national security, what I hear is the echo of John McCain’s humorous chant. National security is always seen, in the corridors of power, as a matter of striking back against some enemy or other, an attitude that strikes me as both stupid and cowardly.
I’m not saying security — either national or personal — is in any way a simple concept, or that acknowledging “we are one planet” leads to some obvious course of action. Indeed, the opposite is the case. Striking back is the simple course of action, and jumping on its bandwagon requires ignoring the absolute certainty of unintended consequences that will result from a bombing campaign or an invasion or a cyberwar or the imposition of sanctions.
The absence of “we are one planet” voices at the highest levels of government guarantees that the government will pretty much always make simple, impulsive — wrong — decisions about national security. The absence of such voices in the mainstream media, at least in its geopolitical reportage, guarantees that there will be no long-term accountability for such decisions or any memory of the resulting consequences. Welcome to the 21st century: the century of endless war.
“Over the past few months,” Politico reports, “senior Trump aides have made the case in public and private that the administration already has the legal authority to take military action against Iran, citing a law nearly two decades old that was originally intended to authorize the war in Afghanistan.”
The law in question is AUMF: the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in 2001, in the wake of 9/11, which gave the Bush administration permission to go on a hunting spree for terrorists without the need for ongoing congressional approval. Critics at the time argued that this gave dangerous leeway to the executive branch to wage war whenever it felt like doing so, without any sort of accountability to the requirements of democracy — such as making a case that the war in question is necessary.
And so the Politico story quotes Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who, upon leaving a closed-door briefing in May held by acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, noted: “What I heard in there makes it clear that this administration feels that they do not have to come back and talk to Congress in regards to any action they do in Iran.”
Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran . . .
As Medea Benjamin, and Nicolas J. S. Davies point out: “Whether in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea or one of the 20 countries under the boot of U.S. sanctions, the Trump administration is using its economic weight to try to exact regime change or major policy changes in countries around the globe.”
And the New York Times informs us that the United States and Russia are currently fighting a “daily digital Cold War” — each country playing nasty little games with the other’s power grid. The Pentagon even has an arm called the United States Cyber Command, which “runs the military’s offensive and defensive operations in the online world” — and it’s getting more aggressive.
“But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.
“The commander of United States Cyber Command, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, has been outspoken about the need to ‘defend forward’ deep in an adversary’s networks to demonstrate that the United States will respond to the barrage of online attacks aimed at it.”
Somehow the existence of this crazy game doesn’t make me feel safer. And the president, the story points out, doesn’t even know about it: “Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.”
The U.S. government, I fear, contains a terrible void where it ought to have sanity.
Robert C. Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.