Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 21 Jan 2022 05:24:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.5 After a Year of Biden, Why Do We Still Have Trump’s Foreign Policy? https://www.juancole.com/2022/01/after-trumps-foreign-policy.html Fri, 21 Jan 2022 05:04:06 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202530 ( Code Pink) – President Biden and the Democrats were highly critical of President Trump’s foreign policy, so it was reasonable to expect that Biden would quickly remedy its worst impacts. As a senior member of the Obama administration, Biden surely needed no schooling on Obama’s diplomatic agreements with Cuba and Iran, both of which began to resolve long-standing foreign policy problems and provided models for the renewed emphasis on diplomacy that Biden was promising.

Tragically for America and the world, Biden has failed to restore Obama’s progressive initiatives, and has instead doubled down on many of Trump’s most dangerous and destabilizing policies. It is especially ironic and sad that a president who ran so stridently on being different from Trump has been so reluctant to reverse his regressive policies. Now the Democrats’ failure to deliver on their promises with respect to both domestic and foreign policy is undermining their prospects in November’s midterm election.

Here is our assessment of Biden’s handling of ten critical foreign policy issues:

1. Prolonging the agony of the people of Afghanistan. It is perhaps symptomatic of Biden’s foreign policy problems that the signal achievement of his first year in office was an initiative launched by Trump, to withdraw the United States from its 20-year war in Afghanistan. But Biden’s implementation of this policy was tainted by the same failure to understand Afghanistan that doomed and dogged at least three prior administrations and the U.S.’s hostile military occupation for 20 years, leading to the speedy restoration of the Taliban government and the televised chaos of the U.S. withdrawal.

Now, instead of helping the Afghan people recover from two decades of U.S.-inflicted destruction, Biden has seized $9.4 billion in Afghan foreign currency reserves, while the people of Afghanistan suffer through a desperate humanitarian crisis. It is hard to imagine how even Donald Trump could be more cruel or vindictive.

2. Provoking a crisis with Russia over Ukraine. Biden’s first year in office is ending with a dangerous escalation of tensions at the Russia/Ukraine border, a situation that threatens to devolve into a military conflict between the world’s two most heavily armed nuclear states–the United States and Russia. The United States bears much responsibility for this crisis by supporting the violent overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, backing NATO expansion right up to Russia’s border, and arming and training Ukrainian forces.

Biden’s failure to acknowledge Russia’s legitimate security concerns has led to the present impasse, and Cold Warriors within his administration are threatening Russia instead of proposing concrete measures to de-escalate the situation.

3. Escalating Cold War tensions and a dangerous arms race with China. President Trump launched a tariff war with China that economically damaged both countries, and reignited a dangerous Cold War and arms race with China and Russia to justify an ever-increasing U.S. military budget.

After a decade of unprecedented U.S. military spending and aggressive military expansion under Bush II and Obama, the U.S. “pivot to Asia” militarily encircled China, forcing it to invest in more robust defense forces and advanced weapons. Trump, in turn, used China’s strengthened defenses as a pretext for further increases in U.S. military spending, launching a new arms race that has raised the existential risk of nuclear war to a new level.

Biden has only exacerbated these dangerous international tensions. Alongside the risk of war, his aggressive policies toward China have led to an ominous rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, and created obstacles to much-needed cooperation with China to address climate change, the pandemic and other global problems.

4. Abandoning Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. After President Obama’s sanctions against Iran utterly failed to force it to halt its civilian nuclear program, he finally took a progressive, diplomatic approach, which led to the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2015. Iran scrupulously met all its obligations under the treaty, but Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in 2018. Trump’s withdrawal was vigorously condemned by Democrats, including candidate Biden, and Senator Sanders promised to rejoin the JCPOA on his first day in office if he became president.

Instead of immediately rejoining an agreement that worked for all parties, the Biden administration thought it could pressure Iran to negotiate a “better deal.” Exasperated Iranians instead elected a more conservative government and Iran moved forward on enhancing its nuclear program.

A year later, and after eight rounds of shuttle diplomacy in Vienna, Biden has still not rejoined the agreement. Ending his first year in the White House with the threat of another Middle East war is enough to give Biden an “F” in diplomacy.

5. Backing Big Pharma over a People’s Vaccine. Biden took office as the first Covid vaccines were being approved and rolled out across the United States and the world. Severe inequities in global vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries were immediately apparent and became known as “vaccine apartheid.”

Instead of manufacturing and distributing vaccines on a non-profit basis to tackle the pandemic as the global public health crisis that it is, the United States and other Western countries chose to maintain the neoliberal regime of patents and corporate monopolies on vaccine manufacture and distribution. The failure to open up the manufacture and distribution of vaccines to poorer countries gave the Covid virus free rein to spread and mutate, leading to new global waves of infection and death from the Delta and Omicron variants.

Biden belatedly agreed to support a patent waiver for Covid vaccines under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, but with no real plan for a “People’s Vaccine,” Biden’s concession has made no impact on millions of preventable deaths.

6. Ensuring catastrophic global warming at COP26 in Glasgow. After Trump stubbornly ignored the climate crisis for four years, environmentalists were encouraged when Biden used his first days in office to rejoin the Paris climate accord and cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline.

But by the time Biden got to Glasgow, he had let the centerpiece of his own climate plan, the Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), be stripped out of the Build Back Better bill in Congress at the behest of fossil-fuel industry sock-puppet Joe Manchin, turning the U.S. pledge of a 50% cut from 2005 emissions by 2030 into an empty promise.

Biden’s speech in Glasgow highlighted China and Russia’s failures, neglecting to mention that the United States has higher emissions per capita than either of them. Even as COP26 was taking place, the Biden administration infuriated activists by putting oil and gas leases up for auction for 730,000 acres of the American West and 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. At the one-year mark, Biden has talked the talk, but when it comes to confronting Big Oil, he is not walking the walk, and the whole world is paying the price.

7. Political prosecutions of Julian Assange, Daniel Hale and Guantanamo torture victims. Under President Biden, the United States remains a country where the systematic killing of civilians and other war crimes go unpunished, while whistleblowers who muster the courage to expose these horrific crimes to the public are prosecuted and jailed as political prisoners.

In July 2021, former drone pilot Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison for exposing the killing of civilians in America’s drone wars. WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange still languishes in Belmarsh Prison in England, after 11 years fighting extradition to the United States for exposing U.S. war crimes.

Twenty years after it set up an illegal concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to imprison 779 mostly innocent people kidnapped around the world, 39 prisoners remain there in illegal, extrajudicial detention. Despite promises to close this sordid chapter of U.S. history, the prison is still functioning and Biden is allowing the Pentagon to actually build a new, closed courtroom at Guantanamo to more easily keep the workings of this gulag hidden from public scrutiny.

8. Economic siege warfare against the people of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries. Trump unilaterally rolled back Obama’s reforms on Cuba and recognized unelected Juan Guaidó as the “president” of Venezuela, as the United States tightened the screws on its economy with “maximum pressure” sanctions.

Biden has continued Trump’s failed economic siege warfare against countries that resist U.S. imperial dictates, inflicting endless pain on their people without seriously imperiling, let alone bringing down, their governments. Brutal U.S. sanctions and efforts at regime change have universally failed for decades, serving mainly to undermine the United States’s own democratic and human rights credentials.

Juan Guaidó is now the least popular opposition figure in Venezuela, and genuine grassroots movements opposed to U.S. intervention are bringing popular democratic and socialist governments to power across Latin America, in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Honduras – and maybe Brazil in 2022.

9. Still supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and its repressive ruler. Under Trump, Democrats and a minority of Republicans in Congress gradually built a bipartisan majority that voted to withdraw from the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen and stop sending arms to Saudi Arabia. Trump vetoed their efforts, but the Democratic election victory in 2020 should have led to an end to the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Instead, Biden only issued an order to stop selling “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia, without clearly defining that term, and went on to okay a $650 million weapons sale. The United States still supports the Saudi war, even as the resulting humanitarian crisis kills thousands of Yemeni children. And despite Biden’s pledge to treat the Saudis’ cruel leader, MBS, as a pariah, Biden refused to even sanction MBS for his barbaric murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

10. Still complicit in illegal Israeli occupation, settlements and war crimes. The United States is Israel’s largest arms supplier, and Israel is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. military aid (approximately $4 billion annually), despite its illegal occupation of Palestine, widely condemned war crimes in Gaza and illegal settlement building. U.S. military aid and arms sales to Israel clearly violate the U.S. Leahy Laws and Arms Export Control Act.

Donald Trump was flagrant in his disdain for Palestinian rights, including tranferring the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to a property in Jerusalem that is only partly within Israel’s internationally recognized border, a move that infuriated Palestinians and drew international condemnation.

But nothing has changed under Biden. The U.S. position on Israel and Palestine is as illegitimate and contradictory as ever, and the U.S. Embassy to Israel remains on illegally occupied land. In May, Biden supported the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed 256 Palestinians, half of them civilians, including 66 children.

Conclusion

Each part of this foreign policy fiasco costs human lives and creates regional–even global–instability. In every case, progressive alternative policies are readily available. The only thing lacking is political will and independence from corrupt vested interests.

The United States has squandered unprecedented wealth, global goodwill and a historic position of international leadership to pursue unattainable imperial ambitions, using military force and other forms of violence and coercion in flagrant violation of the UN Charter and international law.

Candidate Biden promised to restore America’s position of global leadership, but has instead doubled down on the policies through which the United States lost that position in the first place, under a succession of Republican and Democratic administrations. Trump was only the latest iteration in America’s race to the bottom.

Biden has wasted a vital year doubling down on Trump’s failed policies. In the coming year, we hope that the public will remind Biden of its deep-seated aversion to war and that he will respond—albeit reluctantly—by adopting more dovish and rational ways.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Informed Comment

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America’s Bombing Wars Haven’t Ended, with 1,178 dropped under Biden https://www.juancole.com/2022/01/americas-bombing-dropped.html Wed, 12 Jan 2022 05:04:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202348 The Pentagon has finally published its first Airpower Summary since President Biden took office nearly a year ago. These monthly reports have been published since 2007 to document the number of bombs and missiles dropped by U.S.-led air forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since 2004. But President Trump stopped publishing them after February 2020, shrouding continued U.S. bombing in secrecy.

Over the past 20 years, as documented in the table below, U.S. and allied air forces have dropped over 337,000 bombs and missiles on other countries. That is an average of 46 strikes per day for 20 years. This endless bombardment has not only been deadly and devastating for its victims but is broadly recognized as seriously undermining international peace and security and diminishing America’s standing in the world.

The U.S. government and political establishment have been remarkably successful at keeping the American public in the dark about the horrific consequences of these long-term campaigns of mass destruction, allowing them to maintain the illusion of U.S. militarism as a force for good in the world in their domestic political rhetoric.

Now, even in the face of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, they are doubling down on their success at selling this counterfactual narrative to the American public to reignite their old Cold War with Russia and China, dramatically and predictably increasing the risk of nuclear war.

The new Airpower Summary data reveal that the United States has dropped another 3,246 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (2,068 under Trump and 1,178 under Biden) since February 2020.

The good news is that U.S. bombing of those 3 countries has significantly decreased from the over 12,000 bombs and missiles it dropped on them in 2019. In fact, since the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Afghanistan in August, the U.S. military has officially conducted no air strikes there, and only dropped 13 bombs or missiles on Iraq and Syria – although this does not preclude additional unreported strikes by forces under CIA command or control.

Presidents Trump and Biden both deserve credit for recognizing that endless bombing and occupation could not deliver victory in Afghanistan. The speed with which the U.S.-installed government fell to the Taliban once the U.S. withdrawal was under way confirmed how 20 years of hostile military occupation, aerial bombardment and support for corrupt governments ultimately served only to drive the war-weary people of Afghanistan back to Taliban rule.

Biden’s callous decision to follow 20 years of colonial occupation and aerial bombardment in Afghanistan with the same kind of brutal economic siege warfare the United States has inflicted on Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela can only further discredit America in the eyes of the world.

There has been no accountability for these 20 years of senseless destruction. Even with the publication of Airpower Summaries, the ugly reality of U.S. bombing wars and the mass casualties they inflict remain largely hidden from the American people.

How many of the 3,246 attacks documented in the Airpower Summary since February 2020 were you aware of before reading this article? You probably heard about the drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians in Kabul in August 2021. But what about the other 3,245 bombs and missiles? Whom did they kill or maim, and whose homes did they destroy?

The December 2021 New York Times exposé of the consequences of U.S. airstrikes, the result of a five-year investigation, was stunning not only for the high civilian casualties and military lies it exposed, but also because it revealed just how little investigative reporting the U.S. media have done on these two decades of war.

In America’s industrialized, remote-control air wars, even the U.S. military personnel most directly and intimately involved are shielded from human contact with the people whose lives they are destroying, while for most of the American public, it is as if these hundreds of thousands of deadly explosions never even happened.

The lack of public awareness of U.S. airstrikes is not the result of a lack of concern for the mass destruction our government commits in our names. In the rare cases we find out about, like the murderous drone strike in Kabul in August, the public wants to know what happened and strongly supports U.S. accountability for civilian deaths.

So public ignorance of 99% of U.S. air strikes and their consequences is not the result of public apathy, but of deliberate decisions by the U.S. military, politicians of both parties and corporate media to keep the public in the dark. The largely unremarked 21-month-long suppression of monthly Airpower Summaries is only the latest example of this.

Now that the new Airpower Summary has filled in the previously hidden figures for 2020-21, here is the most complete data available on 20 years of deadly and destructive U.S. and allied air strikes.

Numbers of bombs and missiles dropped on other countries by the United States and its allies since 2001:

Iraq (& Syria*)

Afghanistan

Yemen

Other Countries**

2001

214

17,500

2002

252

6,500

1

2003

29,200

2004

285

86

1 (Pk)

2005

404

176

3 (Pk)

2006

310

2,644

7,002 (Le,Pk)

2007

1,708

5,198

9 (Pk,S)

2008

1,075

5,215

40 (Pk,S)

2009

126

4,184

3

5,554 (Pk,Pl)

2010

8

5,126

2

128 (Pk)

2011

4

5,411

13

7,763 (Li,Pk,S)

2012

4,083

41

54 (Li, Pk,S)

2013

2,758

22

32 (Li,Pk,S)

2014

6,292*

2,365

20

5,058 (Li,Pl,Pk,S)

2015

28,696*

947

14,191

28 (Li,Pk,S)

2016

30,743*

1,337

14,549

529 (Li,Pk,S)

2017

39,577*

4,361

15,969

301 (Li,Pk,S)

2018

8,713*

7,362

9,746

84 (Li,Pk,S)

2019

4,729*

7,423

3,045

65 (Li,S)

2020

1,188*

1,631

7,622

54 (S)

2021

554*

801

4,428

1,512 (Pl,S)

Total

154, 078*

85,108

69,652

28,217

Grand Total = 337,055 bombs and missiles.

**Other Countries: Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia.

These figures are based on U.S. Airpower Summaries for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count of drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; the Yemen Data Project‘s count of bombs and missiles dropped on Yemen (only through September 2021); the New America Foundation’s database of foreign air strikes in Libya; and other sources.

There are several categories of air strikes that are not included in this table, meaning that the true numbers of weapons unleashed are certainly higher. These include:

Helicopter strikes: Military Times published an article in February 2017 titled, “The U.S. military’s stats on deadly air strikes are wrong. Thousands have gone unreported.” The largest pool of air strikes not included in U.S. Airpower Summaries are strikes by attack helicopters. The U.S. Army told the authors its helicopters had conducted 456 otherwise unreported air strikes in Afghanistan in 2016. The authors explained that the non-reporting of helicopter strikes has been consistent throughout the post-9/11 wars, and they still did not know how many missiles were fired in those 456 attacks in Afghanistan in the one year they investigated.

AC-130 gunships: The U.S. military did not destroy the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015 with bombs or missiles, but with a Lockheed-Boeing AC-130 gunship. These machines of mass destruction, usually manned by U.S. Air Force special operations forces, are designed to circle a target on the ground, pouring howitzer shells and cannon fire into it until it is completely destroyed. The U.S. has used AC-130s in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.

Strafing runs: U.S. Airpower Summaries for 2004-2007 included a note that their tally of “strikes with munitions dropped… does not include 20mm and 30mm cannon or rockets.” But the 30mm cannons on A-10 Warthogs and other ground attack planes are powerful weapons, originally designed to destroy Soviet tanks. A-10s can fire 65 depleted uranium shells per second to blanket an area with deadly and indiscriminate fire. But that does not appear to count as a “weapons release” in U.S. Airpower Summaries.

“Counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism” operations in other parts of the world: The United States formed a military coalition with 11 West African countries in 2005, and has built a drone base in Niger, but we have not found any systematic accounting of U.S. and allied air strikes in that region, or in the Philippines, Latin America or elsewhere.

The failure of the U.S. government, politicians and corporate media to honestly inform and educate the American public about the systematic mass destruction wreaked by our country’s armed forces has allowed this carnage to continue largely unremarked and unchecked for 20 years.

It has also left us precariously vulnerable to the revival of an anachronistic, Manichean Cold War narrative that risks even greater catastrophe. In this topsy-turvy, “through the looking glass” narrative, the country actually bombing cities to rubble and waging wars that kill millions of people, presents itself as a well-intentioned force for good in the world. Then it paints countries like China, Russia and Iran, which have understandably strengthened their defenses to deter the United States from attacking them, as threats to the American people and to world peace.

The high-level talks beginning on January 10th in Geneva between the United States and Russia are a critical opportunity, maybe even a last chance, to rein in the escalation of the current Cold War before this breakdown in East-West relations becomes irreversible or devolves into a military conflict.

If we are to emerge from this morass of militarism and avoid the risk of an apocalyptic war with Russia or China, the U.S. public must challenge the counterfactual Cold War narrative that U.S. military and civilian leaders are peddling to justify their ever-increasing investments in nuclear weapons and the U.S. war machine.

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To Succeed in US Foreign Policy, Biden needs a clean Break with Trump https://www.juancole.com/2021/12/succeed-foreign-policy.html Fri, 10 Dec 2021 05:04:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=201714 ( Code Pink) – The Biden presidency is still in its early days, but it’s not too early to point to areas in the foreign policy realm where we, as progressives, have been disappointed–or even infuriated.

There are one or two positive developments, such as the renewal of Obama’s New START Treaty with Russia and Secretary of State Blinken’s initiative for a UN-led peace process in Afghanistan, where the United States is finally turning to peace as a last resort, after 20 years lost in the graveyard of empires.

By and large though, Biden’s foreign policy already seems stuck in the militarist quagmire of the past twenty years, a far cry from his campaign promise to reinvigorate diplomacy as the primary tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In this respect, Biden is following in the footsteps of Obama and Trump, who both promised fresh approaches to foreign policy but for the most part delivered more endless war.

By the end of his second term, Obama did have two significant diplomatic achievements with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal and normalization of relations with Cuba. So progressive Americans who voted for Biden had some grounds to hope that his experience as Obama’s vice-president would lead him to quickly restore and build on Obama’s achievements with Iran and Cuba as a foundation for the broader diplomacy he promised.

Instead, the Biden administration seems firmly entrenched behind the walls of hostility Trump built between America and our neighbors, from his renewed Cold War against China and Russia to his brutal sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Syria and dozens of countries around the world, and there is still no word on cuts to a military budget that has grown by 15% since FY2015 (inflation-adjusted).

Despite endless Democratic condemnations of Trump, Biden’s foreign policy so far shows no substantive change from the policies of the past four years. Here are ten of the lowlights:

1. Failing to quickly rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement. The Biden administration’s failure to immediately rejoin the JCPOA, as Bernie Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, has turned an easy win for Biden’s promised commitment to diplomacy into an entirely avoidable diplomatic crisis.

Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and imposition of brutal “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran were broadly condemned by Democrats and U.S. allies alike. But now Biden is making new demands on Iran to appease hawks who opposed the agreement all along, risking an outcome in which he will fail to reinstate the JCPOA and Trump’s policy will effectively become his policy. The Biden administration should re-enter the deal immediately, without preconditions.

2. U.S. Bombing Wars Rage On – Now In Secret. Also following in Trump’s footsteps, Biden has escalated tensions with Iran and Iraq by attacking and killing Iranian-backed Iraqi forces who play a critical role in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Biden’s February 25 U.S. airstrike predictably failed to end rocket attacks on deeply unpopular U.S. bases in Iraq, which the Iraqi National Assembly passed a resolution to close over a year ago.

The U.S. attack in Syria has been condemned as illegal by members of Biden’s own party, reinvigorating efforts to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force that presidents have misused for 20 years. Other airstrikes the Biden administration is conducting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are shrouded in secrecy, since it has not resumed publishing the monthly Airpower Summaries that every other administration has published since 2004, but which Trump discontinued a year ago.

3. Refusing to hold MBS accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasssoghi. Human rights activists were grateful that President Biden released the intelligence report on the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi that confirmed what we already knew: that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) approved the murder. Yet, when it came to holding MBS accountable, Biden choked.

At the very least, the administration shcould have imposed the same sanctions on MBS, including asset freezes and travel bans, that the U.S. imposed on lower-level figures involved in the murder. Instead, like Trump, Biden is wedded to the Saudi dictatorship and its diabolical Crown Prince.

4. Clinging to Trump’s absurdist policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela. The Biden administration missed an opportunity to establish a new approach towards Venezuela when it decided to continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as “interim president”, ruled out talks with the Maduro government and appears to be freezing out the moderate opposition that participates in elections.

The administration also said it was in “no rush” to lift the Trump sanctions despite a recent study from the Government Accountability Office detailing their negative impact on the economy, and a scathing preliminary report by a UN Special Rapporteur, who noted their “devastating effect on the whole population of Venezuela.” The lack of dialogue with all political actors in Venezuela risks entrenching a policy of regime change and economic warfare for years to come, similar to the failed U.S. policy towards Cuba that has lasted for 60 years.

5. Following Trump on Cuba instead of Obama. The Trump administration overturned all the progress towards normal relations achieved by President Obama, sanctioning Cuba’s tourism and energy industries, blocking coronavirus aid shipments, restricting remittances to family members, putting Cuba on a list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” and sabotaging Cuba’s international medical missions, which were a major source of revenue for its health system.

We expected Biden to immediately start unraveling Trump’s confrontational policies, but catering to Cuban exiles in Florida for domestic political gain apparently takes precedence over a humane and rational policy towards Cuba, for Biden as for Trump.

Biden should instead start working with the Cuban government to allow the return of diplomats to their respective embassies, lift all restrictions on remittances, make travel easier, and work with the Cuban health system in the fight against COVID-19, among other measures.

6. Ramping up the Cold War with China. Biden seems committed to Trump’s self-defeating Cold War and arms race with China, talking tough and ratcheting up tensions that have led to racist hate crimes against East Asian people in the United States.

But it is the United States that is militarily surrounding and threatening China, not the other way round. As former President Jimmy Carter patiently explained to Trump, while the United States has been at war for 20 years, China has instead invested in 21st century infrastructure and in its own people, lifting 800 million of them out of poverty.

The greatest danger of this moment in history, short of all-out nuclear war, is that this aggressive U.S. military posture not only justifies unlimited U.S. military budgets, but will gradually force China to convert its economic success into military power and follow the United States down the tragic path of military imperialism.

7. Failing to lift painful, illegal sanctions during a pandemic. One of the legacies of the Trump administration is the devastating use of U.S. sanctions on countries around the world, including Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria. UN special rapporteurs have condemned them as crimes against humanity and compared them to medieval sieges.

Since most of these sanctions were imposed by executive order, President Biden could easily lift them. Even before taking power, his team announced a thorough review, but, three months later, it has yet to make a move.

Unilateral sanctions that affect entire populations are an illegal form of coercion, like military intervention, coups and covert operations, that have no place in a legitimate foreign policy based on diplomacy, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. They are especially cruel and deadly during a pandemic and the Biden administration should take immediate action by lifting broad sectoral sanctions to ensure every country can adequately respond to the pandemic.

8. Not doing enough to support peace and humanitarian aid for Yemen. Biden appeared to partially fulfill his promise to stop U.S. support for the war in Yemen when he announced that the U.S. would stop selling “offensive” weapons to the Saudis. But he has yet to explain what that means. Which weapons sales has he cancelled?

We think he should stop ALL weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, enforcing the Leahy Law that prohibits military assistance to forces that commit gross human rights violations, and the Arms Export Control Act, under which imported U.S. weapons may be used only for legitimate self defense. There should be no exceptions to these U.S. laws for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Egypt or other U.S. allies around the world.

The U.S. should also accept its share of responsibility for what many have called the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and provide Yemen with funding to feed its people, restore its health care system and rebuild its devastated country. A recent donor conference netted just $1.7 billion in pledges, less than half the $3.85 billion needed. Biden should restore and expand USAID funding and U.S. financial support to the UN, WHO and World Food Program relief operations in Yemen. He should also press the Saudis to reopen the air and seaports, and throw U.S. diplomatic weight behind the efforts of U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to negotiate a ceasefire.

9. Failing to back President Moon Jae-in’s diplomacy with North Korea. Trump’s failure to provide sanctions relief and explicit security guarantees to North Korea doomed his diplomacy and became an obstacle to the diplomatic process under way between Korean presidents Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, who is himself the child of North Korean refugees. So far, Biden has continued this policy of Draconian sanctions and threats.

The Biden administration should revive the diplomatic process with confidence-building measures such as opening liaison offices, easing sanctions, facilitating reunions between Korean-American and North Korean families, permitting U.S. humanitarian organizations to resume their work when COVID conditions permit, and halting U.S.-South Korea military exercises and B-2 nuclear bomb flights.

Negotiations must involve concrete commitments to non-aggression from the U.S. side and a commitment to negotiating a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War. This would pave the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and the reconciliation that so many Koreans desire — and deserve.

10. No initiative to reduce U.S. military spending. At the end of the Cold War, former senior Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee that U.S. military spending could safely be cut by half over the next 10 years. That goal was never achieved, and instead of a post-Cold War “peace dividend,” the military-industrial complex exploited the crimes of Sept. 11, 2001 to justify an extraordinary one-sided arms race. Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S. accounted for 45% of global military spending, far outstripping its own peak Cold War military spending.

Now the military-industrial complex is counting on Biden to escalate a renewed Cold War with Russia and China as the only plausible pretext for further record military budgets that are setting the stage for World War III.

Biden must dial back U.S. conflicts with China and Russia, and instead begin the critical task of moving money from the Pentagon to urgent domestic needs. He should start with at least the 10 percent cut that 93 Representatives and 23 Senators already voted for. In the longer term, Biden should look for deeper cuts in Pentagon spending, as in Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to cut $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget, to free up resources we sorely need to invest in health care, education, clean energy and modern infrastructure.

A Progressive Way Forward

These policies, common to Democratic and Republican administrations, not only inflict pain and suffering on millions of our neighbors in other countries, but also deliberately cause instability that can at any time escalate into war, plunge a formerly functioning state into chaos or spawn a secondary crisis whose human consequences will be even worse than the original one.

All these policies involve deliberate efforts to unilaterally impose the political will of U.S. leaders on other people and countries, by methods that consistently only cause more pain and suffering to the people they claim – or pretend – they want to help.

Biden should jettison the worst of Obama’s and Trump’s policies, and instead pick the best of them. Trump, recognizing the unpopularity of U.S. military interventions, began the process of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, which Biden should follow through on.

Obama’s diplomatic successes with Cuba, Iran and Russia demonstrated that negotiating with U.S. enemies to make peace, improve relations and make the world a safer place is a perfectly viable alternative to trying to force them to do what the United States wants by bombing, starving and besieging their people. This is in fact the core principle of the United Nations Charter, and it should be the core principle of Biden’s foreign policy.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT: “Vienna talks end without agreement to revive Iran nuclear deal”

]]>
We’re not at War: Why is Congress giving $778 Billion of our Money to the Pentagon? https://www.juancole.com/2021/12/congress-billion-pentagon.html Tue, 07 Dec 2021 05:04:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=201664 ( Code Pink) – Despite a disagreement over some amendments in the Senate, the United States Congress is poised to pass a $778 billion military budget bill for 2022. As they have been doing year after year, our elected officials are preparing to hand the lion’s share – over 65% – of federal discretionary spending to the U.S. war machine, even as they wring their hands over spending a mere quarter of that amount on the Build Back Better Act.

The U.S. military’s incredible record of systematic failure—most recently its final trouncing by the Taliban after twenty years of death, destruction and lies in Afghanistan—cries out for a top-to-bottom review of its dominant role in U.S. foreign policy and a radical reassessment of its proper place in Congress’s budget priorities.

Instead, year after year, members of Congress hand over the largest share of our nation’s resources to this corrupt institution, with minimal scrutiny and no apparent fear of accountability when it comes to their own reelection. Members of Congress still see it as a “safe” political call to carelessly whip out their rubber-stamps and vote for however many hundreds of billions in funding Pentagon and arms industry lobbyists have persuaded the Armed Services Committees they should cough up.

Let’s make no mistake about this: Congress’s choice to keep investing in a massive, ineffective and absurdly expensive war machine has nothing to do with “national security” as most people understand it, or “defense” as the dictionary defines it.

U.S. society does face critical threats to our security, including the climate crisis, systemic racism, erosion of voting rights, gun violence, grave inequalities and the corporate hijacking of political power. But one problem we fortunately do not have is the threat of attack or invasion by a rampant global aggressor or, in fact, by any other country at all.

Maintaining a war machine that outspends the 12 or 13 next largest militaries in the world combined actually makes us less safe, as each new administration inherits the delusion that the United States’ overwhelmingly destructive military power can, and therefore should, be used to confront any perceived challenge to U.S. interests anywhere in the world—even when there is clearly no military solution and when many of the underlying problems were caused by past misapplications of U.S. military power in the first place.

While the international challenges we face in this century require a genuine commitment to international cooperation and diplomacy, Congress allocates only $58 billion, less than 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, to the diplomatic corps of our government: the State Department. Even worse, both Democratic and Republican administrations keep filling top diplomatic posts with officials indoctrinated and steeped in policies of war and coercion, with scant experience and meager skills in the peaceful diplomacy we so desperately need.

This only perpetuates a failed foreign policy based on false choices between economic sanctions that UN officials have compared to medieval sieges, coups that destabilize countries and regions for decades, and wars and bombing campaigns that kill millions of people and leave cities in rubble, like Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The end of the Cold War was a golden opportunity for the United States to reduce its forces and military budget to match its legitimate defense needs. The American public naturally expected and hoped for a “Peace Dividend,” and even veteran Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee in 1991 that military spending could safely be cut by 50% over the next ten years.

But no such cut happened. U.S. officials instead set out to exploit the post-Cold War “Power Dividend,” a huge military imbalance in favor of the United States, by developing rationales for using military force more freely and widely around the world. During the transition to the new Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright famously asked Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

In 1999, as Secretary of State under President Clinton, Albright got her wish, running roughshod over the UN Charter with an illegal war to carve out an independent Kosovo from the ruins of Yugoslavia.

The UN Charter clearly prohibits the threat or use of military force except in cases of self-defense or when the UN Security Council takes military action “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” This was neither. When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright his government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over NATO’s illegal war plan, Albright crassly told him to “get new lawyers.”

Twenty-two years later, Kosovo is the third-poorest country in Europe (after Moldova and post-coup Ukraine) and its independence is still not recognized by 96 countries. Hashim Thaçi, Albright’s hand-picked main ally in Kosovo and later its president, is awaiting trial in an international court at the Hague, charged with murdering at least 300 civilians under cover of NATO bombing in 1999 to extract and sell their internal organs on the international transplant market.

Clinton and Albright’s gruesome and illegal war set the precedent for more illegal U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with equally devastating and horrific results. But America’s failed wars have not led Congress or successive administrations to seriously rethink the U.S. decision to rely on illegal threats and uses of military force to project U.S. power all over the world, nor have they reined in the trillions of dollars invested in these imperial ambitions.

Instead, in the upside-down world of institutionally corrupt U.S. politics, a generation of failed and pointlessly destructive wars have had the perverse effect of normalizing even more expensive military budgets than during the Cold War, and reducing congressional debate to questions of how many more of each useless weapons system they should force U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for.

It seems that no amount of killing, torture, mass destruction or lives ruined in the real world can shake the militaristic delusions of America’s political class, as long as the “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex” (President Eisenhower’s original wording) is reaping the benefits.

Today, most political and media references to the Military-Industrial Complex refer only to the arms industry as a self-serving corporate interest group on a par with Wall Street, Big Pharma or the fossil fuel industry. But in his Farewell Address, Eisenhower explicitly pointed to, not just the arms industry, but the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.”

Eisenhower was just as worried about the anti-democratic impact of the military as the arms industry. Weeks before his Farewell Address, he told his senior advisors, “God help this country when somebody sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” His fears have been realized in every subsequent presidency.

According to Milton Eisenhower, the president’s brother, who helped him draft his Farewell Address, Ike also wanted to talk about the “revolving door.” Early drafts of his speech referred to “a permanent, war-based industry,” with “flag and general officers retiring at an early age to take positions in the war-based industrial complex, shaping its decisions and guiding the direction of its tremendous thrust.” He wanted to warn that steps must be taken to “insure that the ‘merchants of death’ do not come to dictate national policy.”

As Eisenhower feared, the careers of figures like Generals Austin and Mattis now span all branches of the corrupt MIC conglomerate: commanding invasion and occupation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; then donning suits and ties to sell weapons to new generals who served under them as majors and colonels; and finally re-emerging from the same revolving door as cabinet members at the apex of American politics and government.

So why does the Pentagon brass get a free pass, even as Americans feel increasingly conflicted about the arms industry? After all, it is the military that actually uses all these weapons to kill people and wreak havoc in other countries.

Even as it loses war after war overseas, the U.S. military has waged a far more successful one to burnish its image in the hearts and minds of Americans and win every budget battle in Washington.

The complicity of Congress, the third leg of the stool in Eisenhower’s original formulation, turns the annual battle of the budget into the “cakewalk” that the war in Iraq was supposed to be, with no accountability for lost wars, war crimes, civilian massacres, cost overruns or the dysfunctional military leadership that presides over it all.

There is no congressional debate over the economic impact on America or the geopolitical consequences for the world of uncritically rubber-stamping huge investments in powerful weapons that will sooner or later be used to kill our neighbors and smash their countries, as they have for the past 22 years and far too often throughout our history.

If the public is ever to have any impact on this dysfunctional and deadly money-go-round, we must learn to see through the fog of propaganda that masks self-serving corruption behind red, white and blue bunting, and allows the military brass to cynically exploit the public’s natural respect for brave young men and women who are ready to risk their lives to defend our country. In the Crimean War, the Russians called British troops “lions led by donkeys.” That is an accurate description of today’s U.S. military.

Sixty years after Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, exactly as he predicted, the “weight of this combination” of corrupt generals and admirals, the profitable “merchants of death” whose goods they peddle, and the Senators and Representatives who blindly entrust them with trillions of dollars of the public’s money, constitute the full flowering of President Eisenhower’s greatest fears for our country.

Eisenhower concluded, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals.” That clarion call echoes through the decades and should unite Americans in every form of democratic organizing and movement building, from elections to education and advocacy to mass protests, to finally reject and dispel the “unwarranted influence” of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.

Via Code Pink

—-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

MSNBC: “Bernie Sanders Rips Record-Breaking Defense Bill: Hypocrisy Is Extraordinary”

]]>
Greta Thunberg to World Leaders at COP26: Shove your ‘Climate Crisis’ up your Arse! https://www.juancole.com/2021/11/thunberg-leaders-climate.html Thu, 04 Nov 2021 04:02:14 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=201003 ( Code Pink) – COP Twenty-six! That is how many times the UN has assembled world leaders to try to tackle the climate crisis. But the United States is producing more oil and natural gas than ever; the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere and global temperatures are both still rising; and we are already experiencing the extreme weather and climate chaos that scientists have warned us about for forty years, and which will only get worse and worse without serious climate action.

And yet, the planet has so far only warmed 1.2° Celsius (2.2° F) since pre-industrial times. We already have the technology we need to convert our energy systems to clean, renewable energy, and doing so would create millions of good jobs for people all over the world. So, in practical terms, the steps we must take are clear, achievable and urgent.

The greatest obstacle to action that we face is our dysfunctional, neoliberal political and economic system and its control by plutocratic and corporate interests, who are determined to keep profiting from fossil fuels even at the cost of destroying the Earth’s uniquely livable climate. The climate crisis has exposed this system’s structural inability to act in the real interests of humanity, even when our very future hangs in the balance.

So what is the answer? Can COP26 in Glasgow be different? What could make the difference between more slick political PR and decisive action? Counting on the same politicians and fossil fuel interests (yes, they are there, too) to do something different this time seems suicidal, but what is the alternative?

Since Obama’s Pied Piper leadership in Copenhagen and Paris produced a system in which individual countries set their own targets and decided how to meet them, most countries have made little progress toward the targets they set in Paris in 2015.

Now they have come to Glasgow with predetermined and inadequate pledges that, even if fulfilled, would still lead to a much hotter world by 2100. A succession of UN and civil society reports in the lead-up to COP26 have been sounding the alarm with what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called a “thundering wake-up call” and a “code red for humanity.” In Guterres’ opening speech at COP26 on November 1st, he said that “we are digging our own graves” by failing to solve this crisis.

Yet governments are still focusing on long-term goals like reaching “Net Zero” by 2050, 2060 or even 2070, so far in the future that they can keep postponing the radical steps needed to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius. Even if they somehow stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the air, the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere by 2050 would keep heating up the planet for generations. The more we load up the atmosphere with GHGs, the longer their effect will last and the hotter the Earth will keep growing.

The United States has set a shorter-term target of reducing its emissions by 50% from their peak 2005 level by 2030. But its present policies would only lead to a 17%-25% reduction by then.

The Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which was part of the Build Back Better Act, could make up a lot of that gap by paying electric utilities to increase reliance on renewables by 4% year over year and penalizing utilities that don’t. But on the eve of COP 26, Biden dropped the CEPP from the bill under pressure from Senators Manchin and Sinema and their fossil fuel puppet-masters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military, the largest institutional emitter of GHGs on Earth, was exempted from any constraints whatsoever under the Paris Agreement. Peace activists in Glasgow are demanding that COP26 must fix this huge black hole in global climate policy by including the U.S. war machine’s GHG emissions, and those of other militaries, in national emissions reporting and reductions.

At the same time, every penny that governments around the world have spent to address the climate crisis amounts to a small fraction of what the United States alone has spent on its nation-destroying war machine during the same period.

China now officially emits more CO2 than the United States. But a large part of China’s emissions are driven by the rest of the world’s consumption of Chinese products, and its largest customer is the United States. An MIT study in 2014 estimated that exports account for 22% of China’s carbon emissions. On a per capita consumption basis, Americans still account for three times the GHG emissions of our Chinese neighbors and double the emissions of Europeans.

Wealthy countries have also fallen short on the commitment they made in Copenhagen in 2009 to help poorer countries tackle climate change by providing financial aid that would grow to $100 billion per year by 2020. They have provided increasing amounts, reaching $79 billion in 2019, but the failure to deliver the full amount that was promised has eroded trust between rich and poor countries. A committee headed by Canada and Germany at COP26 is charged with resolving the shortfall and restoring trust.

When the world’s political leaders are failing so badly that they are destroying the natural world and the livable climate that sustains human civilization, it is urgent for people everywhere to get much more active, vocal and creative.

The appropriate public response to governments that are ready to squander the lives of millions of people, whether by war or by ecological mass suicide, is rebellion and revolution – and non-violent forms of revolution have generally proven more effective and beneficial than violent ones.

People are rising up against this corrupt neoliberal political and economic system in countries all over the world, as its savage impacts affect their lives in different ways. But the climate crisis is a universal danger to all of humanity that requires a universal, global response.

One inspiring civil society group on the streets in Glasgow during COP 26 is Extinction Rebellion, which proclaims, “We accuse world leaders of failure, and with a daring vision of hope, we demand the impossible…We will sing and dance and lock arms against despair and remind the world there is so much worth rebelling for.”

Extinction Rebellion and other climate groups at COP26 are calling for Net Zero by 2025, not 2050, as the only way to meet the 1.5° goal agreed to in Paris.

Greenpeace is calling for an immediate global moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and a quick phase-out of coal-burning power plants. Even the new coalition government in Germany, which includes the Green Party and has more ambitious goals than other large wealthy countries, has only moved up the final deadline on Germany’s coal phaseout from 2038 to 2030.

The Indigenous Environmental Network is bringing indigenous people from the Global South to Glasgow to tell their stories at the conference. They are calling on the Northern industrialized countries to declare a climate emergency, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies of fossil fuels globally.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has published a new report titled Nature-Based Solutions: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing as a focus for its work at COP26. It exposes a new trend in corporate greenwashing involving industrial-scale tree plantations in poor countries, which corporations plan to claim as “offsets” for continued fossil fuel production.

The U.K. government that is hosting the conference in Glasgow has endorsed these schemes as part of the program at COP26. FOE is highlighting the effect of these massive land-grabs on local and indigenous communities and calls them “a dangerous deception and distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis.” If this is what governments mean by “Net Zero,” it would just be one more step in the financialization of the Earth and all its resources, not a real solution.

Because it is hard for activists from around the world to get to Glasgow for COP26 during a pandemic, activist groups are simultaneously organizing around the world to put pressure on governments in their own countries. Hundreds of climate activists and indigenous people have been arrested in protests at the White House in Washington, and five young Sunrise Movement activists began a hunger strike there on October 19th.

U.S. climate groups also support the “Green New Deal” bill, H.Res. 332, that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced in Congress, which specifically calls for policies to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius, and currently has 103 cosponsors. The bill sets ambitious targets for 2030, but only calls for Net Zero by 2050.

The environmental and climate groups converging on Glasgow agree that we need a real global program of energy conversion now, as a practical matter, not as the aspirational goal of an endlessly ineffective, hopelessly corrupt political process.

At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, Extinction Rebellion dumped a pile of horse manure outside the conference hall with the message, “The horse-shit stops here.” Of course that didn’t stop it, but it made the point that empty talk must rapidly be eclipsed by real action. Greta Thunberg has hit the nail on the head, slamming world leaders for covering up their failures with “blah, blah, blah,” instead of taking real action.

Like Greta’s School Strike for the Climate, the climate movement in the streets of Glasgow is informed by the recognition that the science is clear and the solutions to the climate crisis are readily available. It is only political will that is lacking. This must be supplied by ordinary people, from all walks of life, through creative, dramatic action and mass mobilization, to demand the political and economic transformation we so desperately need.

The usually mild-mannered UN Secretary General Guterres made it clear that “street heat” will be key to saving humanity. “The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable,” he told world leaders in Glasgow. “They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away.”

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, includingInside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author ofBlood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

COP 26: Can a Singing, Dancing Rebellion Save the World?

by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

Greta Thunberg leads protests in Italy ahead of COP26. Credit: Radio Habana Cuba

COP Twenty-six! That is how many times the UN has assembled world leaders to try to tackle the climate crisis. But the United States is producing more oil and natural gas than ever; the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere and global temperatures are both still rising; and we are already experiencing the extreme weather and climate chaos that scientists have warned us about for forty years, and which will only get worse and worse without serious climate action.

And yet, the planet has so far only warmed 1.2° Celsius (2.2° F) since pre-industrial times. We already have the technology we need to convert our energy systems to clean, renewable energy, and doing so would create millions of good jobs for people all over the world. So, in practical terms, the steps we must take are clear, achievable and urgent.

The greatest obstacle to action that we face is our dysfunctional, neoliberal political and economic system and its control by plutocratic and corporate interests, who are determined to keep profiting from fossil fuels even at the cost of destroying the Earth’s uniquely livable climate. The climate crisis has exposed this system’s structural inability to act in the real interests of humanity, even when our very future hangs in the balance.

So what is the answer? Can COP26 in Glasgow be different? What could make the difference between more slick political PR and decisive action? Counting on the same politicians and fossil fuel interests (yes, they are there, too) to do something different this time seems suicidal, but what is the alternative?

Since Obama’s Pied Piper leadership in Copenhagen and Paris produced a system in which individual countries set their own targets and decided how to meet them, most countries have made little progress toward the targets they set in Paris in 2015.

Now they have come to Glasgow with predetermined and inadequate pledges that, even if fulfilled, would still lead to a much hotter world by 2100. A succession of UN and civil society reports in the lead-up to COP26 have been sounding the alarm with what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called a “thundering wake-up call” and a “code red for humanity.” In Guterres’ opening speech at COP26 on November 1st, he said that “we are digging our own graves” by failing to solve this crisis.

Yet governments are still focusing on long-term goals like reaching “Net Zero” by 2050, 2060 or even 2070, so far in the future that they can keep postponing the radical steps needed to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius. Even if they somehow stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the air, the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere by 2050 would keep heating up the planet for generations. The more we load up the atmosphere with GHGs, the longer their effect will last and the hotter the Earth will keep growing.

The United States has set a shorter-term target of reducing its emissions by 50% from their peak 2005 level by 2030. But its present policies would only lead to a 17%-25% reduction by then.

The Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which was part of the Build Back Better Act, could make up a lot of that gap by paying electric utilities to increase reliance on renewables by 4% year over year and penalizing utilities that don’t. But on the eve of COP 26, Biden dropped the CEPP from the bill under pressure from Senators Manchin and Sinema and their fossil fuel puppet-masters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military, the largest institutional emitter of GHGs on Earth, was exempted from any constraints whatsoever under the Paris Agreement. Peace activists in Glasgow are demanding that COP26 must fix this huge black hole in global climate policy by including the U.S. war machine’s GHG emissions, and those of other militaries, in national emissions reporting and reductions.

At the same time, every penny that governments around the world have spent to address the climate crisis amounts to a small fraction of what the United States alone has spent on its nation-destroying war machine during the same period.

China now officially emits more CO2 than the United States. But a large part of China’s emissions are driven by the rest of the world’s consumption of Chinese products, and its largest customer is the United States. An MIT study in 2014 estimated that exports account for 22% of China’s carbon emissions. On a per capita consumption basis, Americans still account for three times the GHG emissions of our Chinese neighbors and double the emissions of Europeans.

Wealthy countries have also fallen short on the commitment they made in Copenhagen in 2009 to help poorer countries tackle climate change by providing financial aid that would grow to $100 billion per year by 2020. They have provided increasing amounts, reaching $79 billion in 2019, but the failure to deliver the full amount that was promised has eroded trust between rich and poor countries. A committee headed by Canada and Germany at COP26 is charged with resolving the shortfall and restoring trust.

When the world’s political leaders are failing so badly that they are destroying the natural world and the livable climate that sustains human civilization, it is urgent for people everywhere to get much more active, vocal and creative.

The appropriate public response to governments that are ready to squander the lives of millions of people, whether by war or by ecological mass suicide, is rebellion and revolution – and non-violent forms of revolution have generally proven more effective and beneficial than violent ones.

People are rising up against this corrupt neoliberal political and economic system in countries all over the world, as its savage impacts affect their lives in different ways. But the climate crisis is a universal danger to all of humanity that requires a universal, global response.

One inspiring civil society group on the streets in Glasgow during COP 26 is Extinction Rebellion, which proclaims, “We accuse world leaders of failure, and with a daring vision of hope, we demand the impossible…We will sing and dance and lock arms against despair and remind the world there is so much worth rebelling for.”

Extinction Rebellion and other climate groups at COP26 are calling for Net Zero by 2025, not 2050, as the only way to meet the 1.5° goal agreed to in Paris.

Greenpeace is calling for an immediate global moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and a quick phase-out of coal-burning power plants. Even the new coalition government in Germany, which includes the Green Party and has more ambitious goals than other large wealthy countries, has only moved up the final deadline on Germany’s coal phaseout from 2038 to 2030.

The Indigenous Environmental Network is bringing indigenous people from the Global South to Glasgow to tell their stories at the conference. They are calling on the Northern industrialized countries to declare a climate emergency, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies of fossil fuels globally.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has published a new report titled Nature-Based Solutions: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing as a focus for its work at COP26. It exposes a new trend in corporate greenwashing involving industrial-scale tree plantations in poor countries, which corporations plan to claim as “offsets” for continued fossil fuel production.

The U.K. government that is hosting the conference in Glasgow has endorsed these schemes as part of the program at COP26. FOE is highlighting the effect of these massive land-grabs on local and indigenous communities and calls them “a dangerous deception and distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis.” If this is what governments mean by “Net Zero,” it would just be one more step in the financialization of the Earth and all its resources, not a real solution.

Because it is hard for activists from around the world to get to Glasgow for COP26 during a pandemic, activist groups are simultaneously organizing around the world to put pressure on governments in their own countries. Hundreds of climate activists and indigenous people have been arrested in protests at the White House in Washington, and five young Sunrise Movement activists began a hunger strike there on October 19th.

U.S. climate groups also support the “Green New Deal” bill, H.Res. 332, that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced in Congress, which specifically calls for policies to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius, and currently has 103 cosponsors. The bill sets ambitious targets for 2030, but only calls for Net Zero by 2050.

The environmental and climate groups converging on Glasgow agree that we need a real global program of energy conversion now, as a practical matter, not as the aspirational goal of an endlessly ineffective, hopelessly corrupt political process.

At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, Extinction Rebellion dumped a pile of horse manure outside the conference hall with the message, “The horse-shit stops here.” Of course that didn’t stop it, but it made the point that empty talk must rapidly be eclipsed by real action. Greta Thunberg has hit the nail on the head, slamming world leaders for covering up their failures with “blah, blah, blah,” instead of taking real action.

Like Greta’s School Strike for the Climate, the climate movement in the streets of Glasgow is informed by the recognition that the science is clear and the solutions to the climate crisis are readily available. It is only political will that is lacking. This must be supplied by ordinary people, from all walks of life, through creative, dramatic action and mass mobilization, to demand the political and economic transformation we so desperately need.

The usually mild-mannered UN Secretary General Guterres made it clear that “street heat” will be key to saving humanity. “The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable,” he told world leaders in Glasgow. “They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away.”

Via Code Pink

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Guardian News: “‘You can shove your climate crisis up your arse’: Greta Thunberg sings at Cop26”

]]>
Our Future vs. Neoliberalism https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/our-future-neoliberalism.html Thu, 21 Oct 2021 04:06:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200735 ( Code Pink) – In country after country around the world, people are rising up to challenge entrenched, failing neoliberal political and economic systems, with mixed but sometimes promising results.

Progressive leaders in the U.S. Congress are refusing to back down on the Democrats’ promises to American voters to reduce poverty, expand rights to healthcare, education and clean energy, and repair a shredded social safety net. After decades of tax cuts for the rich, they are also committed to raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for this popular agenda.


Photo: Tom Pennington.

Germany has elected a ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats that excludes the conservative Christian Democrats for the first time since 2000. The new government promises a $14 minimum wage, solar panels on all suitable roof space, 2% of land for wind farms and the closure of Germany’s last coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Iraqis voted in an election that was called in response to a popular protest movement launched in October 2019 to challenge the endemic corruption of the post-2003 political class and its subservience to U.S. and Iranian interests. The protest movement was split between taking part in the election and boycotting it, but its candidates still won about 35 seats and will have a voice in parliament. The party of long-time Iraqi nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 73 seats, the largest of any single party, while Iranian-backed parties whose armed militias killed hundreds of protesters in 2019 lost popular support and many of their seats.

Chile’s billionaire president, Sebastian Piñera, is being impeached after the Pandora Papers revealed details of bribery and tax evasion in his sale of a mining company, and he could face up to 5 years in prison. Mass street protests in 2019 forced Piñera to agree to a new constitution to replace the one written under the Pinochet military dictatorship, and a convention that includes representatives of indigenous and other marginalized communities has been elected to draft the constitution. Progressive parties and candidates are expected to do well in the general election in November.

Maybe the greatest success of people power has come in Bolivia. In 2020, only a year after a U.S.-backed right-wing military coup, a mass mobilization of mostly indigenous working people forced a new election, and the socialist MAS Party of Evo Morales was returned to power. Since then it has already introduced a new wealth tax and welfare payments to four million people to help eliminate hunger in Bolivia.

The Ideological Context

Since the 1970s, Western political and corporate leaders have peddled a quasi-religious belief in the power of “free” markets and unbridled capitalism to solve all the world’s problems. This new “neoliberal” orthodoxy is a thinly disguised reversion to the systematic injustice of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, which led to gross inequality and poverty even in wealthy countries, famines that killed tens of millions of people in India and China, and horrific exploitation of the poor and vulnerable worldwide.

For most of the 20th century, Western countries gradually responded to the excesses and injustices of capitalism by using the power of government to redistribute wealth through progressive taxation and a growing public sector, and ensure broad access to public goods like education and healthcare. This led to a gradual expansion of broadly shared prosperity in the United States and Western Europe through a strong public sector that balanced the power of private corporations and their owners.

The steadily growing shared prosperity of the post-WWII years in the West was derailed by a combination of factors, including the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Nixon’s freeze on prices and wages, runaway inflation caused by dropping the gold standard, and then a second oil crisis after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Right-wing politicians led by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. blamed the power of organized labor and the public sector for the economic crisis. They launched a “neoliberal” counter-revolution to bust unions, shrink and privatize the public sector, cut taxes, deregulate industries and supposedly unleash “the magic of the market.” Then they took credit for a return to economic growth that really owed more to the end of the oil crises.

The United States and United Kingdom used their economic, military and media power to spread their neoliberal gospel across the world. Chile’s experiment in neoliberalism under Pinochet’s military dictatorship became a model for U.S. efforts to roll back the “pink tide” in Latin America. When the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe opened to the West at the end of the Cold War, it was the extreme, neoliberal brand of capitalism that Western economists imposed as “shock therapy” to privatize state-owned enterprises and open countries to Western corporations.

In the United States, the mass media shy away from the word “neoliberalism” to describe the changes in society since the 1980s. They describe its effects in less systemic terms, as globalization, privatization, deregulation, consumerism and so on, without calling attention to their common ideological roots. This allows them to treat its impacts as separate, unconnected problems: poverty and inequality, mass incarceration, environmental degradation, ballooning debt, money in politics, disinvestment in public services, declines in public health, permanent war, and record military spending.

After a generation of systematic neoliberal control, it is now obvious to people all over the world that neoliberalism has utterly failed to solve the world’s problems. As many predicted all along, it has just enabled the rich to get much, much richer, while structural and even existential problems remain unsolved.

Even once people have grasped the self-serving, predatory nature of this system that has overtaken their political and economic life, many still fall victim to the demoralization and powerlessness that are among its most insidious products, as they are brainwashed to see themselves only as individuals and consumers, instead of as active and collectively powerful citizens.

In effect, confronting neoliberalism—whether as individuals, groups, communities or countries—requires a two-step process. First, we must understand the nature of the beast that has us and the world in its grip, whatever we choose to call it. Second, we must overcome our own demoralization and powerlessness, and rekindle our collective power as political and economic actors to build the better world we know is possible.

We will see that collective power in the streets and the suites at COP26 in Glasgow, when the world’s leaders will gather to confront the reality that neoliberalism has allowed corporate profits to trump a rational response to the devastating impact of fossil fuels on the Earth’s climate. Extinction Rebellion and other groups will be in the streets in Glasgow, demanding the long-delayed action that is required to solve the problem, including an end to net carbon emissions by 2025.

While scientists warned us for decades what the result would be, political and business leaders have peddled their neoliberal snake oil to keep filling their coffers at the expense of the future of life on Earth. If we fail to stop them now, living conditions will keep deteriorating for people everywhere, as the natural world our lives depend on is washed out from under our feet, goes up in smoke and, species by species, dies and disappears forever.

The Covid pandemic is another real world case study on the impact of neoliberalism. As the official death toll reaches 5 million and many more deaths go unreported, rich countries are still hoarding vaccines, drug companies are reaping a bonanza of profits from vaccines and new drugs, and the lethal, devastating injustice of the entire neoliberal “market” system is laid bare for the whole world to see. Calls for a “people’s vaccine” and “vaccine justice” have been challenging what has now been termed “vaccine apartheid.”

Conclusion

In the 1980s, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often told the world, “There is no alternative” to the neoliberal order she and President Reagan were unleashing. After only one or two generations, the self-serving insanity they prescribed and the crises it has caused have made it a question of survival for humanity to find alternatives.

Around the world, ordinary people are rising up to demand real change. The people of Iraq, Chile and Bolivia have overcome the incredible traumas inflicted on them to take to the streets in the thousands and demand better government. Americans should likewise demand that our government stop wasting trillions of dollars to militarize the world and destroy countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and start solving our real problems, here and abroad.

People around the world understand the nature of the problems we face better than we did a generation or even a decade ago. Now we must overcome demoralization and powerlessness in order to act. It helps to understand that the demoralization and powerlessness we may feel are themselves products of this neoliberal system, and that simply overcoming them is a victory in itself.

As we reject the inevitability of neoliberalism and Thatcher’s lie that there is no alternative, we must also reject the lie that we are just passive, powerless consumers. As human beings, we have the same collective power that human beings have always had to build a better world for ourselves and our children – and now is the time to harness that power.

Via Code Pink

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Why Do so many in Congress resist funding Childcare But swoon over F-35s? https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/congress-funding-childcare.html Thu, 07 Oct 2021 04:08:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200463 ( Code Pink) – President Biden and the Democratic Congress are facing a crisis as the popular domestic agenda they ran on in the 2020 election is held hostage by two corporate Democratic Senators, fossil-fuel consigliere Joe Manchin and payday-lender favorite Kyrsten Sinema.

But the very week before the Dems’ $350 billion-per-year domestic package hit this wall of corporate money-bags, all but 38 House Democrats voted to hand over more than double that amount to the Pentagon. Senator Manchin has hypocritically described the domestic spending bill as “fiscal insanity,” but he has voted for a much larger Pentagon budget every year since 2016.

Real fiscal insanity is what Congress does year after year, taking most of its discretionary spending off the table and handing it over to the Pentagon before even considering the country’s urgent domestic needs. Maintaining this pattern, Congress just splashed out $12 billion for 85 more F-35 warplanes, 6 more than Trump bought last year, without debating the relative merits of buying more F-35s vs. investing $12 billion in education, healthcare, clean energy or fighting poverty.

The 2022 military spending bill (NDAA or National Defense Authorization Act) that passed the House on September 23 would hand a whopping $740 billion to the Pentagon and $38 billion to other departments (mainly the Department of Energy for nuclear weapons), for a total of $778 billion in military spending, a $37 billion increase over this year’s military budget. The Senate will soon debate its version of this bill—but don’t expect too much of a debate there either, as most senators are “yes men” when it comes to feeding the war machine.

Two House amendments to make modest cuts both failed: one by Rep. Sara Jacobs to strip $24 billion that was added to Biden’s budget request by the House Armed Services Committee; and another by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for an across-the-board 10% cut (with exceptions for military pay and healthcare).

After adjusting for inflation, this enormous budget is comparable to the peak of Trump’s arms build-up in 2020, and is only 10% below the post-WWII record set by Bush II in 2008 under cover of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would give Joe Biden the dubious distinction of being the fourth post-Cold War U.S. president to militarily outspend every Cold War president, from Truman to Bush I.

In effect, Biden and Congress are locking in the $100 billion per year arms build-up that Trump justified with his absurd claims that Obama’s record military spending had somehow depleted the military.

As with Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the JCPOA with Iran, the time to act on cutting the military budget and reinvesting in domestic priorities was in the first weeks and months of his administration. His inaction on these issues, like his deportation of thousands of desperate asylum seekers, suggests that he is happier to continue Trump’s ultra-hawkish policies than he will publicly admit.

In 2019, the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland conducted a study in which it briefed ordinary Americans on the federal budget deficit and asked them how they would address it. The average respondent favored cutting the deficit by $376 billion, mainly by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but also by cutting an average of $51 billion from the military budget.

Even Republicans favored cutting $14 billion, while Democrats supported a much larger $100 billion cut. That would be more than the 10% cut in the failed Ocasio-Cortez Amendment, which garnered support from only 86 Democratic Reps and was opposed by 126 Dems and every Republican.

Most of the Democrats who voted for amendments to reduce spending still voted to pass the bloated final bill. Only 38 Democrats were willing to vote against a $778 billion military spending bill that, once Veterans Affairs and other related expenses are included, would continue to consume over 60% of discretionary spending.

“How’re you going to pay for it?” clearly applies only to “money for people,” never to “money for war.” Rational policy making would require exactly the opposite approach. Money invested in education, healthcare and green energy is an investment in the future, while money for war offers little or no return on investment except to weapons makers and Pentagon contractors, as was the case with the $2.26 trillion the United States wasted on death and destruction in Afghanistan.

A study by the Political Economy Research Center at the University of Massachusetts found that military spending creates fewer jobs than almost any other form of government spending. It found that $1 billion invested in the military yields an average of 11,200 jobs, while the same amount invested in other areas yields: 26,700 jobs when invested in education; 17,200 in healthcare; 16,800 in the green economy; or 15,100 jobs in cash stimulus or welfare payments.

It is tragic that the only form of Keynesian stimulus that is uncontested in Washington is the least productive for Americans, as well as the most destructive for the other countries where the weapons are used. These irrational priorities seem to make no political sense for Democratic Members of Congress, whose grassroots voters would cut military spending by an average of $100 billion per year based on the Maryland poll.

So why is Congress so out of touch with the foreign policy desires of their constituents? It is well-documented that Members of Congress have more close contact with well-heeled campaign contributors and corporate lobbyists than with the working people who elect them, and that the “unwarranted influence” of Eisenhower’s infamous Military-Industrial Complex has become more entrenched and more insidious than ever, just as he feared.

The Military-Industrial Complex exploits flaws in what is at best a weak, quasi-democratic political system to defy the will of the public and spend more public money on weapons and armed forces than the world’s next 13 military powers. This is especially tragic at a time when the wars of mass destruction that have served as a pretext for wasting these resources for 20 years may finally, thankfully, be coming to an end.

The five largest U.S. arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics) account for 40% of the arms industry’s federal campaign contributions, and they have collectively received $2.2 trillion in Pentagon contracts since 2001 in return for those contributions. Altogether, 54% of military spending ends up in the accounts of corporate military contractors, earning them $8 trillion since 2001.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees sit at the very center of the Military-Industrial Complex, and their senior members are the largest recipients of arms industry cash in Congress. So it is a dereliction of duty for their colleagues to rubber-stamp military spending bills on their say-so without serious, independent scrutiny.

The corporate consolidation, dumbing down and corruption of U.S. media and the isolation of the Washington “bubble” from the real world also play a role in Congress’s foreign policy disconnect.

There is another, little-discussed reason for the disconnect between what the public wants and how Congress votes, and that can be found in a fascinating 2004 study by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations titled “The Hall of Mirrors: Perceptions and Misperceptions in the Congressional Foreign Policy Process.”

The “Hall of Mirrors” study surprisingly found a broad consensus between the foreign policy views of lawmakers and the public, but that “in many cases Congress has voted in ways that are inconsistent with these consensus positions.”

The authors made a counter-intuitive discovery about the views of congressional staffers. “Curiously, staffers whose views were at odds with the majority of their constituents showed a strong bias toward assuming, incorrectly, that their constituents agreed with them,” the study found, “while staffers whose views were actually in accord with their constituents more often than not assumed this was not the case.”

This was particularly striking in the case of Democratic staffers, who were often convinced that their own liberal views placed them in a minority of the public when, in fact, most of their constituents shared the same views. Since congressional staffers are the primary advisors to members of Congress on legislative matters, these misperceptions play a unique role in Congress’s anti-democratic foreign policy.

Overall, on nine important foreign policy issues, an average of only 38% of congressional staffers could correctly identify whether a majority of the public supported or opposed a range of different policies they were asked about.

On the other side of the equation, the study found that “Americans’ assumptions about how their own member votes appear to be frequently incorrect … [I]n the absence of information, it appears that Americans tend to assume, often incorrectly, that their member is voting in ways that are consistent with how they would like their member to vote.”

It is not always easy for a member of the public to find out whether their Representative votes as they would like or not. News reports rarely discuss or link to actual roll-call votes, even though the Internet and the Congressional Clerk’s office make it easier than ever to do so.

Civil society and activist groups publish more detailed voting records. Govtrack.us lets constituents sign up for emailed notifications of every single roll-call vote in Congress. Progressive Punch tracks votes and rates Reps on how often they vote for “progressive” positions, while issues-related activist groups track and report on bills they support, as CODEPINK does at CODEPINK Congress. Open Secrets enables the public to track money in politics and see how beholden their Representatives are to different corporate sectors and interest groups.

When Members of Congress come to Washington with little or no foreign policy experience, as many do, they must take the trouble to study hard from a wide range of sources, to seek foreign policy advice from outside the corrupt Military-Industrial Complex, which has brought us only endless war, and to listen to their constituents.

The Hall of Mirrors study should be required reading for congressional staffers, and they should reflect on how they are personally and collectively prone to the misperceptions it revealed.

Members of the public should beware of assuming that their Representatives vote the way they want them to, and instead make serious efforts to find out how they really vote. They should contact their offices regularly to make their voices heard, and work with issues-related civil society groups to hold them accountable for their votes on issues they care about.

Looking forward to next year’s and future military budget fights, we must build a strong popular movement that rejects the flagrantly anti-democratic decision to transition from a brutal and bloody, self-perpetuating “war on terror” to an equally unnecessary and wasteful but even more dangerous arms race with Russia and China.

As some in Congress continue to ask how we can afford to take care of our children or ensure future life on this planet, progressives in Congress must not only call for taxing the rich but cutting the Pentagon–and not just in tweets or rhetorical flourishes, but in real policy.

While it may be too late to reverse course this year, they must stake out a line in the sand for next year’s military budget that reflects what the public desires and the world so desperately needs: to roll back the destructive, gargantuan war machine and to invest in healthcare and a livable climate, not bombs and F-35s.

Via Code Pink

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

MSNBC: “Flipping Beltway Predictions, Progressives Become Powerful Allies For Biden Agenda”

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U.S. Militarism’s Toxic Impact on Climate Policy https://www.juancole.com/2021/09/militarisms-impact-climate.html Thu, 23 Sep 2021 04:08:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200218 ( Code Pink ) – President Biden addressed the UN General on September 21 with a warning that the climate crisis is fast approaching a “point of no return,” and a promise that the United States would rally the world to action. “We will lead not just with the example of our power but, God willing, with the power of our example,” he said.

But the U.S. is not a leader when it comes to saving our planet. Yahoo News recently published a report titled “Why the U.S. Lags Behind Europe on Climate Goals by 10 or 15 years.” The article was a rare acknowledgment in the U.S. corporate media that the United States has not only failed to lead the world on the climate crisis, but has actually been the main culprit blocking timely collective action to head off a global existential crisis.

The anniversary of September 11th and the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan should be ringing alarm bells inside the head of every American, warning us that we have allowed our government to spend trillions of dollars waging war, chasing shadows, selling arms and fueling conflict all over the world, while ignoring real existential dangers to our civilization and all of humanity.

The world’s youth are dismayed by their parents’ failures to tackle the climate crisis. A new survey of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in ten countries around the world found that many of them think humanity is doomed and that they have no future.

Three quarters of the young people surveyed said they are afraid of what the future will bring, and 40% say the crisis makes them hesitant to have children. They are also frightened, confused and angered by the failure of governments to respond to the crisis. As the BBC reported, “They feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned by politicians and adults.”

Young people in the U.S. have even more reason to feel betrayed than their European counterparts. America lags far behind Europe on renewable energy. European countries started fulfilling their climate commitments under the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s and now get 40% of their electricity from renewable sources, while renewables provide only 20% of electric power in America.

Since 1990, the baseline year for emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, Europe has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 24%, while the United States has failed to cut them at all, spewing out 2% more than it did in 1990. In 2019, before the Covid pandemic, the United States produced more oil and more natural gas than ever before in its history.

NATO, our politicians and the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic promote the idea that the United States and Europe share a common “Western” culture and values. But our very different lifestyles, priorities and responses to this climate crisis tell a tale of two very different, even divergent economic and political systems.

The idea that human activity is responsible for climate change was understood decades ago and is not controversial in Europe. But in America, politicians and news media have blindly or cynically parroted fraudulent, self-serving disinformation campaigns by ExxonMobil and other vested interests.

While the Democrats have been better at “listening to the scientists,” let’s not forget that, while Europe was replacing fossil fuels and nuclear plants with renewable energy, the Obama administration was unleashing a fracking boom to switch from coal-fired power plants to new plants running on fracked gas.

Why is the U.S. so far behind Europe when it comes to addressing global warming? Why do only 60% of Europeans own cars, compared with 90% of Americans? And why does each U.S. car owner clock double the mileage that European drivers do? Why does the United States not have modern, energy-efficient, widely-accessible public transportation, as Europe does?

We can ask similar questions about other stark differences between the United States and Europe. On poverty, inequality, healthcare, education and social insurance, why is the United States an outlier from what are considered societal norms in other wealthy countries?

One answer is the enormous amount of money the U.S. spends on militarism. Since 2001, the United States has allocated $15 trillion (in FY2022 dollars) to its military budget, outspending its 20 closest military competitors combined.

The U.S. spends far more of its GDP (the total value of goods produced and services) on the military than any of the other 29 Nato countries—3.7% in 2020 compared to 1.77%. And while the U.S. has been putting intense pressure on NATO countries to spend at least 2% of their GDP on their militaries, only ten of them have done so. Unlike in the U.S., the military establishment in Europe has to contend with significant opposition from liberal politicians and a more educated and mobilized public.

From the lack of universal healthcare to levels of child poverty that would be unacceptable in other wealthy countries, our government’s under-investment in everything else is the inevitable result of these skewed priorities, which leave America struggling to get by on what is left over after the U.S. military bureaucracy has raked off the lion’s share – or should we say the “generals’ share”? – of the available resources.

Federal infrastructure and “social” spending in 2021 amount to only about 30% of the money spent on militarism. The infrastructure package that Congress is debating is desperately needed, but the $3.5 trillion is spread over 10 years and is not enough.

On climate change, the infrastructure bill includes only $10 billion per year for conversion to green energy, an important but small step that will not reverse our current course toward a catastrophic future. Investments in a Green New Deal must be bookended by corresponding reductions in the military budget if we are to correct our government’s perverted and destructive priorities in any lasting way. This means standing up to the weapons industry and military contractors, which the Biden administration has so far failed to do.

The reality of America’s 20-year arms race with itself makes complete nonsense of the administrations’ claims that the recent arms build-up by China now requires the U.S. to spend even more. China spends only a third of what the U.S. spends, and what is driving China’s increased military spending is its need to defend itself against the ever-growing U.S. war machine that has been “pivoting” to the waters, skies and islands surrounding its shores since the Obama administration.

Biden told the UN General Assembly that “…as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy.” But his exclusive new military alliance with the U.K. and Australia, and his request for a further increase in military spending to escalate a dangerous arms race with China that the United States started in the first place, reveal just how far Biden has to go to live up to his own rhetoric, on diplomacy as well as on climate change.

The United States must go to the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November ready to sign on to the kind of radical steps that the UN and less developed countries are calling for. It must make a real commitment to leaving fossil fuels in the ground; quickly convert to a net-zero renewable energy economy; and help developing countries to do the same. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, the summit in Glasgow “must be the turning point” in the climate crisis.

That will require the United States to seriously reduce the military budget and commit to peaceful, practical diplomacy with China and Russia. Genuinely moving on from our self-inflicted military failures and the militarism that led to them would free up the U.S. to enact programs that address the real existential crisis our planet.

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Carbon bootprint: What’s NATO’s responsibility for the global climate crisis? | DW Analysis

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Afghanistan should be Last U.S. War of Empire, Corruption and Poverty https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/afghanistan-corruption-poverty.html Tue, 31 Aug 2021 04:06:09 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199787 ( Code Pink) – Americans have been shocked by videos of thousands of Afghans risking their lives to flee the Taliban’s return to power in their country – and then by an Islamic State suicide bombing and ensuing massacre by U.S. forces that together killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. troops.

Even as UN agencies warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury has frozen nearly all of the Afghan Central Bank’s $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves, depriving the new government of funds that it will desperately need in the coming months to feed its people and provide basic services.

Under pressure from the Biden administration, the International Monetary Fund decided not to release $450 million in funds that were scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan to help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. and other Western countries have also halted humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. After chairing a G7 summit on Afghanistan on August 24, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that withholding aid and recognition gave them “very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political” over the Taliban.

Western politicians couch this leverage in terms of human rights, but they are clearly trying to ensure that their Afghan allies retain some power in the new government, and that Western influence and interests in Afghanistan do not end with the Taliban’s return. This leverage is being exercised in dollars, pounds, and euros, but it will be paid for in Afghan lives.

To read or listen to Western analysts, one would think that the United States and its allies’ 20-year war was a benign and beneficial effort to modernize the country, liberate Afghan women and provide healthcare, education and good jobs, and that this has all now been swept away by capitulation to the Taliban.

The reality is quite different, and not so hard to understand. The United States spent $2.26 trillion on its war in Afghanistan. Spending that kind of money in any country should have lifted most people out of poverty. But the vast bulk of those funds, about $1.5 trillion, went to absurd, stratospheric military spending to maintain the U.S. military occupation, drop over 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghans, pay private contractors, and transport troops, weapons and military equipment back and forth around the world for 20 years.

Since the United States fought this war with borrowed money, it has also cost half a trillion dollars in interest payments alone, which will continue far into the future. Medical and disability costs for U.S. soldiers wounded in Afghanistan already amount to over $175 billion, and they will likewise keep mounting as the soldiers age. Medical and disability costs for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could eventually top a trillion dollars.

So what about “rebuilding Afghanistan”? Congress appropriated $144 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001, but $88 billion of that was spent to recruit, arm, train and pay the Afghan “security forces” that have now disintegrated, with soldiers returning to their villages or joining the Taliban. Another $15.5 billion spent between 2008 and 2017 was documented as “waste, fraud and abuse” by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The crumbs left over, less than 2% of total U.S. spending on Afghanistan, amount to about $40 billion, which should have provided some benefit to the Afghan people in economic development, healthcare, education, infrastructure and humanitarian aid.

But, as in Iraq, the government the U.S. installed in Afghanistan was notoriously corrupt, and its corruption only became more entrenched and systemic over time. Transparency International (TI) has consistently ranked U.S.-occupied Afghanistan as among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Western readers may think that this corruption is a long-standing problem in Afghanistan, as opposed to a particular feature of the U.S. occupation, but this is not the case. TI notes that, “it is widely recognized that the scale of corruption in the post-2001 period has increased over previous levels.” A 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that “corruption has soared to levels not seen in previous administrations.”

Those administrations would include the Taliban government that U.S. invasion forces removed from power in 2001, and the Soviet-allied socialist governments that were overthrown by the U.S.-deployed precursors of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the 1980s, destroying the substantial progress they had made in education, healthcare and women’s rights.

A 2010 report by former Reagan Pentagon official Anthony H. Cordesman, entitled “How America Corrupted Afghanistan”, chastised the U.S. government for throwing gobs of money into that country with virtually no accountability.

The New York Times reported in 2013 that every month for a decade, the CIA had been dropping off suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags stuffed with U.S. dollars for the Afghan president to bribe warlords and politicians.

Corruption also undermined the very areas that Western politicians now hold up as the successes of the occupation, like education and healthcare. The education system has been riddled with schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. Afghan pharmacies are stocked with fake, expired or low quality medicines, many smuggled in from neighboring Pakistan. At the personal level, corruption was fueled by civil servants like teachers earning only one-tenth the salaries of better-connected Afghans working for foreign NGOs and contractors.

Rooting out corruption and improving Afghan lives has always been secondary to the primary U.S. goal of fighting the Taliban and maintaining or extending its puppet government’s control. As TI reported, “The U.S. has intentionally paid different armed groups and Afghan civil servants to ensure cooperation and/or information, and cooperated with governors regardless of how corrupt they were… Corruption has undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fuelling grievances against the Afghan government and channelling material support to the insurgency.”

The endless violence of the U.S. occupation and the corruption of the U.S.-backed government boosted popular support for the Taliban, especially in rural areas where three quarters of Afghans live. The intractable poverty of occupied Afghanistan also contributed to the Taliban victory, as people naturally questioned how their occupation by wealthy countries like the United States and its Western allies could leave them in such abject poverty.

Well before the current crisis, the number of Afghans reporting that they were struggling to live on their current income increased from 60% in 2008 to 90% by 2018. A 2018 Gallup poll found the lowest levels of self-reported “well-being” that Gallup has ever recorded anywhere in the world. Afghans not only reported record levels of misery but also unprecedented hopelessness about their future.

Despite some gains in education for girls, only a third of Afghan girls attended primary school in 2019 and only 37% of adolescent Afghan girls were literate. One reason that so few children go to school in Afghanistan is that more than two million children between the ages of 6 and 14 have to work to support their poverty-stricken families.

Yet instead of atoning for our role in keeping most Afghans mired in poverty, Western leaders are now cutting off desperately needed economic and humanitarian aid that was funding three quarters of Afghanistan’s public sector and made up 40% of its total GDP.

In effect, the United States and its allies are responding to losing the war by threatening the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan with a second, economic war. If the new Afghan government does not give in to their “leverage” and meet their demands, our leaders will starve their people and then blame the Taliban for the ensuing famine and humanitarian crisis, just as they demonize and blame other victims of U.S. economic warfare, from Cuba to Iran.

After pouring trillions of dollars into endless war in Afghanistan, America’s main duty now is to help the 40 million Afghans who have not fled their country, as they try to recover from the terrible wounds and trauma of the war America inflicted on them, as well as a massive drought that devastated 40% of their crops this year and a crippling third wave of covid-19.

The U.S. should release the $9.4 billion in Afghan funds held in U.S. banks. It should shift the $6 billion allocated for the now defunct Afghan armed forces to humanitarian aid, instead of diverting it to other forms of wasteful military spending. It should encourage European allies and the IMF not to withhold funds. Instead, they should fully fund the UN 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion in emergency aid, which as of late August was less than 40% funded.

Once upon a time, the United States helped its British and Soviet allies to defeat Germany and Japan, and then helped to rebuild them as healthy, peaceful and prosperous countries. For all America’s serious faults – its racism, its crimes against humanity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its neocolonial relations with poorer countries – America held up a promise of prosperity that people in many countries around the world were ready to follow.

If all the United States has to offer other countries today is the war, corruption and poverty it brought to Afghanistan, then the world is wise to be moving on and looking at new models to follow: new experiments in popular and social democracy; renewed emphasis on national sovereignty and international law; alternatives to the use of military force to resolve international problems; and more equitable ways of organizing internationally to tackle global crises like the Covid pandemic and the climate disaster.

The United States can either stumble on in its fruitless attempt to control the world through militarism and coercion, or it can use this opportunity to rethink its place in the world. Americans should be ready to turn the page on our fading role as global hegemon and see how we can make a meaningful, cooperative contribution to a future that we will never again be able to dominate, but which we must help to build.

Via Code Pink

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

PBS NewsHour: “The U.S. ignored corruption within the Afghan government. Did that lead to its fall?”

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