Mottos for Success

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Your Money at War Everywhere

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 26, 2015

Fifteen to 20 years ago, a canny friend of mine assured me that I would know I was in a different world when the Europeans said no to Washington. I’ve been waiting all this time and last week it seemed as if the moment had finally arrived. Germany, France, and Italy all agreed to become “founding members” of a new Chinese-created development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Great Britain, in “a rare breach of the special relationship,” had already opted for membership the week before (and another key American ally deeply involved in the China trade, Australia, clearly will do so in the near future). As Andrew Higgins and David Sanger of the New York Times reported, the Obama administration views the new bank as a possible “rival to the World Bank and other institutions set up at the height of American power after World War II.”

“The announcement by Germany, Europe’s largest economy,” continued the Times, “came only six days after Secretary of State John Kerry asked his German counterpart, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, to resist the Chinese overtures until the Chinese agreed to a number of conditions about transparency and governing of the new entity. But Germany came to the same conclusion that Britain did: China is such a large export and investment market for it that it cannot afford to stay on the sidelines.”

All of this happened, in other words, despite strong opposition and powerful pressure from a Washington eager to contain China and regularly asserting its desire to “pivot” militarily to Asia to do so.

Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.

Only one small problem, highlighted today by Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung: the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue. As he makes clear, it’s still planning for a sole superpower world in a big way. And in the present atmosphere in Washington, it’s got real support for such planning. Take, for instance, Senator Tom Cotton—he of the Senate 47—who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”

It may be a new world in some places, but in others, as Hartung makes clear, it couldn’t be older. ~ Tom

Military Strategy? Who Needs It?
By William D. Hartung
President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow. McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan? More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines. Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that. It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the jaw-dropping resources available to the national security state, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Martin Dempsey recently claimed that, without significant additional infusions of cash, the U.S. military won’t be able to “execute the strategy” with which it has been tasked. As it happens, Dempsey’s remark unintentionally points the way to a dramatically different approach to what’s still called “defense spending.” Instead of seeking yet more of it, perhaps it’s time for the Pentagon to abandon its costly and counterproductive military strategy of “covering the globe.”

Even to begin discussing this subject means asking the obvious question: Does the U.S. military have a strategy worthy of the name? As President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it in his farewell address in 1961, defense requires a “balance between cost and hoped for advantage” and “between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable.” Eisenhower conveniently omitted a third category: things that shouldn’t have been done in the first place—on his watch, for instance, the CIA’s coups in Iran and Guatemala that overthrew democratic governments or, in our century, the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. But Eisenhower’s underlying point holds. Strategy involves making choices. Bottom line: current U.S. strategy fails this test abysmally.

Despite the obvious changes that have occurred globally since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military is still expected to be ready to go anywhere on Earth and fight any battle. The authors of the Pentagon’s key 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), for instance, claimed that its supposedly “updated strategy” was focused on “twenty-first-century defense priorities.” Self-congratulatory rhetoric aside, however, the document outlined an all-encompassing global military blueprint whose goals would have been familiar to any Cold War strategist of the latter half of the previous century. With an utter inability to focus, the QDR claimed that the U.S. military needed to be prepared to act in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. In addition, plans are now well underway to beef up the Pentagon’s ability to project power into the melting Arctic as part of a global race for resources brewing there.

Being prepared to go to war on every continent but Antarctica means that significant reductions in the historically unprecedented, globe-spanning network of military bases Washington set up in the Cold War and after will be limited at best. Where changes happen, they will predictably be confined largely to smaller facilities rather than large operating bases. A planned pullout from three bases in the United Kingdom, for instance, will only mean sending most of the American personnel stationed on them to other British facilities. As the Associated Press noted recently, the Pentagon’s base closures in Europe involve mostly “smaller bases that were remnants of the Cold War.” While the U.S. lost almost all its bases in Iraq and has dismantled many of its bases in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s base structure in the Greater Middle East is still remarkably strong and its ability to maintain or expand the U.S. troop presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t be underestimated.

In addition to maintaining its huge network of formal bases, the Pentagon is also planning to increase what it calls its “rotational” presence: training missions, port visits, and military exercises. In these areas, if anything, its profile is expanding, not shrinking. U.S. Special Forces operatives were, for instance, deployed to 134 nations, or almost 70% of the countries in the world, in fiscal year 2014. So even as the size and shape of the American military footprint undergoes some alteration, the Pentagon’s goal of global reach, of being at least theoretically more or less everywhere at once, is being maintained.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stepped up its use of drones, Special Forces, and “train and equip” programs that create proxy armies to enforce Washington’s wishes. In this way, it hopes to produce a new way of war designed to reduce the Pentagon’s reliance on large boots-on-the-ground operations, without affecting its strategic stretch.

This approach is, however, looking increasingly dubious. Barely a decade into its drone wars, for example, it’s already clear that a drone-heavy approach simply doesn’t work as planned. As Andrew Cockburn notes in his invaluable new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, a study based on the U.S. military’s own internal data found that targeted assassinations carried out by drones resulted in an increase in attacks on U.S. forces. As for the broader political backlash generated by such strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, it’s clear enough by now that they act as effective recruitment tools for terror organizations among a fearful and traumatized population living under their constant presence.

At a theoretical level, the drone may seem the perfect weapon for a country committed to “covering the globe” and quite literally waging war anywhere on the planet at any time. In reality, it seems to have the effect of spreading chaos and conflict, not snuffing it out. In addition, drones are only effective in places where neither air defenses nor air forces are available; that is, the backlands of the planet. Otherwise, as weapons, they are sitting ducks.

Washington’s strategy documents are filled with references to non-military approaches to security, but such polite rhetoric is belied in the real world by a striking over-investment in military capabilities at the expense of civilian institutions. The Pentagon budget is 12 times larger than the budgets for the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, it takes roughly the same number of personnel to operate just one of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier task forces as there are trained diplomats in the State Department. Not surprisingly, such an imbalance only increases the likelihood that, in the face of any crisis anywhere, diplomatic alternatives will take a back seat, while a military response will be the option of choice, in fact, the only serious option considered.

In the twenty-first century, with its core budget still at historically high levels, the Pentagon has also been expanding into areas like “security assistance”—the arming, training, and equipping of foreign military and police forces. In the post-9/11 years, for instance, the Pentagon has developed a striking range of military and police aid programs of the kind that have traditionally been funded and overseen by the State Department. According to data provided by the Security Assistance Monitor, a project designed to systematically track U.S. military and police aid, the Pentagon now delivers arms and training through 18 separate programs that provide assistance to the vast majority of the world’s armed forces.

Having so many ways to deliver aid is handy for the Pentagon, but a nightmare for members of Congress or the public trying to keep track of them all. Seven of the programs are new initiatives authorized last year alone. More than 160 nations, or 82% of all countries, now receive some form of arms and training from the United States.

In a similar fashion, in these years the Pentagon has moved with increasing aggressiveness into the field of humanitarian aid. In their new book Mission Creep, Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray describe the range of non-military activities it now routinely carries out. These include “drilling wells, building roads, constructing schools and clinics, advising national and local governments, and supplying mobile services of optometrists, dentists, doctors, and veterinarians overseas.” The specific examples they cite underscore the point: “Army National Guardsmen drilling wells in Djibouti; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building school houses in Azerbaijan; and U.S. Navy Seabees building a post-natal care facility in Cambodia.”

If one were to choose a single phrase to explain why General Dempsey thinks the Pentagon is starved for funds, it would be “too many missions.” No amount of funding could effectively deal with the almost endless shopping list of global challenges the U.S. military has mandated itself to address, most of which do not have military solutions in any case.

The answer is not more money (though that may not stop Congress and the president from dumping billions more into the Pentagon’s slush fund). It’s a far more realistic strategy—or put another way, maybe it’s a strategy of any sort in which the only operative word is not “more.”

The Pentagon’s promotion of an open-ended strategy isn’t just a paper tiger of a problem. It has life-and-death consequences and monetary ones, too. When President Obama’s critics urge him to bomb Syria, or put more ground troops in Iraq, or arm and train the security forces in Ukraine, they are fully in line with the Pentagon’s expansive view of the military’s role in the world, a role that would involve taxpayer dollars in even more staggering quantities.

Attempting to maintain a genuine global reach will, in the end, prove far more expensive than the wars the United States is currently fighting. This year’s administration request for Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, both against the Islamic State (IS), was a relatively modest $5.8 billion, or roughly 1% of the resources currently available to the Department of Defense. As yet not even John McCain is suggesting anything on the scale of the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq, which peaked at over 160,000 troops and cost significantly more than a trillion dollars. By comparison, the Obama administration’s bombing campaign against IS, supplemented by the dispatch of roughly 3,000 troops, remains, as American operations of the twenty-first century go, a relatively modest undertaking—at least by Pentagon standards. There are reasons to oppose U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria based on the likely outcomes, but so far intervention in those nations has not strained the Pentagon’s massive budget.

As for Ukraine, even if the administration were to change course and decide to provide weapons to the government there, it would still not make a dent in its proposed $50 billion war budget, much less in the Pentagon’s proposed $534 billion base budget.

Using the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria as arguments for pumping up Pentagon spending is a political tactic of the moment, not a strategic necessity. The only real reason to bust the present already expansive budget caps—besides pleasing the arms industry and its allies in Congress—is to attempt to entrench the sort of ad hoc military-first global policy being promoted as the American way for decades to come. Every crisis, every development not pleasing to Washington anywhere on Earth is, according to this school of thought, what the Pentagon must be “capable” of dealing with. What’s needed, but completely dismissed in Washington, is of course a radical rethinking of American priorities.

General Dempsey and his colleagues may be right. Current levels of Pentagon spending may not be able to support current defense strategy. The answer to this problem is right before our eyes: cut the money and change the strategy. That would be acting in the name of a conception of national security that was truly strategic.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His most recent book is Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

‘Ghost Boy’ Who Woke Up After 12 Years in Vegetative State

By Martin Pistorius, Christian Post, March 25, 2015

Editor’s Note: At the age of 12, an unknown illness left Martin Pistorius wheelchair bound and unable to speak. He spent years in institutions—unable to physically or verbally communicate, though his mind was fully intact. After more than a decade in a vegetative state, Martin came back to life when he learned to communicate using computer technology. Martin is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body.

I was 12-years-old when I came home from school one day complaining of a sore throat. Within 15 months, I was wheelchair-bound, mute and completely unresponsive. My parents were told that I was severely brain damaged and would surely die.

Doctors ran test after test but could not make a conclusive diagnosis. All they could say was that I was suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder. Lost in my dark, unseeing world, I was awake but unresponsive, unaware of anything around me. My parents were advised to put me into an institution where death would soon claim me.

But it did not. And one day, about four years after I first fell ill, I started coming back to life. It was flashes at first: moments of awareness that left me almost as soon as they appeared. It took time for me to realize that I was completely alone in the middle of a sea of people: entombed in my body because my limbs were unresponsive and spastic and my voice was mute. I couldn’t make a sign or a sound to tell anyone that I had come back to life.

Have you ever seen one of those movies in which someone wakes up as a ghost but they don’t know that they’ve died? That’s how it was, as I realized people were looking through and around me. However much I tried to beg and plead, shout and scream, I couldn’t make them notice me. I was trapped inside my body: the ghost boy.

I was utterly alone, until God came into my life. Waking up one night, I felt as if I were leaving my body. Floating upwards, I somehow knew that I was not breathing. But I also understood that I was not alone: angels were comforting and guiding me. I wanted to leave my life to be with them. I had nothing to live for, no reason to continue my journey on earth. But I also knew that I couldn’t go with them. I couldn’t leave behind the family that loved me and who had already been ripped apart by my illness. I had to stay.

The next moment, breath filled my lungs.

By the age of 19, I was completely aware and knew that God was with me as my mind knitted itself back together. Although I had grown up in a Christian home, we rarely attended services and I’d never learned the formalities of the church. But despite this, I instinctively knew that God was with me every moment.

I found myself talking to Him. Perhaps one could call them prayers, even though my eyes may have been open and my hands weren’t pressed together. Even as I wrestled with frustration and despair, I prayed for help, strength and forgiveness for myself and others. I gave thanks for the blessings I had and especially for the prayers answered. It might have been something as small as someone moving my body into a different position, which alleviated the pain that comes with being left in one position hour after hour. Or it was as significant as praying to keep my family safe because I was always terrified that they would come to harm. I learned through my prayers to be grateful for my blessings and found strength to survive even the darkest moments.

God was always there, a constant companion. And while a part of me experienced the extreme loneliness of being trapped inside my body, another always felt the presence of the Lord. We shared something important: I didn’t have proof that He existed but I knew He was real. God did the same for me. Unlike the people around me, God knew I existed. He was always with me.

My life changed forever when I was 25. A massage therapist who worked at the care home I attended began to suspect that I could understand what she was saying and urged my parents to have me tested. On the morning that I was evaluated at a specialized communication center in 2001, I prayed to God that someone would see the intelligence that was trapped inside me. They did. The experts realized I could understand simple commands and began to teach me how to communicate again—first using flash cards and switches and eventually advanced computer software. Within 18 months, I was able to verbally communicate using my “computer voice.” I started to lecture about alternative communication and did voluntary work. In the years since, I’ve graduated with a first class honors degree in computer science and set up my own business as a web developer.

In so many ways, my life had been blessed. But there was one thing I longed for: love. Still in a wheelchair and unable to speak, I wondered if anyone would ever see past my physical limitations to the person inside.

On New Year’s Day 2008, my parents and I called my sister on Skype because she was living in England. In the room with her was a woman who captivated me. Her name was Joanna. In the weeks and months that followed, we became friends, exchanged emails and chatted online—my typing and Joanna talking—and soon fell in love.

Meeting Joanna brought a new dimension to my faith. She had a very strong Christian upbringing and was actively involved in the church and the local community. Together we grew in faith, and a year later I moved to England to marry her.

I can hardly describe what a blessing it was for us to be joined in marriage. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the feeling of joy, happiness and thanks when we said our vows and the vicar proclaimed, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder”. For us that moment was palpable: the fact that the Lord brought us together and we knew He was with us as we were joined together in His presence was a moment that will stay with us forever.

Today, God is all around us, always there and a constant part of my life. For me being a Christian and having God in our life together isn’t a choice, it’s a fact. I continue to pray throughout each day because I know that God is with me and I can’t help but to talk to Him.

Had it not been for God’s hand, I would not be where I am today. I am sure of that. If I stop and think about everything that happened to me and the odds of not only surviving but coming back to life, there is no doubt in my mind that this could only have happened through divine intervention.

People often ask me if I was ever angry at God, if I ever railed against the path that I had to follow. The simple answer is no. I never questioned Him or wondered, “why me?” I never doubted Him or His presence. When I came back to life, I instinctively knew He was with me. Just as I instinctively knew that I could not blame or be angry with Him. I simply had to have faith. And I did.