The West Point Soldier Who Called It as He Saw It

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Fist raised, Spenser Rapone displays a slogan written inside his cap after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in May 2016. (Courtesy of Spenser Rapone via AP)

Editor’s note: On the outside, Spenser Rapone’s West Point graduation uniform looked like all the other cadets’. Underneath his dress uniform, however, was evidence of his political views: a T-shirt bearing Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara’s image, and a cap that read, inside, “Communism will win.”

The shirt and hat made waves in the U.S. military community after Rapone posted photos of them on social media in September, and now he has been given an “other than honorable” discharge. According to The Associated Press, he was charged with “conduct unbecoming of an officer” after an Army investigation determined that he “went online to promote a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers.”

In the following statement for Truthdig, Rapone explains his political beliefs.

I am a combat veteran with the First Ranger Battalion, a recent graduate of West Point and a former second lieutenant who was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Since identifying myself as a socialist, there has been much controversy generated by a number of my public statements.

It began with my post on social media, in which I expressed my full and enthusiastic support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his fight against racial injustice, white supremacy and police brutality. After revealing a picture of myself in uniform with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, I was met by solidarity from my fellow soldiers, as well as harsh blowback from my chain of command.

To this day, I stand by my convictions, despite the efforts of ranking officers to pressure me into silence. I believe that standing up for the exploited and the oppressed is the most honorable thing we can do as people. No job should hinder or repress this pursuit, which is why I decided to resign my commission as an officer in the United States Army. My conditional resignation was denied by the secretary of the Army. Instead, the military forced me into either submitting an unconditional resignation or appearing before a board of inquiry—an adversarial trial in which a jury of senior officers would determine my fate. Rather than submit to the antics of what amounts to a show trial at best, I tendered my unconditional resignation. Passing judgment on me one last time, the military determined the character of my service to be “other than honorable.” Despite the brass prolonging my time in service, I have come to the conclusion that leaving the military altogether, whatever the circumstances, is the only moral way forward. During this ordeal, I have learned that I am far from alone in my feelings of disillusionment and betrayal within the rank and file of the U.S. military.

As a teenager, I believed the United States military was a force of good for the world. I thought that I signed up to fight for freedom and democracy, to protect my loved ones and my country from harm. My experiences showed me otherwise.

After bearing witness to the senseless destruction in Afghanistan during my combat deployment to Khost Province in the summer of 2011, I knew that our wars must be stopped. I was assigned to my platoon as an assistant machine-gunner. I took part in missions where human beings were killed, captured and terrorized. However, the horror wrought by the U.S. military’s overseas ventures is not limited to combat engagements alone. Some nights, we barely did anything at all but walk through a village. As such, the longer I was there, the more it became apparent that the mere presence of an occupying force was a form of violence. My actions overseas did not help or protect anybody. I felt like I was little more than a bully, surrounded by the most well-armed and technologically advanced military in history, in one of the poorest countries in the world. I saw many of my fellow soldiers all too eager to carry out violence for the sake of violence. There is no honor in such bloodlust; quite the contrary. I saw firsthand how U.S. foreign policy sought to carry out the subjugation of poor, brown people in order to steal natural resources, expand American hegemony and extinguish the self-determination of any group that dare oppose the empire. Idealistic and without a coherent worldview yet, I thought that perhaps pursuing an officer’s commission would allow me to change things and help put a stop to the madness. I was wrong.

It soon dawned on me how pervasive the military-industrial complex is. I studied, examined my own experiences and began to grasp more completely the horrors and impact of U.S. imperialism. Learning that over a million people have lost their lives since 9/11—the vast majority being innocent civilians—began to haunt me. Seeing that up to a trillion dollars a year were being diverted from education, health care and infrastructure in the U.S. to support our 800 military bases around the world began to feel increasingly maddening. Within the Army itself, one out of three women are sexually assaulted. The death of football player and later soldier Pat Tillman by friendly fire was covered up to sell a war. Generals responsible for war crimes—from the unbridled destruction of Afghan and Iraqi villages to the construction of torture prisons—are rewarded with accolades and political power. These sad and dishonorable truths increasingly grew impossible to ignore. The military was not the noble and selfless institution the commercials and Hollywood movies made it out to be—far from it.

At West Point, I soon found myself at odds with my future role as someone tasked with the responsibility of leading soldiers into battle. However, leaving West Point after my junior year would have meant returning to the enlisted ranks or finding a way to come up with a quarter-million dollars to pay the academy back. So I stuck it out, hoping I would find a way to reconcile this contradiction. Again, I was wrong. Upon returning to Fort Benning, Ga., to begin my training as an infantry officer following graduation, I was filled with dread. It was like I was in a place simultaneously familiar and unknown. There were things I noticed that my 18-year-old self could not have recognized before. Most strikingly, I observed the scope of the brainwashing within the ranks, from bald, buzz-cut, mostly teenage infantrymen fresh out of training, to college graduates eager to lead those naïve soldiers into America’s next war. I felt witness to a collective delusion—one that I was once a part of, but had somehow miraculously escaped. After nearly a year there, as I prepared to move to my new duty station at Fort Drum, one thing became clear: I cannot be a part of this any longer. I cannot kill or die for the U.S. military—no one should.

I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. My feelings and experiences are not an anomaly. I know, because I have had conversations with others who have expressed the same sentiments.

You are out there, and should you take the same steps that I have, I am with you. While the prospect is daunting, united together we have far more power than all of the generals and politicians combined. We possess the ability to grind this entire military machine to a halt. It is high time we live up to the trust and respect bestowed upon us by the people. Let our mutual love of humanity and our desire for liberation and peace be our guiding principles.

Most importantly, let us find common cause with the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Libya and so many others who have suffered at the behest of the United States. To those soldiers who I’ve heard from, and to those I haven’t yet, I hope that you too find the courage to lay your weapons down with me, and refuse your orders to kill and die for the benefit of a handful of ruling-class elites at the great expense of the rest of us. Freedom lies on the other side. Together, let us fight to put a stop to these endless trillion-dollar wars, and let us join our brothers and sisters around the world in putting a stop to all forms of exploitation, oppression and senseless violence.

By Spenser Rapone/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

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Russia’s Putin and Israel’s Netanyahu negotiate . . . about what?

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Russia's Putin and Israel's Netanyahu negotiate . . . about what?

“Russia has friendly relations with Israel, and more than a million Russian Jews emigrated to Israel, but Iran is a strategic ally of Russia.”

Last week major state and corporate news outlets reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met and agreed on removing Iranian troops from Syria and/or Iran’s border with Syria. Then, on June 3rd, Haaretz and other outlets reported that Israel had, for the first time, participated in a NATO “exercise” near the Russian border. I spoke to Rick Sterling, an investigative journalist specializing in Syria, about what could be behind these reports.

Ann Garrison: I’d like to go through some of these disparate reports about Russia and Israel one by one, but first, what do you think of Israel’s first ever participation in NATO war games near the Russian border?

Rick Sterling: The head of NATO recently confirmed that NATO would NOT get into a war involving Israel because Israel is not a NATO member. But Israel is a “partner,” and in 2014 the US Congress designated Israel as a “major strategic partner.” So I think Israel may be participating in the war maneuvers to demonstrate that it’s a good partner. Of course, Russia sees the NATO military exercises on its border as provocative. They are countering with their own military exercises, so it’s just a continuation in the wrong direction away from peace and mutual acceptance.

AG: OK, now to these reports about negotiations between Russia and Israel. Just before the news that Israel had participated in NATO war games near Russia, Bloomberg News reported that Israel was campaigning to break the alliance between Iran and Russia. What do you think of that?

RS: It’s certainly true that Israel is playing the diplomatic game and trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran, but the stories are highly exaggerated. They contain both contradictory information and outright disinformation. Russia has friendly relations with Israel, and more than a million Russian Jews emigrated to Israel. But Iran is a strategic ally of Russia.

AG: On June 2nd, the Times of Israel reported that Israel denies inking a deal with Russia on Iranian withdrawal from Syria. What about that?

RS:Well, I haven’t seen any written deal. So what we’re going on are media reports, which are spun in different directions. So, number one, I don’t know if there was a written agreement. Number two, it’s certainly the case that Israel is not only saying that they don’t want Iranian militia or advisors anywhere near the border with the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, but also that they want them all out of Syria.

“Israel exaggerates the Iranian involvement in Syria for its own purposes.”

Russia and Syria may have agreed to relocate some of the Iranian advisors or Iranian militias away from the Golan Heights border. There were reports that some of those forces were headed out to eastern Syria to do combat there against ISIS, which continues to hold an important area. But even if Israel is trying to insist that no Iranian advisors or militia be in Syria, I can’t see Syria or any sovereign state agreeing to such a demand. Israel exaggerates the Iranian involvement in Syria for its own purposes.

AG: Asharq Al-Aswat reported, also on June 2nd, that Russia and Israel had agreed to keep Iran away from Syria’s South.

RS: Asharq Al-Aswat is a Saudi-owned newspaper coming out of London, so the Saudi influence and heavy anti-Iran bias is evident. The one element of this story that may be true is that the US may actually be uncomfortable with any agreement regarding the US forces that control the area around Al Tanf, a Syrian border area with Iraq. That’s the main highway from Baghdad to Damascus, and it’s currently controlled by US military and various armed militants—including former ISIS fighters—who are trained and controlled by the US. The US doesn’t want to give that up, but the Syrian foreign minister is not mincing his words. He’s saying that all the US forces must leave Syria eventually, and specifically that they should leave that area at the Syria-Iraq border soon.

Al Tanf and the highway between Iraq and Syria is a flashpoint. The US has no right to be there but seems to be digging in while Syria is getting increasingly adamant that they must leave. Things may come to a head there.

AG: Al Monitor says that Russia is “trying a new playbook to calm the escalation between Israel and Iran.” How about that?

RS: I think that’s true. What we’ve seen emerge in the last several years is that the diplomat in the room is Russia. If you look at what’s going on there, the Russian diplomacy is quite impressive and at times quite surprising. Six or eight months ago, the Saudi monarch flew to Moscow for the very first time. Russia brought Iran and Turkey together at the Astana talks, and Russia is trying to soothe the tension and danger of conflict between Israel and Iran. So that story is probably accurate.

AG: Have you seen any reports about negotiations between Russia and Israel on RT, Russia’s state- sponsored English outlet?

RS: I’ve seen some RT coverage, both stories and photographs. They certainly don’t put the spin on it that some of the Western and Israeli media do.

The fundamental fact is that Russia doesn’t want to go to war with the US. They realize how dangerous the situation in Syria currently is. They are not going to give up their long-term alliance with Syria, but at the same time, they’re doing everything they can to cool things down and avoid a head-on conflict.

AG: OK, so we’ve gone through just a sample of the wildly disparate reports and commentary about this, but after reading a lot of it, I had the feeling that this is headed toward the Balkanization of Syria, which has been much discussed for a long time. What are your thoughts about that?

RS: Well, that’s the reality on the ground right now. Turkey is occupying part of the north. Israel and Israeli-supported terrorists are occupying part of the south. The US and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control big swathes of eastern Syria. So Balkanization is already the informal reality on the ground.

In early 2016, John Kerry called it “plan B,” dividing up Syria and partitioning it. He didn’t say it quite that explicitly, but he was clearly suggesting that that’s where things were headed. Now, in opposition to that, you’ve got the Syrian government saying that it will not allow partition and that the US has to leave Syria. Both Assad and the Syrian foreign minister are saying that increasingly forcefully. So we’ll have to see. At the same time it’s dangerous because there’s also threatening talk coming from the United States.

“John Kerry called it “plan B,” dividing up Syria and partitioning it.”

The US, Turkey, and Israel are, of course, violating international law codified in the UN Charter by their military presence in Syria, but the Syrian government seems to be taking things step by step with the support of Russia and Iran. Hopefully, progress can be made and the conflict can be wound down. That would certainly be to the benefit of all Americans as well as Syrians and other peoples of the Middle East.

AG: Do you think that Russia is opposed to Balkanization?

RS: Oh, absolutely. They’re opposed to it. They saw what happened with the war in Yugoslavia and the split, the separation into smaller, weaker states.

Russia also has its own experience with Western and Saudi-funded terrorism. If you look at a map, Syria is not that far from Russia, so of course they are very concerned with the situation there. They have a big stake in seeing the conflict wind down and a peaceful resolution, remote as that may seem. They’re taking the lead in helping to resolve it and working toward reconciliation, which is going to require concessions on the part of Damascus. Russia has explicitly talked about an internationally supervised election in Syria, and hopefully that’s where things will end rather than in World War III.

The question is whether the US and its allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, will give up their goal of “regime change” in Syria. Or will they continue to finance and arm the opposition to further bleed Syria and its allies? The US and allies are prolonging the conflict behind a pretense of humanitarian concern. Meanwhile they ignore obvious travesties such as the Israeli killings at the Gaza border.

AG: And just one more point of clarification regarding the presence of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Syria. Their presence is legal, according to international law, because they’re there at the request of the Syrian government. Right?

RS: Yes, that’s correct. Russia, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are in Syria supporting Syrian sovereignty. The Iranian presence in the West tends to be wildly exaggerated, but they do have militia there. They also have advisors, and they’ve lent economic support to Syria. Both Lebanon and Iran know that their own governments are at risk there.

Of course, it was General Wesley Clark who said, back in 2007, that the US had a hit list of seven countries, and we’ve already seen several of them overthrown. Lebanon and Iran know they’re on that list. I’m sure they all realize that if the Syrian state is destroyed, if the government there is toppled and chaos reigns as it does in Libya, they’ll be the next targets. So they’re there for their own sake and for regional stability, not just to support their ally Syria.

By Ann Garrison/BAR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

An Alarming Tip About a Neo-Nazi Marine, Then An Uncertain Response

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It was Oct. 29, 2017, when Ed Beck decided he had to contact the military police.

For weeks, Beck had been tracking the online life of a 21-year-old lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said he had concluded the young man, a North Carolina native named Vasillios Pistolis, was deeply involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist activities.

Beck said he had compiled an exhaustive dossier on the young Marine, tracing the evolution of Pistolis’ racist worldview over recent years and linking him to violent altercations at the bloody white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. The most recent piece of evidence, Beck said, was a fresh video that appeared to show Pistolis standing alongside a leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a fascist group, during a confrontation with an interracial couple at a restaurant in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee.

Beck was well positioned both to be offended by Pistolis’ alleged conduct and to report it: Beck had served in the Marines from 2002 through 2006, including a tour in Iraq. In fact, he’d been assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Unit, the same unit in which Pistolis was serving.

Beck said he contacted the authorities at the unit’s headquarters, Camp Lejeune, a large Marine Installation on the North Carolina coast, and spoke briefly with an investigator for the post’s military police.

“I told them what I had seen him do, the evidence I had,” recalled Beck.

Beck said he offered to share his dossier with Marine detectives, but they didn’t take him up on the offer.

After the phone conversation, he said, “I never heard a thing.”

Beck’s phone bill, which he provided to ProPublica and FRONTLINE, shows that he spoke multiple times with personnel at Camp Lejeune on Oct. 29. The records indicate that he received a brief six-minute call from military police at 9:24 that night.

More than six months later, Pistolis is still serving in the Marines.

At this juncture, it’s unclear precisely what steps if any the Marines took after Beck alerted them to Pistolis. What is certain is that in May, after ProPublica and FRONTLINE featured Pistolis in a joint report about his violent involvement in the white power movement, the Marines said they were investigating Pistolis.

Contacted last week about Beck’s claim of having alerted the military authorities about Pistolis last fall, officials offered varying accounts.

One military official indicated that police at Camp Lejeune and detectives with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the unit that handles felony-level offenses in the Navy and Marines, had been diligently investigating Pistolis since receiving the information about him from Beck. Another person with knowledge of the matter, an officer with the Marine Corps, indicated that Pistolis had been questioned by NCIS, but that detectives found no connection to any organized groups or evidence that he posed a threat.

In the end, NCIS acknowledged that Pistolis is today the subject of a criminal probe, but added little detail.

“We do not discuss ongoing investigations,” said Adam Stump, an NCIS spokesman. “Regarding the service member you have asked about, the investigation is still ongoing. We cannot discuss further.”

A spokesman for Pistolis’ unit, Samir Glenn-Roundtree, said, “Marines accused of activity counter to our standards and core values are entitled to a thorough and impartial review. We have no further information to provide as the investigation is still ongoing.”

ProPublica and FRONTLINE’s reporting on Pistolis made clear the Marine has spent years in the white power movement, including a stint as a cell leader for the Atomwaffen Division, an armed white supremacist group that espouses political terrorism and the overthrow of the U.S. government. In confidential chats, Pistolis, who received expert rifleman certification during his basic training in 2016 and currently works as a water support technician, claimed to have assaulted four people at last summer’s rally in Charlottesville.

“Today cracked 3 skulls open with virtually no damage to myself,” Pistolis wrote on Aug. 12, 2017.

The young man’s double life came as a shock to U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, who shortly after the ProPublica and FRONTLINE report asked the Pentagon to explain what it was doing to keep neo-Nazis out of the armed forces.

Marine Corps regulations forbid the “participation in supremacist or extremist organizations or activities” and violations can lead to a court martial or an ouster from the service. The Department of Defense has also issued rules barring all service members from joining white supremacist rallies or demonstrations.

In interviews last month with ProPublica and FRONTLINE, Pistolis asked the news organizations not to publicize his involvement in the neo-Nazi movement. He denied being in Charlottesville, and said he had not been a member of Atomwaffen, but instead had infiltrated on behalf of another neo-Nazi group. He said he had come under suspicion by NCIS months ago, but believed that investigators had backed off.

As for Beck, his interest in Pistolis started last August when a friend pointed him to a comment Pistolis had made on Facebook. In it, Pistolis seemed to glorify one of the men who had attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the biggest white power event in a generation.

Beck said he began scrolling through Pistolis’ social media channels and quickly realized that Pistolis was an active-duty Marine — and that he was fairly open about his love of Nazism. Beck, who now works at a New York nonprofit organization, became alarmed. He said he feared that Pistolis “could be radicalizing people around him” in the Marine Corps, or that he might be part of a larger network of white supremacists within the service. Through his research he said he began to worry that Pistolis “might get more violent” unless someone intervened.

In one Facebook post identified by Beck, Pistolis encouraged people to watch a revisionist documentary called “The Greatest Story Never Told,” which praises Hitler. “This should be watched by all,” he enthused. In other posts, Beck says he uncovered Pistolis praised the Golden Dawn, a Greek fascist organization, derided gays and lesbians, and uploaded a snapshot of his AK-47-style assault rifle.

Pistolis used the handle Vasillios88 on Instagram and was known as billythegreek88 on Snapchat; 88 is a widely-used white supremacist code meaning “Heil Hitler.”

Beck was shocked that the young Marine would be so public with his views. “It was stunning. It was absolutely astonishing,” he recalled.

Beck had no contact with ProPublica or FRONTLINE prior to our report in May. He later reached out to the news organizations to alert them to the action he said he’d taken last fall.

For Beck, Pistolis seemed both an embarrassment and a threat. Pistolis had been a member of Junior ROTC throughout high school before enlisting in the service. As Beck put it in his dossier, Pistolis’ online self-revelations showed him to be “a hateful and well-armed boy, then man, reveling in white supremacy, white nationalism, and outright Nazism for years.”

Combing through photos and shaky phone-camera video of the Charlottesville melees, Beck found Pistolis popping up over and over. There were shots of Pistolis carrying a custom-made flag featuring the Sonnenrad, a circular Nazi emblem, blended together with the Confederate battle banner. There were images of him swinging the wooden flagpole at people, and others of him holding a torch during a nighttime melee with counter-protesters at the University of Virginia.

Beck’s findings support some of the reporting by ProPublica and FRONTLINE, which placed Pistolis in the center of several altercations in Charlottesville. Through interviews, photos, and confidential chat logs, the news organizations concluded that Pistolis had been a leader in the Atomwaffen Division at the time of the rally and had traveled to Virginia intent on violence. In private online discussions, he boasted repeatedly about attacking Emily Gorcenski, a Charlottesville local who came out to demonstrate against the white supremacists.

Pistolis is at least the third Marine to face discipline in recent months for involvement with racial extremist groups.

Last year, two Marines were arrested by local police after they climbed a building in Graham, North Carolina, and unfurled a banner with a white power slogan and a symbol associated with European extremist movements. The banner drop came during a demonstration in support of Confederate monuments. Both Marines have since been “administratively separated” from the service. One of the men, Staff Sgt. Joseph Manning, was also stationed at Camp Lejeune, while the other, Sgt. Michael Chesny, was based nearby at Cherry Point Air Station.

At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Heidi Beirich has been monitoring the overlap between the military and the white power movement for more than a decade. Beirich said she is concerned by the recent reports on Pistolis and his fellow Marines — and noted that Camp Lejeune has had problems with racial extremists in the past, including a lance corporal who was sentenced to 100 months in federal prison in 2010 for threatening the life of then-President Barack Obama and for committing an armed robbery.

Beirich said she was disturbed that the Marine Corps hadn’t acted more swiftly to expel Pistolis and wondered how aggressively the military was dealing with the broader issue of white supremacist infiltration.

“I wish I could get a clear take on the enforcement,” said Beirich, director of the center’s Intelligence Project. “It’s one thing to have a regulation on the books, it’s another thing to actually enforce it.”

By A.C. Thompson • Ali Winston/Frontline

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Dick Cheney: Restart enhanced interrogation programs

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. should restart its enhanced interrogation techniques — often considered torture — after the issue was thrust to the forefront during Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become CIA director.

“If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs,” he said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox Business. “I’d have them active and ready to go, and I’d go back and study them and learn.”

 Cheney has long defended the post-9/11 tactics even as the national climate shifted over the years. Congress has since banned them.

More from Politico

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Why Can’t the World’s Most Powerful Military Win Its Wars? This country needs to rethink war and reevaluate its place in the world.

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“This time, they think they have it right.”

So declared an Associated Press story reporting an upbeat assessment by this country’s top military officer at the end of a five-day visit to Afghanistan earlier this spring. Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was heading home from the war zone, the AP reporter wrote, “with a palpable sense of optimism” about the U.S.-supported war against Taliban and Islamic State fighters there.

Light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps?

The story didn’t say whether any of the reporters listening to General Dunford asked why it had taken more than 16 years for the world’s leading military power to come up with the “fundamentally different approach” that the general believes has put U.S. and Afghan forces on the path to success. (None of the changes he mentioned really sounded fundamental, either.) Still, it’s a question worth asking: If Americans are right in ceaselessly telling themselves that theirs is the most powerful country the world has ever seen and that their military is the “greatest fighting force ever,” as President Trump calls it, should it have been this hard and taken this long to find a way — if they really have — to defeat enemies whose war-making resources are a tiny fraction of ours?

As has happened often during our current conflicts, that piece of news from Afghanistan got me thinking about an earlier war that I witnessed first-hand as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun during its final three years.

In Vietnam, as in subsequent American wars, the United States and its local allies had staggering advantages in all the conventional measures of military strength, yet failed to win. It makes me wonder: If U.S. political and military leaders and the American public remembered Vietnam more honestly, if painful truths hadn’t been cloaked in comforting mythologies, might this country have responded more intelligently and effectively to the violent challenges we’ve faced in the current century?

Consider, for example, the persistent story that America lost in Vietnam because U.S. troops fought with one hand tied behind their backs — because, that is, the politicians were “afraid to let them win,” as Ronald Reagan once put it. The implication is clear: we could and should have won that war by doing more of what we were already doing or keeping at it longer (and should do the same in other conflicts, if military force does not seem to be succeeding).

But did the United States really lose in Vietnam for lack of force?

Not Exactly a Limited War

Plenty of facts suggest otherwise. Take the amount of destructive power the U.S. employed. “Devastating conventional firepower unparalleled in military history,” a study by the Army’s logistics command called it, adding that, along with extraordinary tonnages of air and ground ordnance, American commanders fought with virtually no restrictions on mobility, equipment, or supplies: “The logistics scene was characterized by almost unlimited supply, remarkable high operational readiness rates as applied to equipment, a seemingly endless flow of ammunition and petroleum, and immunity for the most part from external fiscal restraints.”

Even to one who heard a bit of the gunfire from time to time, the statistics on U.S. firepower are mind-boggling. Pentagon records show that, for long periods, the American military and Saigon government forces fired ammunition at rates up to an astonishing 600 times higher than the enemy’s — 100,000 tons of ground munitions a month for all of 1969, for example, compared to just 150 tons from the Communist side. In 1974, with U.S. forces no longer directly engaged in combat and allied South Vietnamese commanders moaning nonstop about shortages caused by reductions in American military aid, Saigon’s forces still used 65 tons of ammunition for every ton fired by the enemy.

Those figures don’t include air ordnance, which would make the ratios even more grotesquely one-sided. Over the course of the war, U.S. aircraft dropped approximately twice as many tons of bombs on North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as combined Allied forces dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.

In light of those numbers, the claim that America’s war in Vietnam was fought under undue restrictions is less than convincing. If U.S. troops couldn’t win — or leave our ally in a position to win — after fighting for seven years with an almost unimaginable edge in firepower, technology, and mobility, the much more logical conclusion is that U.S. military doctrine and Washington’s concept of military strength simply did not apply to that conflict.

And what about the doctrine that a later generation of U.S. soldiers took with them into Afghanistan and Iraq?

“Full spectrum dominance” was the watchword in a 2000 document, “Joint Vision 2020” (updated from a 1996 version), which the authors described as a “conceptual template” for the U.S. military’s evolution over the two decades to come. Its language was even more hubristic than that slogan suggests: “a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations — persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict… prepared to win across the full range of military operations in any part of the world… [with the ability] to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations.”

Defeat any adversary? Control any situation?

Nine-tenths of the way to the year 2020, U.S. soldiers, with all of their firepower and technology, have not achieved anything close to total dominance on the battlefields where they have been engaged. They have not dominated poorly armed fighters. Or insurgents planting low-tech, low-costexplosive devices. Or local cops and officials whom we would like to stop shaking down citizens and undermining the public support we say is crucial for counterinsurgency warfare.

To put it bluntly, the experience of the last nearly 17 years makes “full spectrum dominance” sound like a delusional fantasy.

When the large-scale U.S. intervention in Vietnam began, the great triumph of World War II was just 20 years in the past. That war was the formative experience for the generation of senior officers who led the American military into Vietnam, so perhaps their arrogance was understandable. The inventors of full spectrum dominance and the commanders they influenced came along almost exactly the same number of years after Vietnam, which makes their illusion of omnipotence harder to understand.

At the other end of their respective wars, members of both groups insisted (and continue to insist) that the fault was not in their strategy or how they conducted it. Instead, they claim, they were denied success because the politicians limited them too much or made them stop too soon. There’s no way to prove or disprove counterfactual statements of that sort, but given the length of time they had to win those wars — twice as long (in Vietnam) or three times (in Iraq) or close to four times as many years (in Afghanistan) as it took to reach victory in World War II — that claim, like the one-hand-behind-the-back argument, has a very hollow ring to it.

Time to Revise Sun Tzu: Know Your Friend

If my computer’s search function is working properly, the words “ally,” “allied,” “host government,” and “local forces” appear nowhere in the “Joint Vision 2020” paper. That’s a telling omission. In Vietnam and our more recent wars, the weaknesses of Washington’s local partners — which U.S. officials have been stunningly reluctant to recognize — should be seen as the fundamental reason those wars have been so unsuccessful despite the overwhelming advantage in material resources that U.S. forces and their allies possessed.

There’s an implication here for the American approach to intelligence (in both the narrow and broad senses of the word). While rethinking what military power means, perhaps we should reconsider what intelligence means, too. In particular, it would be useful to revisit the classic premise — stated more than 2,500 years ago by the Chinese sage Sun Tzu — that the first goal of intelligence is to “know your enemy.” It certainly would have been helpful in the last half-century’s wars if American commanders had known their opponents better. In Vietnam and since, though, by far the most damaging intelligence failure wasn’t not knowing our enemies well enough, but not knowing our friends. Consistently in these wars, Americans have overestimated their local ally’s capabilities while remaining blind, whether purposely or not, to the grave weaknesses of those forces.In Vietnam, American weapons, dollars, and advice created a South Vietnamese army that, on paper, should have easily defended its country, as Americans told themselves it could. But U.S. money and material did not make that ally’s commanders effective or competent, or compensate for the inadequate leadership that was, in the end, the critical reason for South Vietnam’s defeat by a much poorer but more skillful, disciplined, and resourceful opponent.

A strong case can be made that the American-allied Saigon regime’s single most toxic weakness was pervasive corruption. It wasn’t just that corruption angered and alienated the South Vietnamese populace, including the regime’s own soldiers. That was damaging enough, but the greater damage was that corruption fatally undermined the ability of both the government and the army to do their jobs. A 1966 memorandum by a study group in the U.S. mission in Saigon made that point in sharp terms:

“There is a deadly correlation between corruption at high levels in an administrative system and the spread throughout the system of incompetence, as higher-ups encourage and promote corrupt subordinates, and protect them from the consequences of poor performance of duty or direct disobedience of orders. Such a system demoralizes and ‘selects out’ the able and the dedicated who do not play the game.”

An author of that paper and the principal drafter of the section on corruption was Frank Scotton, one of the longest-serving and most knowledgeable U.S. officials in Vietnam. Writing on that theme in his memoir, Uphill Battle, Scotton quoted a Vietnamese general who told him that “he could name many corrupt officers, but not a single one who was both corrupt and an effective commander.” That general was eventually fired for his criticisms of the regime and sent into exile.

The study group put a “marked reduction of corruption” first on its list of recommendations for necessary reforms in South Vietnam. But in my time there, beginning nearly six years after that memorandum was written, the South Vietnamese system I observed still perfectly matched Scotton’s description. Exactly as he had noted years earlier, the most honest and capable officers I met were also the most frustrated and demoralized. By the time I left in the final evacuation from a defeated South Vietnam nearly three years later, I was convinced that corruption was the single biggest reason the Saigon government had lost the war. Nothing I’ve learned since has changed my mind on that.

Return of the Ghost Soldiers

I don’t have the same firsthand knowledge of Iraq or Afghanistan. But even from afar, it’s hard not to hear history rhyming, if not repeating itself.

Occasionally, news from those wars comes with a shock of absolute recognition, as when it was revealed — after the Islamic State offensive in Iraq exploded in the fall of 2014 and city after city fell to relatively small groups of militants — that the American-trained Iraqi army’s real strength was far lower than its strength on paper. That was because as many as 50,000 of the troops on that army’s rosters — the equivalent of four full divisions — were “ghost soldiers,” men who did not actually exist or had deserted but were still being paid, with their commanders pocketing their salaries. The city of Mosul, for example, was ostensibly defended by 25,000 government troops when the Islamic State militants attacked. The actual number was less than half that many — in some units, an even smaller fraction. This, it should be noted, in a force that had received something like $25 billion in U.S. support in the decade after the 2003 invasion.

The same practice — along with the broader pattern of corruption that it exemplifies — has been evident in Afghanistan. In one contested province, officials acknowledged in 2016 that almost half the soldiers and police on government payrolls did not exist or were not present for duty — even though improving the effectiveness of Afghan security forces was supposed to be a top priority for the Americans offering training, advice, and funds.

The story in Vietnam, for all intents and purposes, was identical. In an army where every dollar of soldiers’ pay, as well as every weapon, vehicle, bullet, and pair of boots, was funded by U.S. aid, the Vietnamese had names for two variations of payroll padding: “ghost soldiers,” men who had been killed but whose deaths were not reported so that their commanders could keep collecting and pocketing their salaries; and “flower soldiers” (that is, ornamental ones) who stayed home with their families while kicking back their pay to their superiors. That meant South Vietnam’s real fighting strength was considerably less than official reports indicated. Routinely, battalions that nominally had 300 men had only half or a third of that number on hand — exactly as in the case of those Iraqi units filled with “ghost soldiers” that were defeated in Mosul.

The broader parallels between the army and government we supported in Vietnam and those we have backed in our twenty-first-century wars are also clear. In all of them, corruption and poor governance in general were rife and would prove crippling obstacles to achieving U.S. objectives. And in all of them, Americans were almost completely ineffective in doing anything about either problem.

As journalist Douglas Wissing wrote in his book Funding the Enemy, a massively researched report on far-reaching corruption in Afghanistan, instead of taking any meaningful action against corruption, the U.S. government for the most part “either ignored it or enabled it.” That conclusion is borne out, though phrased more diplomatically, in numerous reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. After describing one of many ways the Taliban were able to tap into American funds, Wissing noted that all the money they got their hands on was spent for weapons, motorcycles, and mobile phones; their religious scruples stopped them from keeping any of it for themselves. Mordantly but aptly, Wissing added, “at least the Taliban made honest use of the U.S. taxpayers’ cash.”

New Plays, Same Script

The world of 2018 is vastly different from the world of a half-century ago. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are very different countries, and the wars in each reflect different origins and circumstances. The U.S. military today bears almost no resemblance to the American force that fought in Vietnam. So comparisons are hardly simple. Still, the boiled-down narratives of those wars look strikingly similar: large-scale U.S. military forces with limitless firepower are sent to defeat a far more poorly armed enemy and spend years trying to do so; meanwhile, American aid officials dole out hefty amounts of money and advice intended to create a good government and a prosperous country, or at least good enough and prosperous enough so that most citizens will choose the side of the war we want them to support.

In the end, however, the goal the Americans fought to reach — a stable local regime that is able to effectively defend itself, legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, and friendly to U.S. interests — is not achieved. Eventually, after we stop trying to accomplish the mission ourselves, we assume we can help a client force reach the same objectives by teaching them how to fight essentially the same way we did, except with even slimmer resources (a lot fewer helicopters to lift out their wounded, for example, which their soldiers got accustomed to while the rich Americans were still there). Not surprisingly, that policy doesn’t work so well either.

It’s hard to fathom why those scenarios weren’t more quickly and widely seen as illusory, especially the second or third time around. In part, no doubt, it was a case of being lowered into water reaching the boiling point too slowly to realize what was happening. And Washington’s and the Pentagon’sthinking surely also reflected the sugar coating Americans tend to spray over painful memories — the Pentagon website commemorating the Vietnam Waris a prime example — to avoid remembering them accurately. Even so, after Vietnam you’d think military professionals and the rest of us wouldn’t have gone on as long as we did in subsequent conflicts without realizing that America’s very idea of war in these last decades needs reexamination and so do the stories U.S. commanders keep telling themselves, their superiors, and the rest of us about our accomplishments and our allies’ capabilities.

As is almost always the case, describing the problem is easier — much easier — than solving it. This one will take a big and wrenching change in deeply rooted structures and beliefs, and in personal and institutional perceptions of self-interest. (Can we really stop telling ourselves that the United States has the best military in the world?) We have already paid a monumental price for our faulty understanding of war and of the real world. Failing to learn those lessons, even at this late date, will only drive that price tragically higher.

By Arnold R. Isaacs / TomDispatch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Out of 26 Major Editorials on Trump’s Syria Strikes, Zero Opposed

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"Seven of the top 10 newspapers by circulation—USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday and Washington Post—supported the airstrikes." (Photo: Screenshot)

Image: Common Dreams via Dallas Morning News

The most influential paper in the country, the New York Times, has not opposed a single US war—from the Persian Gulf to Bosnia, to Kosovo to Iraq to Libya to the forever war on ISIS—in the past 30 years.

A survey by FAIR of the top 100 papers in the US by circulation found not a single editorial board opposed to Trump’s April 13 airstrikes on Syria. Twenty supported the strikes, while six were ambiguous as to whether or not the bombing was advisable. The remaining 74 issued no opinion about Trump’s latest escalation of the Syrian war.

The mid-market Toledo Blade (4/15/18) punched above its weight class and delivered the most bellicose and jingoistic editorial of them all with “The West Stands Up”

— Read on www.commondreams.org/views/2018/04/18/out-26-major-editorials-trumps-syria-strikes-zero-opposed

Posted by Libergirl

President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of

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Photo by Graham C99 | CC BY 2.0

The single most importantthing that happened Friday night when the US military on President Trump’s orders launched a wave of over 100 cruise missiles against Syria was that once again the US violated the most profound international law of war: initiating a war of aggression against a nation that posed no threat, imminent or otherwise, to the US or its allies.
Called a “Crime against Peace,” this violation (whose perpetrators, under the precedent set in the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II, can face capital punishment), is considered worse than any other war crime because, as US Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson explained in his argument at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, a war of aggressionis “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
President Trump, during his televised White House announcement just after the launching of his bombing attack on Syria, said, “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons…We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
He was making the argument that the US, acting on its own authority without any sanction from the UN Security Council as required under international law, somehow had a duty to, on its own, punish Syria for its alleged violation of a Geneva Convention against the use of chemical weapons.
Putting aside for a moment the important question of whether the Syrian government actually did use chemical weapons in the Douma suburb of Damascus, which is in fact highly suspect, even if that country’s leader, Basher al Assad, did order the use of a banned chemical weapon, Assad’s crime would be far less serious than the crime Trump and the US perpetrated under international law.
Fortunately, it appears as if saner members of the largely crazy Trump administration — notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general — prevailed over the neoconservative warmongering chicken hawk John Bolton, recently ensconcedin the ever-changing National Security Advisor spot, with the result that the much ballyhooed US cruise missile attack on Syria’s purported “chemical arms infrastructure” was limited to three sites.
More importantly, earlier talk of hitting “command-and-control” centers like government buildings in Damascus, or Syrian air bases — places where Russia had warned that it had its own military personnel and that could have provoked a Russia military response — was pushed aside and such targets were left off the hit list. That meant the risk, about which Mattis pointedly warned in recent days, of this US attack morphing uncontrollably into a war between the two nuclear superpowers operating in Syria, the US and Russia, was minimized.
Fortunately too, for the Syrian people in target areas of the US cruise missiles and the handful of missiles launched by America’s two willing “allies,” Britain and France (whose participation was meant to give a sheen of “multilateralism” to the crime), at least some reports including from Russia claim that up to two-thirds of the US missiles launched were knocked down or blown up in the air by Syrian anti-missile defenses.
So we aren’t facing the threat of a nuclear exchange, or a tense period in which US and Russian soldiers and airmen face each other with tense fingers on triggers in the midst of the Syrian conflict.
For now.
The question is what happens next.
First there needs to be a real investigation, official and by real journalists — the thing that should have happened beforeTrump jumped in with his blustery missile attack (as he Tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!”) — into whether there was a chemical attack at all on April 7 in the suburb of Douma, and if so, who was behind it.
The claim of an attack is being made by the so-called “White Hats,” a supposedly non-governmental medical aid organization backed and funded by the US and founded by a member of British intelligence which reportedly has links with the Al Nusra terrorist organization in Syria. The Syrian Red Crescent organization which is affiliated with the Red Cross and has a much better reputation as both an aid organization and as a non-partisan truly medical service, has not confirmed a chemical attack. Meanwhile, the Russian television service RT is reporting that the White Hats actually rushed into a Damascus hospital where victims of fighting in Gouda were being treated, and set off a panic among patients by shouting “chemicals, chemicals!” and dousing people with water, leading to the charge of a chemical attack. Russia is also claiming that British intelligence agents were behind the staging of the event.
Many critics are noting that, as in prior questionable cases of the Syrian government being accused of using bannedchemicalweapons, this one occurred not when the government was losing and in a desperate situation, but when it was close to winning control of an area and was really in the “mopping up” phase. Indeed, rebel fighters had already given up and were availing themselves of an evacuation agreement, boarding chartered buses to take them to a safer area in the north of Syria, when the alleged “attack” occurred. (Why one has to wonder, would Assad have launched a chemical attack in that situation, knowing it would provoke another US military response? It makes no sense.)
It is also suspicious that the UN had already ordered inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to go to the site of the alleged attack to look for evidence of chemical use, but the Trump administration couldn’t even wait the four days it would take them to get there to launch an attack — an attack that is bound to delay their arrival and make finding that evidence increasingly difficult and problematic.
It is also significant that the OPCW has been instructed only to search for evidence of chemical weapons use, not to determine blame for its use.
The danger of course, is that if the Syrian government has not been the perpetratorof this or earlier gas attacks, as some investigative reporters like Robert Sheer have claimed, those who would then likely be responsible — the anti-Assad rebel forces — could be encouraged by this attack and the one Trump launched last year after a similar questionable use of chemical weaons, to launch more such faked Syrian attacks, in hopes of luring the US deeper into the Syrian civil war quagmire.
Obviously, such concerns are not being even considered at the White House. Indeed, if this contrarian line of reasoning is correct, it would be more likely that the US and its allies, Britain and France, are involved in the planning of such “false flag” attacks on civilians.
The US media, are largely cheerleading this attack, with reporters asking for details about its success at hitting alleged targets of Syrian chemical weapons storage, manufacture and research, instead of demanding answers as to the attack’s legality. When the decision to launch the attacks is questioned at all, it is not its obvious violation of international law that is raised, but the far subordinate question of whether the president has the right to order such an attack on his own, without the prior approval of Congress. While that is certainly an important question for Americans to ask, given that there was and is no imminent threat of Syria attacking the US or US forces (which in any case are in Syria illegally), it would hardly be any better if Congress did declare war on Syria, since that too would be a war crime under international law.
Clearly we are now in a very dangerous period, with a president, unconstrained by a Congress controlled by his own party, at the same time facing grave and mounting legal threats to his presidency. He is clearly looking at ways to divert media attention from himself and his own criminal behavior and to get an increasingly restive public to rally ‘round the flag and around himself as “commander in chief” of a nation at war.

by Dave Lindorff/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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