A Lesson in Hubris

Since before the Revolutionary War, Americans have mistrusted authority and celebrated their independence and the rights of the individual… to a fault. You can see manifestations of this prideful individualism in the “my child, my choice” chants, in every 2nd Amendment protest, and even in our foreign policy, where all too often we are willing to go it alone rather than seek alliance.

Good question

Today, I am going to highlight an extraordinary special double issue, “20 Years of bloodshed and delusion,” from The Nation. It is a fitting follow-up to last week’s post, which offered commentary on how the U.S. is so far from united in our battle with COVID and climate change, largely due to our diminished respect for science and government. Last week’s post is well worth your review if you missed it, and be sure to read the reader comments from Mick Nickel and Eduardo, as they go a bit deeper into the implications of this trend. Mick’s in particular is an apt intro to today’s post. Click here to read the post and the comments. Today’s post describes both the costs of our failed War on Terror and the extent to which our ever bellicose foreign policy is driven by the military industrial complex and their elected pawns, all too willing to do their bidding. The lesson learned from today’s post is that whenever puzzled by American policy decisions, “follow the money.” While on the topic of the willingness of legislators being all too eager to do the bidding of the military industrial complex, first we turn to nefarious elements of our budget reconciliation bill, touted as being a path to a just transition Read on.

Will we never learn?

Buried in the $3.5 Trillion budget reconciliation bill being considered by Congress is  $121 billion in tax incentives for the nation’s fossil fuel industry. Despite a letter opposing tax incentives to gas and oil signed by 300,000 New Mexican sent to Senators Lujan and Heinrich a month ago, both Senators failed to raise so much as a whimper to this obscene tax incentive. Sure, Heinrich and Lujan will show up at the grand opening of the new Tesla sales room to speechify and tout their commitment to fighting climate change, but when it comes to using their influence to actually turn off the faucet of largesse supporting the fossil fuel industry, nope. According to a Santa Fe New Mexican report, “Heinrich, Luján criticized for backing oil, gas subsidy” NM Environmental leaders are not amused:

 “What we know now is that oil and gas drilling and combustion are contributing greatly to climate change,” Sedillo Lopez said. “It is not in the best interest of New Mexico, our country and the planet to continue these subsidies.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, “Heinrich, Luján criticized for backing oil, gas subsidy”

Slight correction to Sen. Sedillo Lopez’s comment: To be more faithful to what we actually have known, replace “now” with “for about 50 years.” But the influence of the gas and oil industry has suppressed that knowledge to accommodate — no, facilitate — their thirst for profit. More climate activists chimed in:

“This should not be a hard call,” said Raena Garcia, fossil fuels and lands campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “We need ambitious climate policy if we are going to achieve a sustainable future. And when we are looking for revenue to invest in that future, these big oil handouts should be the first thing on the chopping block.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, “Heinrich, Luján criticized for backing oil, gas subsidy”

I’ll go a bit further. Are we insane? Their support for this legislation should be enough to generate recalls for both Senators. Two weeks after yet another IPCC report saying we are not doing nearly enough and without far more sacrifice we will blow past our most modest IPCC targets, and while every day more of California burns and more of the southeast drowns, our Senators say yes to incentivizing gas and oil to do more exploration? Really? I’d give you their contact info, but clearly they aren’t paying attention to us, or the planet. While on the topic of being let down by those who are supposed to b protecting us…

Military Industrial Complex Getting Its Way in NM

The military industrial complex has even more clout than gas and oil, as visible from how state and national political and regulatory bodies have utterly failed to conduct anything like a meaningful assessment of the risks involved in the proposed transport of radioactive waste from nuclear facilities across the country and from LANL through NM to the W.I.P.P. facility in Southeast NM. WIPP was constructed for the disposal of defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste from DOE sites around the country. TRU waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil, and other items contaminated with plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements. The waste is permanently disposed of in rooms in an underground salt bed. The waste from LANL must travel through Cuyamungue, Pojoaque, Santa Fe, Eldorado south through Albuquerque, Roswell, and more towns en route to the WIPP facility outside Carlsbad.

It isn’t just the danger of traansporting the TRU, but that by having a place to store the TRU, we are facilitating the acceleration of nuclear arms proliferation; we are allies in the nation’s arms race.

Two Zoom meetings are planned for this week to provide more information and to organize opposition.

  • TODAY, Sept 21 at 6pm, an information meeting; and
  • Weds., Sept. 22. 6pm, a planning meeting.

To obtain a zoom invite for either/ both meeting(s), write to stopforeverwipp@gmail.com.

9-11 Failure: As the U.S. Chose War Over Diplomacy and a Possible International Alliance Against Terror; We have Instead Cultivated the Conditions that Breed Terrorism

The Nation magazine is so skillful at taking any issue and unearthing the subtexts and hidden agendas that underlie historical events. Its Sept. 21/27 double issue does that in dissecting the forces that led to the decision to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq rather than giving diplomacy a chance. The Nation then chronicles the immense cost of that mistake and analyzes the forces that led to favoring war over diplomacy.

Immediately after 9-11, most of the world shared our horror at the devastation wreaked by ISIS. There was a brief window of opportunity when an alliance could have been forged to bring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida to justice. And Afghanistan had offered to cooperate in that effort. From The Nation:

“The Taliban were quite prepared to hand over their guests to the United States, but they needed a fig leaf and asked politely for evidence, some proof of Al Qaeda’s involvement. The White House was in no mood for legal niceties.”

George W. Bush categorically rejected offers from the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden without even exploring their viability. Instead of working with the Taliban and forming an international alliance to work through legal channels to bring bin Laden to justice, Biden listened to Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the generals who were hell-bent on revenge. And the media was frothing at the mouth in uncritical support:

“Neocon Charles Krauthammer defended the invasion of Afghanistan two weeks later in his Washington Post column: “We are fighting because the bastards killed 5,000 [sic] of our people, and if we do not kill them, they are going to kill us again. This is a war of revenge and deterrence…. ”

Notably, these “bastards” and “enemies” did not include Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two countries from which most of the 9/11 terrorists hailed. For years, wealthy Saudis had provided “fertile fund-raising ground” for Al Qaeda, according to none other than The 9/11 Commission Report

This is an important distinction. Saudi Arabia an Egypt receive massive arms deals from the U.S., something that makes the military industrial complex quite happy. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had close ties to the industry and weren’t about to jeopardize that flow of profit. What’s more, an invasion of Afghanistan was certain to generate still more profit in the military industrial complex. The only voice of reason in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, offered her prescient caution then:

“I urged caution because I knew even then that there was no military solution in Afghanistan,” she said. As far as she was concerned, the 60-word resolution amounted to “a blank check for any president to use force anywhere in the world.”

“I don’t think the public wants to see their tax dollars going into nation-building,” she said. “I think they do want to see their tax dollars going for diplomacy, development, humanitarian concerns, trade, aid, and really engaging in the world for global peace and security in a way that prevents the necessity to use force or prevents much of what causes terrorism. Because we know that the seeds of terrorism are sown, in many respects, in despair.”

As usual, Barbara Lee had it right, but she stood alone in her “no” vote on giving Bush authorization to launch the war on terror. With nearly unanimous Congressional approval, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld used their “blank check” to launch us into 20 years of hell. And at what cost?

“According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the United States’ post-9/11 wars have killed over 800,000 people. At least 37 million people have been displaced, and a whopping 85 countries now have US anti-terror operations going on within them. The wars will end up costing the US taxpayer an obscene $8 trillion. To the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, the losses are, of course, incalculable.”

The Nation: 20 Years of Bloodshed and Delusion.” p.25

Here’s more on the costs of the war on terror from Brown University’s Costs of War Project:

  • More than 929,000 people — including at least 387,000 civilians — have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence. Several times more have perished from other war-related causes, like malnutrition and disease.
  • Over 7,000 U.S. soldiers died in the wars, as did more than 8,000 American contractors.
  • 14 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq became war refugees or were internally displaced by war.
  • The U.S. federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is more than $8 trillion.
  • There isn’t adequate data to assess the scope of injuries and trauma suffered by U.S. soldiers. We do know that more than 30,000 active duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide.

$8 Trillion could have funded a robust campaign of diplomacy, development and humanitarian relief that could have addressed the conditions that breed despair and hopelessness, securing immense levels of good will in countries that have been devastated by our war on terror, leaving millions in the kind of despair that Rep. Lee correctly noted as being the seeds of terrorism. So how are these decisions made — decisions that lead to actions that achieve the exact reverse of what was pronounced as the purpose of the war on terror, reducing the threat of terror in the U.S.? The Nation examines decisions made in the 50s in Korea and the 90s in Eastern Europe to identify the real motivation that too often guides foreign policy and military decisions.

The timeless maxim, “follow the money” is the surest means of uncovering the real motivations behind actions and events that might otherwise appear inexplicable. For example, half the US casualties in the first winter of the Korean War were due to frostbite, as I learned from a veteran of the conflict who related how, in the freezing frontline trenches, soldiers and Marines lacked decent cold-weather boots. Like some threadbare guerrilla army, GIs would raid enemy trenches to steal the warm, padded boots provided by the communist high command to their own troops. “I could never figure out why I, a soldier of the richest country on earth, was having to steal boots from soldiers of the poorest country on earth,” my friend recalled in describing these harrowing expeditions. The “richest country on earth” could of course afford appropriate footwear in limitless quantities. Nor was it skimping in overall military spending, which soared following the outbreak of war in 1950. To the casual observer, it might seem obvious that the fighting and spending were directly related. However, although the war served to justify the budget boost, much of the money was diverted far from the Korean Peninsula, principally to build large numbers of B-47 strategic nuclear bombers as well as fighters designed to intercept enemy nuclear bombers, of which the Russians possessed very few and the Chinese and North Koreans none at all.

The reason for this disparity in the allocation of resources should be obvious: The aerospace industry, as aircraft manufacturers had sleekly renamed themselves, was more powerful and demanding than the bootmakers, and so that was where the money went. 

The Nation: 20 Years of Bloodshed and Delusion.” p.25-26

So thousands of US soldiers died from frostbite because our leadership chose to spend billions on aircraft we did not need instead of spending far less on less costly insulated boots desperately needed by our troops because legislators were wooed and influenced by well-paid lobbyists from the aerospace industry. Offering another example of increasing military contracts as being an underlying rationale in foreign policy decisions, The Nation then turned to the 1990s and our campaign to expand NATO into Eastern Europe.

“Two former national security eminences for the Brookings Institution stated that the goal of expanding NATO into Eastern Europe in the 1990s was to ‘promote peace and stability on the European continent through the integration of the new Central and Eastern European democracies into a wider Euro-Atlantic community, in which the United States would remain deeply engaged.’

Actually, it wasn’t. The driving force behind the expansion, which ensured Russian paranoia and consequent instability in Eastern Europe, was the necessity of opening new markets for American arms companies, coupled with the prospect of political reward for President Bill Clinton among relevant voting blocs in the Midwest.

So once again, to understand what drives foreign policy decisions, you must ignore the high-minded rhetoric and examine the fiscal implications of decisions and who benefits. One final example from The Nation.

Outsiders generally find it hard to grasp an essential truth about the US military machine, which is that war-fighting efficiency has a low priority by comparison with considerations of personal and internal bureaucratic advantage. The Air Force, for example, has long striven to get rid of a plane, the inexpensive A-10 “Warthog,” that works supremely well in protecting ground troops. But such combat effectiveness is irrelevant to the service because its institutional prosperity is based on hugely expensive long-range (and perennially ineffective) bombers that pose lethal dangers to friendly soldiers, not to mention civilians, on the ground. The US armed services are expending vast sums on developing “hypersonic” weapons of proven infeasibility on the spurious grounds that the Russians have established a lead in this field…


Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of veterans of the post–9/11 wars suffer from traumatic brain injury induced by bomb blasts, the Army has insisted on furnishing soldiers with helmets from a favored contractor that enhance the effects of blasts. 

Th NATION “Why America Goes to War, Money Drives the US Military Machine” p. 25

Sadly, not much has changed from 1950 to today, and our troops pay the price while military contractors and their lobbyists reap the profits. And our legislators, including our oh-so-progressive U.S. Senators, continue to vote for increased funding for wars and nuclear weapon development (LANL and WIPP).

Sadly, despite our withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden has not exactly learned the lesson about involvement in ‘forever wars.’ The Washington Post, in “The Biden administration just tiptoed away from warnings on ‘Trump’s favorite dictator,” outlined how Biden has turned his back on diplomacy in the Middle East in favor of piling up more weapons to a ruthless dictator. I offer just one quote from The Post, but I hope it encourages you to read the excellent short short piece as it lays out clearly how this weapons deal is consistent with the hubris-driven, “cowboy foreign policy” that caused us to go solo in our war on terror, using war over diplomacy. We and our allies will use weapons of war to impose our self-serving wills rather than forging alliances based on shared principles and collective justice. From the Washington Post:

“This week, the Biden administration released $170 million and delayed $130 million of taxpayer dollars to one of the world’s most ruthless autocratic regimes, which has imprisoned and killed American citizens: Egypt under President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Breaking with President Biden’s campaign promise of “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator,’” the administration has given more money to Sissi than the Trump administration did during its first year in office. This early test for the administration’s credibility and commitment to a rights-centered foreign policy has been a devastating failure.”

The money at stake was for a portion — $300 million — of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt that Congress conditioned on clear human rights benchmarks. If the administration had withheld all $300 million, Egypt would still have been the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid.

The Washington Post: “The Biden administration just tiptoed away from its warnings on ‘Trump’s favorite dictator”

Instead of using diplomacy in the Middle East, we generously fund despots in Saudi Arabia and Egypt (who had provided support to ISIS and Al Qaida), while using our military aid to oppress their own people and terrorize the region. And then there is our number one recipient of military aid, Israel, where our resources are used in genocidal oppression of the Palestinian people and the assassination of Iranian civilians. What if, instead of supporting tyranny and war, we used our considerable diplomatic clout and forged a unified coalition of allies committed to ending the genocide in Yemen and Palestine and to securing peace predicated on justice, not force? But where is the profit in that?

A key underpinning to our foreign policy in Afghanistan and throughout much of the world has long been a hubris, typified in Manifest Destiny, where we felt we had the God-given right and responsibility to reshape the landscape to suit our expansionist national ambitions and to tame the “savages” that stood in our way. That sense of destiny has defined our policies in South and Central America for over a century, where we continue to subjugate indigenous priorities and rights and spoil the environment of one nation after another. This sense of unquestioned authority and proprietorship informed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as we proclaimed that we would go to any lengths to protect “our oil,” despite its inconveniently lying beneath Iraqi sand.

To underscore how Biden has significant blinders when it comes to leading with diplomacy and peace-focused alliance-building, The NY Times reported on Biden’s idea of diplomacy in relation to China:

“The Biden administration took a major step on Wednesday in challenging China’s broad territorial claims in the Pacific, announcing that the United States and Britain would help Australia to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, adding to the Western presence in the region.

If the plan comes to fruition, Australia may begin conducting routine patrols that could move through areas of the South China Sea that Beijing claims as its exclusive zone and range as far north as Taiwan. The announcement, made by President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, is a major step for Australia, which until recent years has been hesitant to push back directly at core Chinese interests.

NY Times: ““Biden Announces Defense Deal With Australia in a Bid to Counter China”

So rather than leading with bilateral conversations, seeking to find shared interests and common ground, Biden leads with military aggression. France was not amused, immediately cancelling a long-planned gala it was to host in DC celebrating the U.S. France alliance:

“Furious over President Biden’s announcement of a deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines, French officials in Washington on Thursday angrily canceled a gala at their Washington embassy to protest what they called a rash and sudden policy decision that resembled those of former President Donald J. Trump.

The event commemorating the “240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes,” which was to have taken place Friday evening at the French embassy and aboard a French frigate in Baltimore, will not happen, according to the official. France’s top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the event celebrating their navy’s help with America’s battle for independence in 1781, will return to Paris early instead.”

NY Times: “Expressing fury over the Australia submarine deal, France cancels a gala celebrating relations with the U.S

It is worth noting that France’s motivation for canceling the gala had little to do with their objecting to our militarizing the China seas — it was because they thought they had a deal with Australia to sell them submarines. Follow the money.

At the root of our myopic foreign policy and our national politics is a cultural hubris that centers the individual, personal profit, and the white male perspective that has shaped our culture and our politics since before we became a nation. We can protest and vote and win a policy or legislative battle here and there, but until we reshape our cultural myopia and begin to center the priorities and perspectives of other cultures and peoples, we have no hope of making progress in relation to the truly existential challenges that stand between our present condition and a future worth sustaining, a future guided by the pursuit of environmental justice, economic justice, enduring peace, and a sustainable planet. That future can’t be secured by force. It can only be achieved by turning aside the banks, military industrial complex, and fossil fuel industry and their unquenchable thirst for profit and join with other nations and peoples and form alliances in values of justice, sustainability, and peace. This is also how we win the war on terror and begin to address the looming climate catastrophe.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Foreign Policy, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

5 replies

  1. Please don’t repeat the official narrative of what happened on 9-11 without qualification, as if it were truth, even though the Nation magazine might do this. I’m happy to discuss the evidence that the official narrative is false, if you are interested.

  2. Paul and Retake: one effort underway to counterpunch at the incredible power of Oil & Gas over NM politicos: educators signing a letter to “request that the New Mexico oil and gas industry and its allies immediately stop using teachers and our kids’ educations as excuses for more oil and gas development. … Our kids deserve an education system from early childhood through higher education funded by stable and consistent sources of revenue which do not also contribute to endangering their future on this planet and our own Land of Enchantment. We urge our elected leaders to move as quickly as possible to make these significant changes to our energy and revenue systems.

    At the same time, we strongly urge the oil and gas industry and its allies to stop standing in the way, and to stop pretending educators, students and the education system are on your side in standing against aggressive action to address climate change.

    The letter is being signed by people in education from Early Childhood Education to K-12 and Higher Education, including all educators (teachers, secretaries, assistants, professors, administrators, governance officials, custodians….). Perhaps Retake can encourage educators among it’s readers/members to also sign the letter on-line: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeQtDy_Ibs7ASjUcprBWZGsL3zORqkM-NZgBNoyNECxkswMXg/viewform

    • Of course you are right, pardon my skepticism. I doubt G&O lobbyists will be moved by this effort. Even Dem legislators and the guv parrot this mantra.

  3. Great post today. Hope Paul is doing well.

  4. A hard hitting Post, for sure. Can this country survive these fractures, divides, and the overwhelming baggage of our racist history, misguided and pathological individualism, and deep denial of our traumatizaton as a nation? I try to remain hopeful but at times it is not easy.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: