Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gravel’s Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War

In his truthdig.com article, Gravel’s Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War, Chris Hedges critiques war from a perspective from which others cannot: Chris Hedges is a veteran war correspondent spending nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. No one is better qualified to comment on the horrors of war. His views are important and cannot be simply cast aside.

However, in his article, Chris Hedges embraces the views of Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, quoting him throughout his piece.

There are significant points that are made by Chris Hedges and Mike Gravel where I agree. Nevertheless, where I agree must be qualified with the realities facing America in the engagement of those wars.

Where I agree with Chris Hedges and Mike Gravel:

… the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence—which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand—make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy … Chris Hedges

A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military—half of all discretionary spending—than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat. Chris Hedges

We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex. Mike Gravel

Beyond these statatements I am pretty much in disagreement with the article literally and its tone, particularly with the views of Mike Gravel, and so therefore in this regard of Chris Hedges too, since he endorses Gavel’s view.

So, these are my qualifications based on real world realities:

To begin with, I am in sympathy with President Obama. He addressed my concerns succinctly in his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech. As the President said, I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.

How can anyone judge a man who has been in office for less than a year and compare or judge his accomplishments to another who was in office for eight years. The statement by Gravel, Obama has wasted an opportunity to be a great president, is a very premature presumption, and in fairness he is not giving our President his just due.

Moreover, the article is also written without any consideration given to the President who was handed two wars (along with some other very exigent situations) that have been raging in Afghanistan and Iraq for eight and six years respectively by a warrior minded nation, by a hawkish, warrior minded previous President and his Administration, and a U.S. Congress who were equally warrior minded, and who have supported both wars.

The expectation that those wars should be ended posthaste is simply not doable or reasonable, and if he were to do just that, it would be very irresponsible, if not immoral. Our President is clearly between a rock and a hard place, he is faced with some very difficult and sensitive situations.

As President Obama said, We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

So in our zeitgeist, without the desire to, and without sufficient knowledge on how to manage conflict peacefully, the mandates of jus in bello or jus ad bellum (just war) are legitimate. It declares that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

The Iraq War was not justified. The United States of America conducted a preemptive attack against a sovereign nation (a nation that was encumbered with sanctions and other restrictions, and on whom we were conducting air surveillance, or fly-overs) based on the pretext that Iraq was in ways responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. Later we found out this to be false, and that deliberate lies were made by President George W Bush in his State of the Union Address, and by Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, to the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore, we hit Iraq, with what was headlined at the time as Shock and Awe, in violation of the Just War doctrine the attack was not in self-defense; the force used was not proportional; and, civilians were not spared from the violence.

Our war in Afghanistan was justified: we took actions for our self-defense against those who were unequivocally responsible for the attacks of September 11th; the force was proportional (Shock and Awe was not applied); and there has been a clear attempt -- albeit at times not successful -- to spare civilians from the violence.

I am a pacifist. I believe that disputes between nations should and can be settled peacefully, but in our contemporary world that is not always possible. However, when it’s not possible, nations must respect the laws and conditions delineated in the laws of Just War.

In the following quotes, President Obama is absolutely correct when he states that we must think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace; I make this [these] statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – ‘Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones’; the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. ‘Let us focus,’ he said, ‘on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.’

From these statements, it is at least clear to me that our President understands the intractable situations in which our world and the United States are sometimes confronted. I feel this country is blessed with a leader who is not a warrior and war hawk, and pragmatically understands that a more attainable peace is not based on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions. After all, the attainment of peace is a process.

With all due respect for Chris Hedges’s and Mike Gravel’s antiwar stance, nevertheless, articles of this ilk do nothing to ameliorate our real world situation nor do they beneficially contribute in anyway to the conversation or advancement of a lasting peace.