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Glenn Greenwald: The Absence of Debate over War
May 24, 2010, 3:15 pm
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Published on Monday, May 24, 2010 by Salon.com

The Absence of Debate over War

by Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt ponders how little attention our various wars received during the primary campaigns that were just held:  “You would hardly know, from following this year’s election campaign or the extensive coverage of last week’s primaries, that America is at war. . . . those wars, and the wisdom of committing to or withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-fought campaigns of the spring.”  Hiatt is right in that observation, and it’s worth examining the reasons for this.

One significant cause of America’s indifference to the wars we are waging is that those wars have virtually no effect on the overwhelming majority of Americans, while they impose a huge cost on a tiny sliver of the population:  those who fight the wars and their families.  Hiatt acknowledges that fact:  “it’s yet another reminder of American society’s separation from its professional military.”  If anyone would know about that, it’s the endless-war-loving, nowhere-near-a-battlefield Fred Hiatt.

Everyone from the Founders to George Orwell thought (and hoped) that the massive societal costs which war imposes would be a deterrent to their being fought, but most Americans who express their “support” for these wars bear absolutely no cost whatsoever.  Worse, many who cheer for our wars enjoy that most intoxicating and distorting reward:  cost-free benefits, in the form of vicarious feelings of strength, purpose, nobility and the like, all from a safe distance.  It’s very difficult to generate attention for political issues that do not personally and tangibly affect most Americans — that’s why the failing economy receives so much attention and our various wars (and civil liberties erosions) do not.

Then there’s the lack of partisan division over these wars.  During the Bush presidency, war debates raged because those wars — especially the Iraq war — were a GOP liability and a Democratic Party asset.  Anger over the Iraq War drove the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama’s election in 2008 (though it did not drive the end of the war).  But now, America’s wars are no longer Republican wars; they’re Democratic wars as well.  Both parties are thus vested in their defense, which guts any real debate or opposition.  Very few Republicans are going to speak ill of wars which their party started and continued for years, and very few Democrats are going to malign wars which their President is now prosecuting.

Here we find, once again, one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama presidency thus far:  the conversion of numerous Bush/Cheney policies from what they once were (controversial, divisive, right-wing policies) into what they have become (uncontroversial bipartisan consensus).  One sees this dynamic most clearly in the Terrorism/civil-liberties realm, but it is quite glaring in the realm of war as well.  Hiatt describes it this way:

[M]aybe, in a time of toxic partisanship, we should be grateful for this inattention to the wars, taking the absence of debate as a sign of rare bipartisan consensus. Certainly few would miss the vitriol of the Iraq debate of a few years back.

It’s not surprising that Hiatt is grateful for the disappearance of what he calls “the vitriol of the Iraq debate a few years back.”  As one of the media’s leading cheerleaders for the invasion and ongoing occupation, it’s understandable that he wants no longer to be reminded of the enormous amounts of innocent blood which he and his war-cheering comrades have on their permanently drenched hands.  But he is right that to take “the absence of debate” as a “sign of rare bipartisan consensus.”  It’s true that the (dubious) perception that the Iraq War will soon end has probably dampened the urgency of that issue in the eyes of many people, as have the pretty words that Obama utters when he speaks of war, but the real reason the “debates” have disappeared is because it serves neither party to engage them.

Perhaps the most significant factor of all in understanding this lack of debate is the fact that “war” is not some aberrational, temporary state of affairs for the country.  It’s the opposite.  Thanks to Fred Hiatt and his friends, war is basically the permanent American condition:  war is who we are and what we do as a nation.  We’re essentially a war fighting state.  We have been at “war”the entire last decade (as well as largley non-stop for the decades which preceded it), and continue now to be at “war” with no end in sight.  That’s true of our specific wars (in Afghanistan), and the way in which The War, more broadly, has been defined (i.e., against Islamic extremism/those who wish to harm Americans) makes it highly likely that it will never end in our lifetime.  The decree that we are “at war” has been repeated over and over for a full decade, drumbed into our heads from all directions without pause, sanctified as one of those Bipartisan Orthodoxies that nobody can dispute upon pain of having one’s Seriousness credentials immediately and irrevocably revoked.  With war this normalized, is it really surprising that nobody debates it any longer?  It’d be like debating the color of the sky.

That’s why I always find the War Excuse for anything the Government does so baffling and nonsensical.  Any objections one voices to what the Executive Branch does — indefinite detentions, presidential assassinations of citizens, extreme secrecy, etc. — will be met with the justification that such actions are permissible “during war,” as though “war” is some special, temporary, fleeting state of affairs which necessitates vesting powers in the government which would, during “normal” times, be impermissible.  But the contrast between “war and “normal times” is totally illusory.  For the United States, war is normalcy.  The “war” we’re fighting has been defined and designed to be virtually endless.  Political leaders from both parties have been explicit about that.  Here’s how Obama put it last May in his “civil liberties” speech:

Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can’t count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — 10 years from now.

All the way back in September, 2001, George Bush said basically the same thing:  “Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. . . . Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”  Thus:  to justify new and unaccountable powers based on the fact that we are “at war” is, in essence, to change the American political system permanently, because the “war,” and the accompanying powers that it justifies, are not going anywhere for many, many years to come.

With both political parties affirming over and over that we are going to be at “war” for years, indeed decades, it’s unsurprising that so few people are interested in debating “war.”  That’s true even for the limited question of Afghanistan, where most Republicans won’t question a war their President began and most Democrats won’t question a war their President has vigorously embraced as his own.  From the perspective of the permanent factions that rule Washington — from Wall Street and AIPAC to the intelligence and military “communities” — that’s the beauty of the two-party system:  as long as both party establishments support a particular policy, any meaningful debate over it comes to a grinding halt.

© 2010 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

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VIDEO: Battlefields Contaminated With Depleted Uranium: Growing Number of Cancer Cases in Iraq

Russia Today

Depleted uranium has been used for nearly 20 years as sub-ammunition of artillery shells in international conflicts like the two Iraq Wars and the NATO conflict with Serbia, but the long-term effects of it are unknown.

In Iraq, many doctors believe that the radiation leaked from old weapons used by foreign forces in 1991 and 2003 are continuing to have a deadly impact.

They fear that the remains of the substance are spreading cancer through the population and contaminating water.

Seven years after the invasion of Iraq, people there are still dying from its after-effects.

In cities and towns across the country, old munitions are leaking radiation, with horrific consequences.

“The number of cancer cases among children increased by 227 per cent in the period from 2005 to 2007,” stated Doctor K. Suleiman. “Experts at the University of Basra Research Center claim that toxic agents will continue having a harmful effect on human health for the next 50 years.”

During the Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition forces fired thousands of “depleted uranium” shells.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the enrichment process and its immense density makes it a powerful projectile. But it can leave a deadly legacy.

“Depleted uranium, which was used back in 1991 and 2003, is the most dangerous substance. Experts reckon that over 350 tonnes of it were used in total. This substance will give out harmful radiation for years into the future,” predicted Dr. Suleiman. “For instance, as many as 35 new forms of cancer not known to the World Health Organization were reported in June 2008.”

Two reports, one by the US army and the other by the World Health Organization, warned about the dangers of depleted uranium before the 2003 war.

When shells fell into the dust, they contaminated it, along with water sources nearby.

And when it is inhaled or drunk, radioactive material can sit in the body, damaging DNA and leading to cancer.

The Head of a humanitarian organization for children with cancer, L. Shakir, informs that “The reports say that the number of cancer patients is growing. But some doctors say it’s all within the norm and that the number of cancer cases here is smaller than in other countries. We need to consolidate our efforts in fighting cancer. The support of the state, represented by the Health Minister, is of paramount importance, as is the role of NGOs and international organizations.”

Officially, the US army is skeptical about the link between depleted uranium shells and cancer rates.

But where battles were fought, Iraqi doctors are struggling to cope with huge rises in numbers of tumors and birth defects and, for them, the link is obvious.

“2,000 new cancer cases are reported in Basra annually. Our patients come from Basra, An-Nasiriyah, Amara and other provinces,” Doctor Jivad Ali, an oncologist, said.

Edited May 24



Iraq War Crime: 7 Years, $743 Billion, Hundreds of Thousands Dead
April 18, 2010, 11:36 am
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