Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Your Daily Dose of Tao

Tao Teh Ching #66

How does the sea
become the queen of all rivers and streams?
By lying lower than they do!
Hence, it is the queen of all rivers and streams.

One who humbles himself, therefore,
can serve all people.
By putting himself last, he comes to be their leader.
Thus, when one of subtle virtue is set above people,
they do not feel that he is their burden.
And, when he stands in front of people,
they do not feel that he is an obstruction to them.
Therefore, the world follows one of subtle virtue joyfully,
and never tires of doing so.
He does not compete with anyone,
thus he is above all competition.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Courage to Speak the Truth

My husband wrote this paper for his military ethics class.

The Ethical Dilemma of Preventive War

On March 19, 2003, the United States began the invasion of Iraq. The justification for the war presented by the US government was based primarily on claims of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and their capacity and desire to produce more, use them against US targets, or hand them off to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. These threats were deemed to be so significant that invading Iraq for the purpose of regime change was the most certain way to ensure the safety of American national interests from imminent danger[1].

But there was no explicit threat from Hussein against the US, nor was there irrefutable evidence that Iraq currently had any WMD in hand. There was an assumption that, since Hussein kicked out the UN inspectors in 1998 and never issued a full accounting of what the final disposition of all of his weapons actually was, he must have been hiding something, and there was speculation that his intelligence agents had met with Al Qaeda operatives several times over the years. But war is the most significant action one government can take against another with the most devastating and far-reaching consequences, and therefore one would assume the requirements for starting a war should be rather high and the evidence for its necessity beyond reproach. So the question the US faced was this: Can any country morally or legally justify prosecuting a war of preventive self-defense against another, not in retaliation for a threat or an attack, but in order to prevent some theoretical capability for a future attack?

Preventive wars of self-defense are morally and legally wrong.

First, we examine the Constitutional Paradigm and the Legalist view of Just War Theory to determine whether this type of war is permissible. The US sought, but did not get, UN authorization for military action. UNSC Resolution 1441 clearly did not authorize military action, but required further action by the Security Council after a report from the UNMOVIC inspection teams[2]. The report to the UNSC by Hans Blix on behalf of UNMOVIC on 7 March 2003, 12 days before the start of the invasion, said that “at this juncture we are able to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance.” He commented on Iraq’s initial reluctance to fully comply, but noted that recent steps had been made that were resolving the outstanding issues, including developing means for testing dump sites to determine the quantity of weapons that had actually been destroyed and gathering scientists for interviews. In conclusion, Blix said that he felt within months disarmament would be completed and verified and the follow-up monitoring regime could be put into place[3].

When the US and UK returned to the Security Council in March to seek another resolution specifically authorizing the invasion, one was not passed because there was no agreement on the Council. UN Charter, Ch. VII, Art 42 requires a determination to be made by the UNSC that non-military measures have been ineffective before authorizing military force[4]. Thus no authorization for the invasion in the international community existed. Two days after Blix’s speech to the Security Council, British Sec. of State for International Development said that “if there is not UN authority for military action or the reconstruction of the country, I will not uphold a breach of international law or this undermining of the UN.[5]” The UN charter states that nothing in it can be construed to remove a nation’s right to self-defense, but according to the UN charter, Ch. VII, Art. 51, a war of self defense can only be undertaken by a member state in response to an attack[4]. Under the terms of the Constitutional Paradigm, the US is bound to follow the laws of the land, to include international treaty obligations such as the UN Charter. As long as the US is a member state of the UN (more so, perhaps, because the US is a permanent member of the Security Council) the decisions of the UN should be highly valued when determining US foreign policy. The decision to invade Iraq cannot by supported by the Constitutional Paradigm or the Legalist Perspective of Just War Theory.

Investigating the invasion of Iraq through Kant’s Categorical Imperative, we ask: what is the moral maxim involved in the decision to go to war? The maxim presented by the President is that the US is morally justified in invading another country to protect itself, not because of some overt and explicit act of aggression, but because of a perceived threat of a possible future act of aggression[1].

Kant’s next question to the decision maker is whether or not the maxim can be universalized without loss of consistency. In the case of preventive war, the answer must be an emphatic no. No one would wish the heightened and combative rhetoric between North Korea and Japan in recent years to come to a point where Kim Jong Il preemptively defended himself against the threat of Japanese or US aggression by launching missiles into Tokyo or Seattle, using the preventive US invasion of Iraq as a justification for both its fear and its actions. Nor would anyone want Iran preemptively defending its borders from a perceived threat of a US assault from the large contingent of war ships near its territorial waters by launching missiles at the carrier battle groups stationed there. As these examples show, the doctrine of preemptive or preventive self-defense cannot be universalized with pleasant results. If the moral maxim is only true for oneself, it violates the categorical imperative.

Kant also argued that any lie told to advance one’s goals exhibits the height of immorality because it removes the other person’s ability to properly make his own choice on the matter. The use of false or misleading claims of evidence against Iraq to convince the US public to be supportive of the invasion violates the public’s right to choose based on a full and accurate accounting of the facts surrounding the case for war. The president cited intelligence in his 2003 state of the union speech that was largely based on a document known to be a forgery[6]. The often cited aluminum tubes which were claimed to have been part of a centrifuge program were determined by the Department of Energy to only be useful in a rocket program, not a centrifuge, especially in combination with the particular magnets Iraq was alleged to have purchased at the same time. Colin Powell cited HUMINT sources in his speech to the UN in Feb. 2003 that were known to many in the intelligence community to be fabricators or completely unreliable. While he had instructed the CIA to screen out of his speech things that were single source or unreliable, the CIA still cleared things in the speech that were “overstated, misleading, or incorrect.”[7]

The government claims that after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 the US can no longer afford to wait for the enemy to strike first. This was given as the reason for the sudden decision to confront Iraq on WMD. However the administration has reportedly been planning the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Hussein’s government since its first days in office. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill provided the press with a document labeled “Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq” from early 2001[8]. The first two National Security Council meetings of the Bush administration in January 2001 were about the problems Iraq posed to regional stability and the idea of regime change. According to participants in those meetings, “it was a matter of how, not whether” the US would invade Iraq[9]. If it is true that the administration has been planning the invasion of Iraq since the early days of the Bush presidency, then any claim to the contrary by the administration is intentionally misleading, and therefore immoral.

On the other side of the discussion about Iraq, there are many who made a case for going to war. Those arguments for invading Iraq that have any basis in traditional moral philosophy can largely be divided into two groups. A utilitarian would argue a similar case for invading Iraq as Truman used for deploying nuclear weapons against Japan: while our strike may cause large scale death and destruction, not striking in this manner will result in a much greater number of dead. Bush delivered a speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that attempted to assuage concerns of some of his critics[10]. Bush claimed that he had to start a war in Iraq to disarm and depose Hussein before Iraq could find a way to use WMD against America. Now, because of 9/11, America knew that “the price of indifference would be catastrophic[11].” Bush did not want to wait for the “smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud” delivered by an Iraqi nuclear weapon[10]. Preemption was, he argued, the only logical and safe choice for the man charged with protecting the country to make.

Another argument in favor of the moral permissibility comes by way of natural law theory. Protecting one’s life is an inviolable virtue and therefore a moral obligation. The state is an amalgamation of many lives, therefore an obligation of the state is to protect the lives of its citizens. Hussein allegedly posed a grave threat to American lives, therefore protecting ourselves from him must be the state’s obligation. But taking other lives would result from this action. The qualification of forfeiture points to Hussein’s treatment of his citizens and past military efforts as an example of his lack of respect for life. The doctrine of double effect asks four questions of the moral agent before engaging in a war. One must show the following things to be true. First, removing Hussein from power is a good act in itself. Second, all of the death that comes with war is unavoidable if Hussein is to be removed and disarmed. Third, any innocent deaths that result from the war are not the means of removing Hussein, only an unfortunate side effect. Fourth, any innocent deaths resulting from the war are not disproportionate to the good effect of removing Hussein. The US argued that all of these statements were true before going to war.

What is the balance of these competing arguments? Since the US eventually invaded Iraq, one might be convinced to claim the latter position as the morally justified one. But this would be justifying a decision simply because the decision was made. This assumes that America is right because it has the military force to silence all challengers. Perhaps instead we should heed the words of MP Smith in a speech to the House of Commons. “Strength does not lie simply in military might. Strength lies in having an unanswerable case. It lies in making the right moral choices.[12]” Again, the nature of war requires that its necessity is sure and its justification beyond reproach.

The argument that this war was necessary based on the notion that America could not abide the consequences of leaving Hussein in power ignores the positive steps the UNMOVIC inspectors were making towards verifying disarmament. It ignores the disarmament of Libya through diplomatic means[13]. If the danger was imminent, Bush should have begun the invasion in early 2001. If all diplomatic options had been exhausted, why were the inspectors sounding confident that they would have things wrapped up satisfactorily in a few months? If the decision to use force had been made, why start a war when an assassination team could have accomplished the primary objective in a few weeks? This leads to the conclusion that the danger was not imminent, nor was the war the last option available.

The justification of this war is in question on a number of points. If the US is to be a global leader in the post-superpower era, it must act as the first among equals in the international community. There is no place in today’s world for a single hyper power, for a global hegemon who issues unquestioned directives. While US military power is impressive, that is not enough to keep the world on a tight leash. The UN is necessary, despite its flaws, and taking a grievance to the Security Council with the intention of using it as a cover for doing things on your own anyway, regardless of the outcome in the Council did more damage to its future effectiveness by undermining its decision than its own bureaucratic inertia ever could have.

The war in Iraq was waged unnecessarily and unjustifiably. Since there was no imminent threat from Hussein, no clear articulation of the real reasons for pursuing this war, no pressing need for war over diplomacy, and therefore no excuse for all of the lives that have been lost, we must determine that preventive wars must be excluded from future debates over international relations.

1., 2002 State of the Union Address
2., UN Security Council Resolution 1441
3., Hans Blix report to the UN on behalf of UNMOVIC, 7 Mar, 2003
4., UN Charter
5., Iraq: developments since UN Security Council Resolution 1441, p. 16
6., United States Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Released on July 7, 2004
7., United States Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Released on July 7, 2004
8., O’Neill: Bush planned Iraq Invasion Before 9/11, CNN report, 14 Jan, 2004
9. Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine
10., President Bush, speech to the nation, 7 Oct, 2002
11., 2002 State of the Union Address
12., Iraq: developments since UN Security Council Resolution 1441, p. 15
13. Suskind, p. 46

The instructor, a Navy Captain, gave him an A.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Book Review: Chomsky

What We Say Goes: Conversations in U.S. Power in a Changing World
By Noam Chomsky

This book is a collection of interviews with David Barsamian done for The American Empire Project.

My husband bought me this book for my birthday and I finished it in one day. I couldn't seem to put it down. It is a wonderful book that not only discusses current events, but gives you a historical background that helps you better understand the current events. The interview format makes this book very interesting. The topic is constantly changing, keeping you wondering what will be discussed next and insuring that you are never bored. There is a wealth of knowledge in this book. I highly recommend that you read it.

Happy Birthday to Me.
(Btw, I turn 26 today)

Torture Tapes

No matter what I do, I cannot sit down and write a decent post. There are probably two or three posts worth reading on this entire blog.

It wasn't always like this. A few years ago I could write something in depth nearly every day. I guess that was before I gave up. It may not seem like it with my content devoid work of late, but I still pay attention to every little detail of what is going on in this country. And every day it becomes more clear that nothing is going to change. I can't muster up the energy to put what I feel in words. This country is a clusterfuck. But, I will give it a try.

I am sure everyone has heard about the CIA guy who has come out and said that he was involved in water-boarding detainees, the ones that were on the tapes that were recently destroyed. This guy is a real piece of work. I say he is a master propagandist.

My husband was watching Dan Abrams last night and this guy was on. He sprinkled his story with enough truth to be credible and the rest of what he said is questionable at best. He admitted that Zubaydah was water-boarded but then went on to say that there were no beatings and that he gave the CIA actionable intelligence.

The interesting thing is that almost word for word this sounded familiar, like I had heard this story before. I had. In Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine. Except, in the book, Suskind describes a mentally ill guy who was not only water-boarded, but also beaten. He also goes on to describe the many wild stories that Zubaydah told and how the CIA would jump at every wild accusation just to find that there was nothing there. This is where the CIA guy diverts from the story that I had already heard.

What scares me is that this guy is a master propagandist, unlike the usual talking heads. He is good. I watched in amazement at his flawless execution of the point he is trying to get across: torture is ok because it works and saves lives. He does it as a "skeptic", which gives him the cover of credibility. But, this guy is no skeptic or whistleblower. At the end of the show, he was asked why he came forward and he said, "I wanted the American people to know about this wonderful success story." (paraphrasing)

Success story? To see that the entire smoke and mirror show up until that point had been to arrive at that very moment made my stomach turn. That is where the interview ended, leaving those words hanging there. I sat in silence for a moment trying to process what I had just witnessed. Moments like that I am reminded that I live in a bizarro world.

Here are some things to think about when listening to this guy speak. One, there is no way that the CIA would let this guy go on television and tell people that we water-board people unless they approved it for their on benefit of some sort. Remember, these are the same techniques that the Bush administration has claimed they cannot disclose because they are classified and would "embolden the enemy." Two, CIA agents sign non-disclosure agreements when they begin and cannot divulge secrets without retribution. This guy doesn't seem to have a care in the world, which points to him being allowed to tell us certain things that will be to the benefit of someone. I have no doubt that this guy is not genuine. The whole thing stinks.

Remember, this guy said that the reason he came forward is to tell the American people a torture success story. He said that himself. This, I am afraid, is the first step the establishment is taking to legitimize torture and make it something that is openly acceptable. Remember, the wiretapping scandal was, according to the government, a lie and conspiracy until it wasn't anymore and then it was necessary. The secret rendition prisons were lies made up by the "liberal America-hating media" until they were proven to exist, then they were not only necessary but legal and good.

I am going to have some more content driven posts up in the days to come. There is also going to be a special treat coming soon just for the holidays. So, stay tuned, I guess. And, stay away from the television if you want to stay sane.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I hate the cold

That's why I am glad that it is 80 degrees outside today.

Nice warm spell just in time for my birthday tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


The task of propaganda lies not in weighing right and wrong, but driving home your own point of view. You cannot objectively explore the facts that favors others and present them in doctrinaire sincerity to the masses. You have to push relentlessly your own case...

Even the most brilliant propaganda will not produce the desired results unless it follows this fundamental rule: You must stick to limiting yourself to essentials and repeat them endlessly. Persistence on this point, as in so many other cases in the world, is the first and most important precondition for success...

Propaganda does not exist to furnish interesting diversions to the blase' young dandies, but to convince above all the masses. In their clumsiness they always require a long lead before they are ready to take notice. Only by thousandfold repetition will the simplest concept stick in their memories.

--Mein Kampf (via Sources of the Western Tradition 6th ed. p. 379)

And people say that Bush doesn't read.