September 11 commemorations were everywhere this past weekend. My own view is that the devastating attacks of September 11 were, along with an enormous human tragedy, a huge crime, a crime against humanity. But they did not threaten our country’s existence, they did not threaten our democracy. It was the acts of September 12, when the Bush administration decided to take the world to war in response, that threatened and continue to threaten our country, our democracy, our security, and the security of much of the rest of the world.
Many of you probably saw the piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, by one of their top editors, Bill Keller, one of the “liberal hawks,” sort of apologizing for having supported the Iraq war. I sent a letter to the Times (we’ll see if it gets in!) to say that his “hard look” back is appropriate, but not nearly hard enough. He spoke of the “monster argument” being so potent in convincing him to call for war against Iraq, but where was he in the 1970s and 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was armed and financed by the United States? He ignored the 1990s when the people of Iraq faced not only the continuing brutality of that dictatorship but the monster of U.S.-backed economic sanctions that killed over 500,000 children.
But most of all Keller ignored the fact that the “broad consensus” he invokes was not absolute. He names one skeptic who “joined the hawk club” after Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council – but ignores all those skeptics who watched that same speech and weren’t convinced. Some of us published articles with titles like “Powell’s Dubious Case for War” within hours of Powell’s speech on February 5, 2003. He ignores — as his newspaper so often ignored — the voices of consistent skeptics, those of us who opposed the Iraq war as a drive toward power and empire, who cheered the UN when it joined millions of people around the world who said no to war. We opposed the war then, and we were right. We still are.
Now the 9/11 commemorations have come and gone, and our country is still at war. Sometimes it seems that one way or another the United States is at war against almost the whole world:
- Official (though undeclared) wars in and against Afghanistan and Iraq
- Official (but not really a war “because U.S. troops aren’t the ones at risk”) war in Libya
- Unofficial (though sort of acknowledged) war in Pakistan
- Unacknowledged (because murder-by-drone doesn’t count as war) war in Yemen and Somalia
- Indirect and diplomatic war (through $30 billion military aid enabling Israel’s occupation and by promising another UN veto) against Palestine
- Unacknowledged and denied (through still-stealth drone campaigns) war in uncertain venues mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
- Untitled (though still accurately described as the Global War on Terror) war in the whole world
- Then there’s the not-exactly-military war, like the war against the poor in the United States because of the hundreds of billions, now trillions, of tax dollars wasted on all those other wars.
It’s been a hell of an end to summer. The new census figures out this week are horrifying. Unemployment is staggeringly high, with more than 14 million people officially unemployed — which of course don’t include those who are under-employed, working two or three slave-wage jobs to survive, or who have simply given up looking. The current new jobs program is completely insufficient. What we need is a major federal jobs program, a real WPA, that we know works. Instead, we’re seeing billions diverted to continuing illegal, useless wars.
Poverty has surged to its highest levels in almost two decades, with one out of five children and one out of six people overall living below the poverty level, including lots of families where someone does have what passes for a job these days. And remember that the official “poverty line” is just over $22,000 for a family of four, no matter where they live! Imagine that for a family in New York or Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles…
And those devastating figures are far worse when we think about where our tax money is being spent. If President Obama ended the Iraq war “right away” — just the Iraq war, not even counting Afghanistan — he could bring home almost 50,000 troops and save almost $50 billion dollars. That’s enough for one million new green middle-class jobs — starting with those returning veterans.
If the president ended the war in Afghanistan “right away” — and we’re seeing every day how the U.S. occupation is causing more, not less violence in Afghanistan — he could bring home about 100,000 troops and $122 billion of our tax money. Keeping those troops in Afghanistan costs a million dollars a year each. For every soldier we bring home, saving that million dollars, we could hire that once-soldier-now-civilian plus 19 more people in good green jobs.
That’s what I wrote about in response to the celebrations about August — the first month without U.S. casualties in Iraq — but with too many Iraqi civilians still being killed, and too many billions of our tax dollars still wasted. (I also wrote a short op-ed version that went out on IPS’s OtherWords op-ed syndication service.)
THE UN IS COMING BACK TO TOWN
But the end of summer also means the UN General Assembly is coming back into session in the next couple of weeks. And Palestine is back on the agenda. After years (more than 20 years, actually) of a failed U.S.-controlled “peace process,” the question of Palestine is once again on the global agenda of the United Nations. And once again the United States is isolated with Israel, standing almost alone in the world in opposing a Palestinian initiative for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood that has long been the claimed, but never implemented, goal of U.S. policy. The fight is ostensibly over venue, not substance; the United States, we are told, supports a Palestinian state. But we don’t support them getting it in the UN. We only support it if it is created under our auspices and control. Otherwise we’ll call it “unhelpful.”
The United States has promised to veto a UN membership bid in the Security Council. But the Palestinians may avoid that by heading straight to the General Assembly where there is no veto, but where their state recognition will not include UN membership, though it would include the potentially powerful right to join the International Criminal Court. But there are a lot of negatives as well, primarily having to do with loss of representation at the UN for Palestinian refugees and support for their right of return, and many Palestinians are against this move. Developments are very uncertain, no one is sure yet what the Palestinian diplomats actually intend to do. What is clear is that we should not allow the United States to be the ones to say “no” to the Palestinian effort.
AND BACK IN THE REGION…
Lots of other Middle East news. I had a letter published in the Washington Post targeting U.S.-NATO hypocrisy in Libya and objecting to their misrepresentation of the UN resolution supposedly justifying the Western military intervention there. With regional developments changing so fast, at the moment changing especially swiftly in terms of Israel’s increasing isolation and changing relationships with its one-time allies in the region, I discussed the role of Egypt’s changes in determining Israeli actions in Gaza, with The Real News Network editor Paul Jay. (This video, along with some great footage of the protests in Israel, ends rather abruptly when the east coast earthquake interrupted our interview… it’s pretty funny.)
And I collaborated with my friend Richard Falk, the great international law scholar and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on an analysis of the UN’s latest report on last year’s Israel attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — in which they managed to claim Israel’s blockade of Gaza is somehow legal.
And last, as summer wanes, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is holding our annual national conference, celebrating ten years of work changing discourse and challenging U.S. policy towards Palestine and Israel, and looking forward to a (hopefully) short time left before we can fold up shop and take a vacation, because we’ve succeeded.
We have a lot of work to do.
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Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of “Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy U.S. Power” (Interlink Publishing, October 2005).