Same old “collateral damage” story in Afghanistan

[Updated at 9:23 pm, 10/3]

The NY Times is reporting that a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan struck a hospital operated by the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. At least 12 of the staff were killed and seven patients were also killed, three of whom were children.

The U.S. military said that “there may have been collateral damage . . .” But there is no “may” about it. The NY Times reports:

The civilian deaths in the Saturday airstrike, and the discrepancies in the accounts of what led to the bombing, were a painful reminder of a pattern that played out again and again in the years before the United States scaled back its role in Afghanistan, as American aircraft trying to strike the Taliban mistakenly hit civilians, frequently killing women, children and the elderly.

We need a less “damaging” alternative to war. Here’s one thoughtful, extensive suggestion from World Beyond War.org

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Guns (and the Second Amendment) are killing people

By Slowking4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated militia” is the equivalent of the United States’ rottenly regulated availability of all sorts of guns whose primary function (handguns and automatic rifles) is harming people. The U.S. Supreme Court, a slight majority, seems to accept this odd notion. No matter how much the deadly technology and availability of guns improves, we are all still living in 1791, or so the court’s literalists believe.

If what happened yesterday in Roseburg, Oregon and the myriad other mass shootings and daily shootings of Americans by their fellow armed Americans is what the authors of our Constitution intended, then it is surely time to amend the Second Amendment (as we have amended the Constitution before to reflect enlightened reconsideration) in order to place strict controls on the buying and owning of handguns and assault weapons, the sort of sane regulation that other industrialized nations practice. As the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence points out:

The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.

A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.

These sorts of numbers suggest we really ought to do something as a nation to drastically curb the number and availability of guns.

Firearms for hunting need not be banned or limited in order to curtail access to the most dangerous sorts of weapons, but in general much stricter gun permitting is necessary.

Of course we have to address the other issues involved with gun violence, including mental health and the primarily male fascination with gun-toting toughness. But to claim that guns themselves and their proliferation are not the most significant cause for our nation’s crazily-high number of gun deaths is simply to be in a dangerous and irresponsible state of denial. It’s time for our legislators to address this insanity. If not now, when?

P.S.– Some of the weapons the Roseburg, Oregon shooter was armed with were reportedly “military grade.” Here’s a modest proposal: no civilian should have access to military weapons, as a report on the Sandy Hook school mass shooting has rationally concluded.

P.P.S.–  Get Marc Jampole’s take on the Second Amendment and gun control via the Progressive Populist.

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Britain’s Labour Party Leader Corbyn a “no nukes” visionary

Photo: PICTURE BY : LA PHOT PAUL O'SHAU/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: PICTURE BY : LA PHOT PAUL O’SHAU/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When Britain’s new Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, told the BBC that he would, if elected Prime Minister, never order the use of nuclear weapons, it generated, in the words of a NY Times’ reporter, “a firestorm.” 

Appropriate metaphor, that. Some in Britain seem to prefer the possibility of launching a literal, nuclear firestorm. Corbyn has said, according to the NY Times:

I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons. I want to see a nuclear-free world. I believe it is possible.

Corbyn is that most rare thing, a peaceable political leader. He thinks Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine program a great waste of some $151 billion (hear, hear!) and that joining in the bombing of Syria is useless and dangerous for Britain.

That many in Corbyn’s own Labour Party disagree with his peaceable positions is no great surprise, for one’s political “credibility” apparently depends these days on one’s willingness to use military force to address conflicts, including the monstrously homicidal and potentially suicidal use of nuclear weapons.

Since nuclear disarmament is surely a credible and laudatory goal, a nation that vows never to use such weapons would be truly leading the world toward disarmament. Corbyn deserves to be applauded for his visionary courage to act upon the possibility of a nuclear-free world.

More perpetual war: Afghanistan again

Speaking of perpetual war, the NY Times is reporting that the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which, despite a major withdrawal of troops, was never entirely over, has erupted again as the U.S. launched airstrikes and deployed Special Forces troops after the Taliban captured the city of Kunduz.

Though the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was, after much slaughter and suffering of combatants and civilians, able to dethrone the Taliban, we have not been able to bring about a peaceable and prosperous Afghanistan, for the Taliban and their ideological supporters remain a considerable and apparently well-armed presence in that unfortunate nation. The U.S. appears to be quite good at waging war but rather lousy when it comes to putting the pieces back into some sort of sustainable peace. Perhaps we ought to reconsider our reliance on military methods.

Middle East scholar Juan Cole brings together the two big foreign stories today— more war in Syria and Afghanistan:

Those who want the US to go into Syria in a big way should just consider what the Kunduz events mean. Fourteen years after the US went into Afghanistan, it still has not been able to stand up a successful army to which it could hope to turn the country over. How many orphans do the hawks want to adopt?

War fails as a solution to conflict precisely because its means cannot bring about the proper, long-term ends. War breeds an animosity and sense of vengeance that only legitimizes more violence in the eyes of the victims and the defeated. To build democracy around the globe will require the U.S. and the other democracies to choose more democratic, nonviolent sorts of “nation-building.” I’ll end with Cole, who ends like this:

So, no nation-building then. The US response to the return of the Taliban will likely be to insist on keeping 10,000 men in Afghanistan, virtually forever. But that move sets up the paradox that it makes Ashraf Ghani look like an American puppet, and encourages even more young Afghan men to join the Taliban.

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More dropping of bombs on Syria is not the answer

Russia is preparing to join the international club of bomb dropping on Syria (the club now includes France).  Russian President Vladimir Putin may seek, ironically, a U.N. resolution to let him drop bombs on Syria legally.* (see note below).

Most of the bomb droppers are aiming for the Islamic terrorist group ISIL, though the Syrian government under Assad has a wider range of targets, and no one is quite sure upon whom the Russians (who want to support the Assad regime) will be dropping bombs. The U.S-led coalition is trying to drop its bombs in a way that destroys ISIL while leaving untouched the other, more moderate groups fighting Assad’s forces and ISIL.

“Montage of the Syrian Civil War” By Collective [CC BY 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If all this bomb-dropping sounds like a good reason to flee Syria for anywhere else, well, many Syrians agree.

Apart from the fact that the dropping of bombs on a sovereign nation without permission (Syria) is a violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, the dropping of bombs is, despite what the U.S. commander of the bombing in Syria and Iraq claims, not a “precise” way of ending or limiting war. Credible sources compiled by Airwars estimate that between 584 to 793 innocent people have been killed in coalition airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq.

Officially, coalition commanders have confirmed only two (2) civilian deaths so far from U.S.-led bomb dropping. Given that there have been more than 2,500 coalition airstrikes in Syria alone, this number seems impossibly low.

Call me a skeptic, but increasing the number of nations that are dropping bombs on Syria, whomever the intended target may be, is not a humane and effective way of bringing peace, prosperity and democracy to the Syrian people. The “war on terror” has served to create more terror and, through war-inspired recruitment, more terrorists. Though President Obama stated in his latest speech at the U.N. that ISIL “depends on perpetual war to survive”, the United States seems prepared to stay the course of perpetual war:

I’ve said before and I will repeat:  There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them.  We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes.  And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.

But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.  Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully.  The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.

But if the dropping of bombs is ultimately “not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria”, why are we, in the short term at least, perpetuating war and inevitably killing innocent people while helping to create millions of Syrian refugees? Is it really possible to bomb terrorism out of existence? Did it work in Afghanistan? In Iraq?

What is necessary is to help provide the people of the Middle East with a credible alternative–both justice and development– to religious violence and state violence. Large-scale, ideological terrorism of all sorts is best fought by education, democracy and diplomacy (call it nonviolent resistance), affirming a model of secular/religious compassion that denounces oppression and war. The propensity for dropping bombs on international conflicts only adds to the sum of cruelty and suffering.

P.S.– And it wouldn’t hurt if we stepped up our acceptance of Syrian refugees, which, as this writer suggests, will also help to counter ISIS. Via the NY Times.

(9/30) Note– Russia has now officially launched airstrikes in Syria and claims that its bombing is legal because it was requested by Assad.

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Both China & U.S. need to improve the human rights of women

 Grace Lee Boggs Photo by Gary Stevens [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Grace Lee Boggs Photo by Gary Stevens [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, at a U.N. summit meeting on women’s rights hosted by, of all nations, China and its president, Xi Jinping, we learned that China will “reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and women’s development,” according to Xi. So far, that reaffirmation has failed to recover the human rights of five Chinese female/feminist activists who were imprisoned earlier this year and released on bail while still living under state-imposed restrictions on what they can do and say. The five Chinese feminists wrote to the U.N. demanding that their cases be dropped by the Chinese government. Xi has said, however, that human rights are all in the eye of the beholder:

“We must recognize that countries have different historical processes and realities, that we need to respect people of all countries in the right to choose their own development independently.”

Xi’s defense of limits on human rights goes back to the so-called “Asian values” of the Bangkok Declaration of 1993: human rights are great, but “social harmony” and authoritarian control are more truly Asian than is democracy, a convenient policy if you happen to be an Asian political leader.  But human rights (women are indisputably human) must be universal if they are to have any meaning at all. Governments cannot pick and choose which human rights they will allow and protect, which is why the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights was created right after WWII in 1948. China signed that document, as did the United States. The UDHR does not accept authoritarian or other politically expedient exceptions.

And the United States, now that it has again disavowed “enhanced interrogation”/torture, also needs to do better to improve the rights of women. This from the NY Times:

A World Bank study this month said the United States was one of four countries around the world with no national laws requiring paid parental leave. The United States has also not met the global target for having women make up at least 30 percent of its legislature, and its share of roughly 19 percent is significantly lower than that of many countries in the world.

Let’s not forget the wage gap between men and women in the U.S. either.

So while the U.S. should continue to put pressure on China to fully abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we as a nation must also address the rights of women, including the right to health care, easily obtained contraception and a legal, safe abortion.

And the very next day, the House Speaker resigns . . .

Perhaps inspired by a genuinely religious (that is, generally liberal) sermon, House Speaker John Boehner decided the next morning he had nothing more to say politically and told House Republicans and the nation yesterday that he is quitting and leaving Congress.

Boehner did not say, however, that he will take a vow of poverty to work among the poor in Calcutta or Cleveland or take to the streets and march for peace, or turn liberal activist to lobby his former colleagues for cuts in carbon emissions and the end of capital punishment in the name of Pope Francis and God.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan called Boehner’s resignation “an act of pure selflessness” but what Boehner was facing was an act of utter mutiny and embarrassment– a vote to throw him out of the Speaker’s chair. In other words, John Boehner is no Mother Theresa. But maybe, just maybe, Boehner was moved enough by Pope Francis’s spirit of religious and political compassion to send a shocking message to the tea partying Trumpites who want to throw the poor, the foreign and the peaceable off the ship of state.

P.S.– And today Boehner, still in a religious mode, criticized the “false prophets” of his own party for being “unrealistic.” Michael Needham, head of Heritage Action for America, complains that some Republicans are treating the most conservative Republicans like “crazies.” Wonder where they got that idea?