Revolution #187, December 27, 2009
Obama Speeches at West Point and Oslo:
More Troops in Afghanistan and Preserving U.S. Nuclear Dominance... Is This the Path to Ending the Horrors of War?
At West Point on December 1, one of President Barack Obama's key arguments for escalating the war in Afghanistan was the danger that Islamic fundamentalists like al Qaeda or the Taliban might seize power in Pakistan and/or get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
"The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered," Obama stated. "And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them."
This justification for escalation in Afghanistan is part of a broader argument by Obama about the continued need for U.S. global "leadership" on the danger of nuclear weapons. It goes like this: whatever mistakes the U.S. has made, it has preserved global peace for the past 60-plus years and helped advance the interests of humanity. Now today, in the face of new threats from terrorists—who are far less rational and concerned about human life than the U.S. and its allies, but instead are driven by "rage"—the U.S. should continue in its role as guarantor of world security. Other countries should follow its lead in Afghanistan and on nuclear proliferation overall (especially in regard to Iran and North Korea) because this is the best and most realistic way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Obama articulated these themes at West Point and again in Oslo, Norway, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.
"We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction," Obama declared at West Point. "And that's why I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them, because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons. True security will come for those who reject them... But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades."
At Oslo, Obama argued that in the wake of the "destruction" of World War 2 and "with the advent of the nuclear age":
"America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons. In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War."
But, he argued, "this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."
Obama is amplifying the core post-September 11 narrative repeated over and over by government and the media: Islamic fundamentalists are unconstrained crazies who think "god" has ordained them to strike their enemies, including with nuclear weapons, without regard for human life or world opinion. And that's why people should back the U.S. in its efforts to defeat them and keep nuclear weapons out of their hands.
But before jumping on this bandwagon, people need to stop and think, and examine this logic and where it leads.
First, are nuclear weapons a horror? Yes. Would their use—anywhere by anyone—engulf thousands if not millions in an inferno of death and suffering? Yes. Is Islamic fundamentalism a reactionary political movement and outlook, whose tactics reflect its reactionary nature? Yes.
But does it automatically follow that people's best or only choice is fighting with and for the U.S.?
In this article we're going to walk through Obama's claims and arguments—are they true, or not? And where do they lead?
Is it true that the rulers of the U.S. are more rational and less murderous than the Islamic fundamentalists—especially concerning nuclear weapons? Is their stewardship the best way to prevent nuclear conflict and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons? Who actually unleashed the "nuclear genie" on the world, and is most responsible for nuclear proliferation? Who is most likely to use nuclear weapons today? And what is driving the nuclear danger? And, looking honestly at all the facts, who is it today that actually fits Obama's description of how "modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale" without regard for world opinion, and justifies this in the name of "god"?
Looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan specifically, what gave rise to the possibility that Islamic fundamentalists could gain access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons? And what impact will it actually have for the U.S. to continue—and be allowed to continue by lack of resistance in the U.S.—to play this role overall and to escalate the war in Afghanistan? (Obama's argument is a package deal—supporting Obama's Afghanistan escalation also means supporting the U.S.'s "right" to be the "guarantor of global security" and supporting U.S. efforts to enforce or impose that.)
Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Who Uncorked the Nuclear Genie?
Obama's narrative of the positive role the U.S. has played in the world regarding nuclear weapons focused on the post World War 2 period and is rooted in the concept of a "just war." According to Obama, one criteria for a "just war" is one in which "the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence." World War 2 was a just war, he argued, yet acknowledged it "was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished." Obama then argued that "In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War"—an effort in which "America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace."
Here Obama "forgets" to mention the key and central fact—who actually ushered in the "nuclear age": in fact, it was the United States by developing and then dropping two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those horrific bombings epitomize the other point Obama forgot to mention: that during World War 2, the United States was guilty of the massive slaughter of civilians. By the end of 1945, between 140,000 and 150,000 people had perished in Hiroshima and another 75,000-80,000 in Nagasaki. The victims—overwhelmingly civilians—died from direct injuries— flash burns, trauma, radiation burns—illness, malnutrition and radiation sickness. In the years that followed, more died from various cancers caused by radiation.
The U.S. rulers have long claimed that they were forced to drop "the bomb" because otherwise they would have had to directly invade Japan, and many more lives would have been lost. This is a narrative that fits one of Obama's key criteria for a just war: that such violence be only used "as a last resort or in self-defense."
But historians have unearthed abundant evidence disproving this imperialist mythology (which continues to be the dominant narrative about Hiroshima and Nagasaki today). Japan was reeling and its rulers had secretly communicated their desire to end the war—before the bombs dropped. According to historian Gar Alperovitz, “A critical message of July 12, 1945—just before Potsdam [and some 3 weeks before Hiroshima was bombed]—showed that the Japanese emperor himself had decided to intervene to attempt to end the war." In his private journal, President Harry Truman called it a "telegram from [the] Jap Emperor asking for peace,” at once exposing both his racism and that his administration consciously lied about their reasons for nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time," according to J. Samuel Walker, chief historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it." (Emphasis added)
So Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not obliterated for self-defense. So then: why were these cities obliterated and over 200,000 people incinerated?
Here's how then-Secretary of State James Byrnes' personal assistant put it in his private journal. Byrnes was "hoping for time, believing [that] after [the] atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims against China." Alperovitz writes, "I also believe the evidence is strong, but not conclusive, that American leaders saw the bomb above all as a way to impress the Russians and also as a way to end the war before the Red Army got very far into Manchuria [in northern China]."
In sum, the record shows that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated for coldly-calculated imperialist geopolitical objectives, including weakening the Soviet Union's post-war influence and making a statement to the world that America would henceforth rule the planet and would brook no challenge. (Quotes re Hiroshima/Nagasaki above from Gar Alperovitz, "Hiroshima: Historians Reassess," Foreign Policy, Summer 1995, ncesa.org/html/hiroshima.html; Gar Alperovitz, "Hiroshima After Sixty Years: The Debate Continues," CommonDreams.org, August 3, 2005)
Sparing Civilians from Violence? The March 1945 Firebombing of Tokyo
U.S. savagery and wanton slaughter of civilians wasn't confined to the dropping of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"—the codenames turned nicknames for America's first two atomic bombs. These bombings came in the wake of the U.S. bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities (where most homes were made of wood) using incendiary bombs designed to burn the cities down. On March 9-10, 1945 alone, the firestorm over 16 square miles of Tokyo killed over 100,000 people and injured many more. At the time, former Secretary of Defense and architect of the Vietnam War Robert McNamara was doing statistical analysis for Gen. Curtis E. LeMay of the Army's Air Forces.
"We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo—men, women and children," Mr. McNamara recalled; some 900,000 Japanese civilians died in all. "LeMay said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he’s right. He—and I'd say I—were behaving as war criminals. What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" ("Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93," New York Times, July 7, 2009. McNamara quotes taken from the Errol Morris film, The Fog of War.)
Did such actions meet Obama's criteria that force be "proportional," and "whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence"?
No. The real history of World War 2 gives the lie to any notion that those who run the system base any of their key decisions on concern for civilian life, or that they're bound by any precepts of "just war."
Why should such a power be entrusted with "constructing an architecture to keep the peace"?
Post-World War 2—Leaving Nukes Behind? Hardly.
This is quintessential Obama: rewriting history in the service of imperialism and its current objectives—by acknowledging wrongdoing in a general way, while omitting any specific mention or accounting of the record of towering U.S. crimes and carnage.
What, in fact, was the U.S. record after World War 2? Did the U.S. come to its senses after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and do all it could to "prevent another World War," as Obama implied, or halt the use and spread of nuclear weapons?
No. The U.S. accelerated its production and development of nuclear weapons (at its peak in the mid-1960s, the U.S. arsenal was comprised of over 30,000 nuclear warheads), it fueled the nuclear arms race, it facilitated nuclear proliferation, it repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons, and took the world to the brink of nuclear war more than once.
The U.S.'s development—and use—of nuclear weapons and then its nuclear war threats against the Soviet Union and China, helped spark a nuclear arms race. After World War 2, the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons against China during the Korean war (1951-53), and threats of nuclear war against the Soviet Union also hung in the air during the late 1940's and early 1950's. Then the U.S. had secret plans to turn the Soviet Union into a "smoking radiating ruin at the end of two hours." (David Alan Rosenberg and W.B. Moore, "Smoking Radiating Ruin at the End of Two Hours": Documents on American Plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union, 1954-55, The MIT Press, 1981.)
As part of its "Cold War" struggle against the Soviet Union, the U.S. also helped its allies Britain and France develop nuclear weapons. And it has continued to refine and develop its own nuclear arsenal, both in pursuit of nuclear supremacy and to make its nukes more usable.
Iraq 1958: Threatening—and Deploying—Nuclear Weapons Against a Revolution
Nuclear weapons were—and continue to be—central to U.S. military strategy, operations and global actions and posture (and a key way the U.S. imperialists, with but 3% of the world's population, planned to dominate the whole planet). The U.S. has never renounced the first use of nuclear weapons, and threatened—either overtly or covertly—or seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons dozens of times in the post-World War 2 period against many different countries. According to one tabulation, the U.S. threatened the use of nuclear weapons at least 15 times after World War 2, in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe. (academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html)
For instance, in the Middle East, in 1958 the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons after the Iraqi monarchy—a staunch U.S. ally—was overthrown and a more nationalist regime took power. The U.S. threatened war against the new republic, and U.S. forces—including the Strategic Air Command—were put on worldwide alert. Shortly before Iraq's revolution, 70 naval vessels, hundreds of aircraft and 14,000 Marines had been dispatched to Lebanon. They arrived in mid-July in position to intervene in Iraq. Micah Sifry, formerly Middle East editor at The Nation, notes that these forces reportedly included an "atomic unit" with artillery capable of firing nuclear shells. Eisenhower had in fact issued a secret directive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordering them to prepare to use nuclear weapons to prevent an Iraqi takeover of Kuwait's oil fields.
In response to U.S. threats and deployments, the Soviet Union began large-scale maneuvers on its borders with Turkey and Iran. Sifry concluded, "Until the makeup and intentions of the new Republic of Iraq became clear, 'general war' was a real possibility." In April 1959, CIA Director Allen Dulles told Congress that the situation in Iraq was "the most dangerous in the world today." (Micah L. Sifry, "U.S. Intervention in the Middle East: A Case Study," The Gulf War Reader, pp. 27-30; William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, pp. 133-134)
Iran 1980: "Plunging Headlong into World War 3."
The Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew the Shah who was a key pillar of U.S. dominance in the Middle East. This came at a time of escalating rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and there was enormous concern in Washington that the Soviets might gain ground in the region in the wake of the Shah's fall and the ongoing turmoil in Iran after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.
Soviet fears of U.S. military action against Iran were sparked on August 16, 1980 when columnist Jack Anderson published an article reporting that, "A startling, top-secret plan to invade Iran with powerful military forces has been prepared for President Carter. The ostensible purpose is to rescue the hostages, but the operation also would exact military retribution." Anderson reported that the assault, tentatively scheduled for October, called for seizing and holding Kharg Island, through which 90 percent of Iran's oil flowed, and possibly other oil fields in southern Iran. Anderson called it a "desperate political gamble.... There already have been ominous rumblings out of the Kremlin, warning of retaliation if Iran should be attacked. A Soviet-U.S. clash over Iran, of course, could become the opening skirmish of World War 3."
The Carter administration claimed it had no such plans, but the Soviets seem to have responded to Anderson's exposé by placing their forces near Iran in a higher state of readiness, perhaps as a warning. In late August, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor, writes that Washington detected Soviet forces deployed "in a mode suited for intervention in Iran" and decided to warn the Soviets that any move into Iran "would lead to a direct military confrontation" and to "develop military options both for the defense of Iran itself and for retaliatory military responses elsewhere, in the event of a Soviet move." Those options included the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
The atmosphere was so fraught with tension that when the Carter team was debating whether to move AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia following the September 1980 outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war (thus directly inserting advanced U.S. weapons in the region), Brzezinski writes that then-Secretary of State Muskie "exploded and said that we are plunging headlong into World War 3."
Journalist and author Dilip Hiro concluded, "In short, when it came to keeping the Soviets out of Iran the Reagan administration (like the Carter administration before it) was prepared to go to the furthest limit, including nuclear warfare."
(Sources re Iran crisis: Jack Anderson, "Iran invasion plan reported, denied," Chicago Sun-Times, Aug.16, 1980; Gary Sick, October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan, pp. 25-26; Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle, pp. 451-453; Richard Halloran, New York Times, September 2, 1986; Benjamin F. Schemmer, "Was the U.S. Ready to Resort to Nuclear Weapons for the Persian Gulf in 1980?" Armed Forces Journal International, September 1986, Halloran and Schemmer cited in an unpublished paper by Daniel Ellsberg; Dilip Hiro, Iran Under the Ayatollahs, pp. 325-6)
Vietnam 1969: Nuclear "Madmen"... In the White House
These and many other examples demonstrate that U.S. threats were not empty bluffs. The U.S. often put its nuclear forces on alert or moved nuclear weapons into position for use; and all the while the U.S. were risking setting in motion events which the U.S. couldn't control which could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. In short—the U.S. was gambling with the future of humanity in order to advance its imperial objectives.
The U.S. rulers paint the Islamic fundamentalists as insane, while they themselves are worthy stewards of the planet. In fact, the imperialists practiced "brinksmanship," pushing things to the brink—and even acting as if they were irrational—in order to get opponents to back down.
President Richard Nixon called it "the madman theory," and in 1969, he put it into practice and nearly plunged the world into nuclear war. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I've reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war," Nixon told his top advisor. At the time the Vietnam War had turned into a major debacle for the U.S. and Nixon wanted to force the North Vietnamese to sue for peace on U.S. terms—but Hanoi was refusing. "We'll just slip the word to them that for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button, and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."
Nixon soon unleashed his "madman" strategy. "From Oct. 10, 1969, through the rest of the month the U.S. military was ordered to full global war readiness alert, without any provocation, and with no explanation to U.S. commanders as to the alert's purpose," writes James Carroll. "Nuclear armed fighter planes were dispersed to civilian airports, missile countdown procedures were initiated, missile-bearing submarines were dispersed, long-range bombers were launched, targeting was begun. On October 27, in the climactic action designed to make it seem the madman was loose, the Strategic Air Command was ordered to dispatch B-52 bombers, loaded with thermonuclear weapons, toward the Soviet Union."
Unbeknownst to Nixon, he put his plan into effect at a moment of escalating threats by the imperialist Soviet Union against revolutionary China, then a socialist country led by Mao Tsetung, with both countries approaching a war footing. "Thus, when signals of an American nuclear countdown were picked up," Carroll continues, "Moscow would have had every reason to assume that the United States was preparing to attack in support of Beijing, perhaps launching a preemption of Moscow's own contemplated attack against China."
"If Leonid Brezhnev [the Soviet leader], that is, behaved as Richard Nixon did in October of 1969," Carroll concludes, "the world would have been plunged into nuclear horror." ("Nixon's Madman Strategy", Boston Globe, June 14, 2005)
Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, who has also analyzed these developments, writes that at the time, Nixon was seriously considering using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam, but was forced to reconsider after two million people took to the streets for the October 15, 1969 Moratorium against the war. ("Daniel Ellsberg: Time to Drive Out the Bush Regime," Truthdig.org, September 16, 2006, truthdig.com/report/item/20060916_daniel_ellsberg_drive_out_bush)
In the first installment of his personal memoir of the nuclear era, Ellsberg paints a bone-chilling picture of overall U.S. plans to wage nuclear war which would have obliterated "most cities and people in the Northern Hemisphere." Ellsberg writes, "The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed primarily at the Soviet Union and China, would be roughly 600 million dead. A hundred Holocausts." ("A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider's Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy," Truthdig.org, September 10, 2009, truthdig.com/report/item/20090910_a_hundred_holocausts_an_insiders_window_into_us_nuclear_policy)
The record of U.S. actions shows that in reality, the Islamic fundamentalists are no more irrational or callous toward human life than the imperialists—who are driven by necessities beyond their understanding and control—and the US imperialists have far, far, far more destructive power at their command. The main reason the U.S. hasn't again used nuclear weapons wasn't revulsion at the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the simple fact that their rivals possessed nuclear weapons as well.
"But There Has Been No Third World War"
OK, someone might argue, the U.S. has done bad things, but what Obama said is true: "there has been no Third World War." Isn't that reason to trust the U.S. rulers and feel they're the best option for preserving the peace?
Here's the reality; true, there has been no World War 3. But it wasn't because the U.S. wasn't preparing for the possibility of waging a third World War; it wasn't because the rulers never risked world war; and it wasn't because the imperialists felt that nuclear war was just too horrible to contemplate and should not be considered under any circumstances.
As their rivalry with the Soviet Union intensified over the 1970's and 1980's, the U.S. rulers and their military establishment seriously prepared for the possibility of nuclear war—debating its pros and cons, incorporating nuclear war fighting in U.S. strategy and force posture, and building new weapons systems, and overall working to gain nuclear superiority over the Soviets. "For the first time," former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote concerning the late 1970s and early 1980s, "the United States deliberately sought for itself the capability to manage a protracted nuclear conflict."
Rather than an unbreakable taboo, nuclear war was something the U.S. rulers actually joked about—most infamously when Ronald Reagan "joked" "we begin bombing in 5 minutes." And during the 1980s—whether over Iran or after the September 1, 1983 Soviet shootdown of Korean Air Lines (KAL) Flight 007, the U.S. imperialists were willing to escalate tensions to weaken the Soviets and/or force them to back down—with no guarantee that would happen and knowing the possibility that events could spin out of control in ways catastrophic for the planet.
In short, the rulers were compelled by the underlying dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system they represent and serve to pursue global power and supremacy—which is foundational and essential to the functioning and continuation of their system. The interests of humanity and the lives of billions of people were secondary to those considerations.
In the final analysis, World War 3 did not happen primarily because the Soviet Union under Gorbachev "blinked" first—backing down in nuclear negotiations in 1986—and ultimately because it collapsed (in no small measure due to the strains placed on the Soviet empire as a result of the U.S. "full court press" and its threats of nuclear war.)
Did the U.S. Change Its Nuclear Ways When The Cold War Ended....Or When Obama Took Office?
The end of the Cold War in 1991 did not bring fundamental change—much less an end—to the U.S. imperialists' reliance on nuclear weapons. Neither did Obama's election.
Today, the U.S. still maintains one of the world's two largest and most lethal nuclear arsenals (along with Russia)—an estimated 9,960 warheads, some 5,735 of which are operational and 3,696 of which are strategic (long range).
Nuclear weapons have remained a core element in U.S. military strategy. In 2002 under George W. Bush, the U.S. made ominous changes in nuclear strategy including scrapping arms control treaties, developing a new generation of nuclear weapons—including more "usable" tactical warheads—more fully integrating nuclear weapons into U.S. war fighting strategies, and planning for the possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. For the first time, the U.S. stated it would contemplate nuclear strikes on non-nuclear powers—which effectively undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In September 2002, Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, a document which states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."
Three months later, in December 2002, a new "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" was issued which threatened first strikes, possibly with nuclear weapons, against countries thought to be developing chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
It is not widely known, but during its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration never took the nuclear option off the table. Two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon was "quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq...including the possible use of so-called bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets." (See endnotes for sources)
During his time in office, Obama has stated that a central component of his foreign policy is strengthening treaties to reduce nuclear weapons, including U.S.-Russian agreements, and he has talked generally about working for a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russia recently concluded an agreement to cut their arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear warheads by one-quarter to 1,600 each. This does not count each side's thousands of stored strategic warheads and tactical nuclear weapons, and still leaves them with an arsenal capable of wreaking unimaginable destruction over the planet. (New York Times, December 18 & 19, 2009)
There is no evidence that Obama has fundamentally changed U.S. nuclear strategy, rolled back the decisions of the Bush years, or has any serious plan to actually eliminate the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
There is, however, evidence, that Obama is continuing to upgrade and modernize U.S. nukes. Democracy Now! (October 1, 2009) reports that the Obama administration is "going ahead with a Bush administration program increasing nuclear weapons production... The administration is proposing to build new plutonium pits at the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico and expand enriched uranium processing at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee." (See Matthew Cardinale, "Nukes Agency Pushes New Bomb Production," Inter Press Service [IPS], September 30, 2009)
As discussed below, the actual purpose and impact of Obama's rhetoric and his diplomatic steps are not to eliminate nuclear weapons, but to put the U.S. in a stronger position to keep its own arsenal—while imposing its own diktat on those it seeks to prevent having nuclear weapons. In short, to maintain the nuclear monopoly—largely in the hands of the U.S. and its allies.
"A Few... Men... Murder Innocents On A Horrific Scale"
At Oslo, Obama condemned Islamic fundamentalists for their wanton disregard for human life: "Terrorism has long been a tactic," he said, "but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."
But who was it—repeatedly and massively over the 60 plus years following World War 2 that wantonly snuffed out millions and millions of lives—overwhelmingly civilians—often to terrorize and crush whole populations? None other than Barack Obama's United States of America: whether killing some 3 million with conventional weapons in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, or by killing over 500,000 through its backing and organizing of death squads in Central America in the 1980s, or by killing over 500,000 Iraqis—mainly children—during the 1990s via the imposition of crippling economic sanctions.
The U.S. rulers were perfectly clear about what they were doing—and occasionally they blurted out some of that truth. In 1996, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked during a CBS 60 Minutes interview about the impact of sanctions on Iraq. Leslie Stahl asked: "We have heard that half a million Iraqi children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And—and you know, is the price worth it?" Albright's answer: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it."
The World's Leading Nuclear Enabler
Earlier in the year Obama stressed that when it comes to nuclear treaties: "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."
In Oslo, he focused on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), "whose bargain is clear," as he put it: "all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament."
Obama then insisted, "it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system."
There is so much lying and hypocrisy here it's hard to know where to begin.
First, the NPT was signed in 1968. Since then the major nuclear powers—especially the U.S. and Russia—have refused to "work toward disarmament" in any kind of real way, but instead as we have described, maintained huge stockpiles of devastating and potentially planet-killing weapons—even as the numbers of those have fluctuated—and continued to hold humanity hostage, and continued to threaten to use nuclear weapons, most recently in U.S. threats against Iraq in 2003 and recent Israeli threats against Iran.
Second, the U.S. has been "gaming the system" since day one. When it has suited U.S. imperialist purposes, it has aided, abetted, and allied with countries who have refused to even sign the NPT, and instead developed nuclear weapons, reactionary countries which pose grave nuclear threats to the people: Israel, Pakistan, and India. Meanwhile, it has threatened sanctions and even war against a country like Iran for pursuing the development of nuclear energy, a right under the NPT. (Iran may in fact seek nuclear weapons or the ability to make them; however this has not been proven, and in any event, the U.S. has made clear that it considers even Iran's mastery of the enrichment cycle needed to process uranium for nuclear power intolerable.)
Israel: The U.S.'s Nuclear Armed Attack Dog in the Middle East
Compare the U.S. attitude toward Iran—a country with no nuclear weapons which has signed the NPT—with its attitude toward Israel—a state with a stockpile of 150 to 200 nuclear weapons, which has not signed the NPT, whose facilities are never inspected, which has waged one war after another against its neighbors and which is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people as part of its campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Israel's nuclear arsenal is treated as untouchable, even though Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran (and other countries). There are no calls by any U.S. establishment political figures—Democrat or Republican—for Israel to sign the NPT or submit to international inspections.
Instead, as Noam Chomsky has recently written, in the weeks before Obama's Oslo speech, "Amid the furor over Iranian duplicity, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. The United States and Europe tried to block the IAEA resolution, but it passed anyway. The media virtually ignored the event. The United States assured Israel that it would support Israel's rejection of the resolution—reaffirming a secret understanding that has allowed Israel to maintain a nuclear arsenal closed to international inspections, according to officials familiar with the arrangements. Again, the media were silent." (Noam Chomsky, "War, Peace, and Obama's Nobel," In These Times, November. 5, 2009)
Israel has also been a nuclear proliferator—helping the racist apartheid regime of South Africa to obtain nuclear weapons in the 1970's.
So today, one of the greatest dangers of nuclear attack—a conflict that could engulf the whole Middle East and spread to the whole world—does not come from Iran. It comes from the U.S. and Israel and their efforts to maintain their nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and prevent Iran from even acquiring the know-how for enriching uranium.
Why Is There a Nuclear Danger in Pakistan? And Who Continues to Fuel It?
The first question is—why does Pakistan even have nuclear weapons, which Islamists could potentially get hold of, in the first place? Pakistan's nuclear program has its roots in its 60-plus year rivalry with India, but also in American support for Pakistan's reactionary rulers, and its tacit support of Pakistan's nuclear program. Pakistan is ruled by big capitalists and landlords, and has one of the world's deepest chasms between rich and poor. It has been ruled by military juntas for much of its existence, juntas which fostered Islamization as a foundation of legitimacy, a tool of state, and a means of suffocating the masses.
For decades, the U.S. supported Pakistan as a counterweight to India—which was then allied with the Soviet Union—in the region, despite Pakistan's refusal to sign the NPT. This included billions in military aid and close military collaboration. India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974. Two years earlier Pakistan had decided to embark on a nuclear program of its own. By 1986 it had the capability of assembling a nuclear bomb, and in 1998 it carried out its first test explosions of its nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has at various times chastised Pakistan for developing nuclear weapons, and temporarily imposed sanctions and cut off aid. But these cuts have been short-lived and never trumped U.S. strategic objectives in the region. For instance, in 1979, the U.S. cut off all military aid to Pakistan over concerns its nuclear program was not strictly peaceful. Yet as soon as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. pledged military and economic support and by 1982 had lifted its embargo and resumed military and economic aid. The Reagan administration in particular turned a blind eye to Pakistan's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
India and Pakistan have nearly gone to all-out war, potentially including nuclear weapons, twice, most recently in 2002. In addition to helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons, U.S. actions in the region have helped fuel the India-Pakistan rivalry and thus poured fuel on this potential nuclear fire. For instance, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. began trying to cultivate India as its main ally in the region (and recently agreed to aid India's nuclear program). Then, in 2001, it overthrew the pro-Pakistan Taliban in Afghanistan and thus opened Afghanistan up to further Indian influence. (And the U.S. has refused to work for any just resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is a key fault line between India and Pakistan.) All of this has stoked the regional India-Pakistan rivalry—and this is one reason that Pakistan has continued to support the Taliban in Afghanistan—and contributed to the danger of war between these reactionary, nuclear-armed states.
Having helped pile up combustible nuclear tinder in South Asia, the U.S. imperialists have also fueled reactionary Islamic fundamentalism and in that way as well contributed to the possibility of fundamentalists getting the bomb. The U.S. has fanned the flames of fundamentalism by, among other things, supporting the Pakistan's reactionary and quasi-fundamentalist military rulers, arming and training jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the 1980s, driving the Taliban and other Islamists out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan with its 2001 invasion and occupation, and then poured gasoline on this tinder in both Afghanistan and Pakistan by its mass bombings of civilians and overall brutality of its occupation—including illegally detaining, holding, and torturing both Pakistanis and Afghanis.
All this has created enormous rage, tension, and instability in Pakistan. And Obama's latest surge—which includes more drone strikes and other military operations in Pakistan (reportedly including in major cities)—may well intensify these hatreds and increase the fragility of the Pakistani state.
Obama, like his predecessors in the Oval Office, justifies U.S. actions by claiming "god" is on America's side: "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America," he concluded at West Point, after announcing the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the deployment of 30,000 more troops.
What is this clash between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism—both reactionary and "outmoded" social forces—leading to? In Bringing Forward Another Way, Bob Avakian writes, "I have pointed out before that, sooner or later if things keep going the way they are—and in particular if these ′two historically outmodeds′ continue to drive much of the dynamics of things and reinforce each other even while opposing each other—then things could get to the point where some of these Islamic fundamentalist forces will get some real weapons of mass destruction, maybe even nuclear ones, and then the shit's going to really fly on a whole other level."
This is looming larger today in Pakistan.
The Realities That Must Be Faced, The Choices We Confront
So any honest accounting of the history of U.S. actions around the world in the last 60 years—and today—shows a wanton disregard for human life, a ruling class repeatedly driven to murder millions and risk even greater slaughter, whose actions have not only spawned enormous suffering but also sharpened rivalries, accelerated the nuclear arms race, and fueled Islamic fundamentalism.
So given all this, you can't make an honest argument that the U.S. rulers are any more guided by concerns of humanity, avoiding civilian deaths, and protecting the planet from a nuclear holocaust than the Islamic fundamentalists they condemn. In fact, the imperialists are the primary authors of these horrors, with far, far more power to inflict damage than the Islamists.
Today, Obama is arguing—and demanding—that this same ruling class be strengthened and followed. At Oslo it wasn't simply or even mainly that his speech was hypocritical in a general way (War = Peace). The deeper reality was that he was using the Peace Prize platform to advance and legitimize a U.S. imperialist agenda of escalating war, bullying and bloodshed. Obama's talk of a world without nuclear weapons, in particular, is an effort to legitimize the continued U.S. possession (and possible use) of nuclear weapons and its role in policing who has and doesn't have them—and its use of military force (including nuclear weapons) if need be, in pursuit of its own interests—as if this is somehow part of a plan to get rid of nuclear weapons.
In short, now that the imperialists have created an explosive and nightmarish hell on earth—with the potential to engulf whole regions and the planet in ongoing and possibly nuclear war, they demand that only they be allowed to solve the crisis—with the very means that have helped create it in the first place and when history has shown that their "solutions" only pave the way and prepare the ground for the next horror and the next emergency.
On the deepest level, capitalism is an economic and social system whose core nature and functioning rests on ruthless competition—economically, politically and militarily—between rival powers and blocs of capital. And this expresses itself in military rivalry, clashes and horrific wars for dominance over vast swaths of the earth and efforts to prevent other powers from doing likewise. And it means these powers will never give up their military forces and advantages—including nuclear weapons.
In sum, Obama is demanding that we protect and preserve this system and the deadly dynamics it spawns for our "safety." The only thing these imperialists are concerned about keeping "safe" is their right and ability to dominate, exploit, and threaten the planet. This is a choice anyone who faces reality and has a conscience should vehemently reject.
He's telling us we should ignore everything the U.S. has done to the people of the world, to forget how 80% of the world's population is forced to live and the threats and death they endure at U.S. hands—instead we should just focus on "us," and the possible danger to "us." And to give the U.S. rulers a blank check to continue to do what they will to defend the interests of empire. In short, let however many be slaughtered or tortured for our "safety" and the American way of life.
Supporting Obama and the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is signing on to ALL this. This is sickening and unconscionable for anyone with a shred of basic morality or concern for humanity.
And we should vehemently reject their entire system. Can there be any insanity as monumental and criminal as repeatedly risking all human life on the planet for the strategic concerns of a handful of exploiters and oppressors? Can there be anything as monstrous as the repeated murder of hundreds of thousands and even millions in the horrific wars they fight—whether by conventional or nuclear weapons? Can there be anything as perverse as the biggest practitioners of nuclear terror and risk-taking and mass slaughter posing as the guarantors of "peace"??
And that's not all. As we speak, these same monsters are also plunging the planet into ecological catastrophe (while arresting and beating those who protest on the planet's behalf) and consigning billions to a "way of life" that, as the Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage says, "drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity."
Well... isn't that argument enough for revolution? And the possibility exists to eliminate the roots of these kinds of wars and conflicts, through revolution to get to—again, as laid out in the Manifesto—"a whole different way of life... in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, can throw off the heavy chains of traditions and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined."
And when that revolution includes the elimination of destructive conflicts between nations and indeed the whole existence of antagonistic nation-states oppressing the people and fighting each other, well, isn't that worth putting everything you have into making that happen?
** Excerpts from Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda on changes in U.S. nuclear posture during the George W. Bush administration (Chapter 1, pp. 22, 23)
Ominous changes are also taking place in U.S. nuclear strategy. The latest U.S. "Nuclear Posture Review," leaked to the Los Angeles Times in February 2002, advocates scrapping arms control treaties, developing a new generation of nuclear weapons—including more "usable" tactical warheads—more fully integrating nuclear weapons into U.S. war fighting strategies, and planning for the possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. For the first time, the U.S. stated it would contemplate nuclear strikes on non-nuclear powers. This latter move effectively undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Los Angeles Times reported:
The Bush administration has directed the military to prepare contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven countries and to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in certain battlefield situations, according to a classified Pentagon report obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The secret report, which was provided to Congress on Jan. 8, says the Pentagon needs to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. It says the weapons could be used in three types of situations: against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack; in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or 'in the event of surprising military developments.'1
In September 2002, Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, a secret document which states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."2
Three months later, in December 2002, a new "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" was issued which threatened first strikes, possibly with nuclear weapons, against countries thought to be developing chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.3
Top Bush officials radiate, as it were, a vicious eagerness to use military power, including nuclear weapons. "Rule nothing out," Rumsfeld wrote in the May/June 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs. "The enemy must understand that we will use every means at our disposal to defeat them, and that we are prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve victory."4
It is not widely known that the Bush administration never took the nuclear option off the table in Iraq. Two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon was "quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq...including the possible use of so-called bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets."5
1. The review had been underway since September 2000, and was made public after it was leaked to the Los Angeles Times in February 2002. Paul Richter, "U.S. Works Up Plan for Using Nuclear Arms," Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2002. [back]
2. Jonathan Schell, "The Case Against the War," The Nation, March 3, 2003. [back]
3. "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction," December 2002; David E. Sanger, "U.S. Issues Warning to Foes in Arms Plan," New York Times, December 11, 2002; Mike Allen and Barton Gellman, "Preemptive Strikes Part Of U.S. Strategic Doctrine," Washington Post, December 11, 2002, A1. [back]
4. Rumsfeld, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2002, p. 31. [back]
5. Paul Richter, "U.S. Weighs Tactical Nuclear Strike on Iraq" Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2003. [back]
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