When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He'd like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night. He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He'd like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations' concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai's.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years and years. We're spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we'd favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn't stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn't get the aid that we favored.
We aren't asked about the drone strikes. We aren't asked about most military operations. And we aren't being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven't learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We'd have invented a new disease. They'd replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he's "ending" out for another decade, establishing that there's very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won't allow them to roll right over us.
In Switzerland a petition from 100,000 people, or about 1.25% of the population, creates a public referendum. By this means, last March, Swiss voters created strict limits on executive pay.
On November 24, the Swiss will vote on whether to take a further step -- limiting executive pay to no more than 12 times the lowest salary in the company. Such a maximum wage policy allows the CEO pay increases, but only if workers get at least a twelfth as much.
A movement in the U.S. is asking: If Switzerland can do it, why can't we?
The Swiss are also set to vote, on a date yet to be set, to create a guaranteed basic income of $2,800 (2,500 Swiss francs) per month for every adult. That's about $16 per hour for a full-time worker, but it's guaranteed even for those who can't find work.
You know what country can afford such a measure even more easily, given its vast supplies of wealth? The United States of America.
Here in the United States, had the minimum wage kept pace with productivity since the 1960s it would now be $21.72 an hour, or $3,722 a month. The Congressional proposal of $10.10 an hour, which President Obama now says he supports, equals $1,751 a month for a fulltime job. The actual U.S. minimum wage of $7.25, which does not apply to all workers, makes $1,242 a month. But only if you can find work.
That's less than half what the Swiss are voting on, and Swiss workers also have their healthcare paid for, public transportation widely available, quality education and higher education free or affordable, 14 weeks paid parental leave, and a nearly endless list of other advantages provided by the government.
A basic income guarantee, currently practiced in Alaska and once supported by President Richard Nixon and the U.S. House of Representatives, would be far more efficient than targeted support programs, because every individual would receive the exact same check, with no stigma attached to it; and, yes -- believe it or not -- people who could find work would still work.
Switzerland has a greater percentage of its population made up by immigrants than the United States does. Switzerland has four national languages. What allows Switzerland to practice democracy so much more effectively?
Two major parts of the answer are obvious. Switzerland doesn't fight wars, and it doesn't redistribute its wealth upward creating an overclass of multibillionaires.
Perhaps its time to begin moving our own country in a peaceful, prosperous direction. A growing number of people have decided to try.
Daddy Warbucks: May I have the first word?
Brother Pax: If I may have the last one.
DW: I'm sure you will, and you had the first one too. Before the drones came on the scene, you called them forth. You said "War costs too much money." You said "War kills too many soldiers." Well, here you go. War costs less money. And war kills nobody. And yet you aren't satisfied.
BP: Now, this will be a very short debate if my position is to protest the murdering of people with drones, and your position is that drones kill nobody. There must be more overlap in our worldviews than that if we are even to talk.
DW: You know perfectly well what I meant.
BP: It might be clearer if you tell me.
DW: Drones don't kill pilots or soldiers. They only kill the people who need to be killed.
BP: Let me grant you part of that. We've had pilots and soldiers killed by suicide, by accident, by friendly fire, and by suicide bombings at drone bases. But let's suppose they've been fewer than they might have been in some other form of war.
DW: There's no question.
BP: There is always a question. Sometimes it's a different question than the one being so insistently answered.
BP: If the question is whether to have this kind of war or that kind of war, then we must choose the better kind of war (if we can make out what it is). But if the question is whether to have peace or to have war, then a different answer is available.
DW: Well, of course. We all want peace. But that comes after.
BP: Does it? Let's go back to the "people who need to be killed."
BP: Who are they?
DW: Criminals, terrorists, threats to -- in fact -- kill a lot more people. Stopping them is the whole point.
BP: May I ask you a few questions that might seem unrelated?
DW: Go ahead.
BP: If the government doubled your taxes, would you trust it to do the right things with that money?
BP: Do you trust government officials' campaign promises?
BP: Are you confident that the inspectors who allowed the flooding of the Gulf of Mexico with oil are doing a good job now?
BP: Do you believe politicians tell you a straight story about their new healthcare reforms?
DW: Not exactly.
BP: When people in various cultures established public procedures, such as courts of law, to try to arrive at the truth in criminal cases, rather than just allowing a king or a magician to declare guilt or innocence, why do you think they did that?
DW: To be sure of being right.
BP: Now, why is it that you trust the government to kill thousands of people with missiles from drones, even though the government won't tell you who they are or why they are killed, nobody is indicted, nobody is prosecuted, nobody's extradition is sought, many cases have been established in which the person could quite easily have been arrested, the government's memos redefine "imminent threat" to mean nothing of the sort, the government's memos redefine "combatant" to mean dead male human being between 16 and 65, people are targeted without knowing their name, many of the victims are known to have been innocent, many have been children, many women, many elderly, many those attempting to rescue survivors of a previous strike, and the people in the places where the missiles land say peace negotiations are ruined, criminals are turned into heroes, hatred is created for the United States, and terrorist organizations are strengthened dramatically, in fact the counterproductive nature of these operations on their own terms is so stark that many speculate that creating enemies is the secret purpose or at least that Washington doesn't mind if new enemies are created considering how profitable war is for certain people, and . . .
DW: Now just a minute . . .
BP: Why? Why do you trust that this secretive government is only killing "people who need to be killed"?
DW: Because there are evil people in the world.
BP: Of course there are, but how can you be sure the government has found them? Has it looked everywhere well and hard? Has it created public procedures of verification? Has it looked into any mirrors?
DW: You can't publicly announce who you're going to kill and still be able to kill him.
BP: Have you heard the name Osama Bin Laden?
BP: Didn't they publicly announce they were going to kill him?
DW: Yes, but you can't always.
BP: Can you publicly announce that you're going to try someone in a court of law?
DW: Sure, but not during a war.
BP: Can I ask you another odd question?
BP: Thus far about 80 nations have weaponized drones. Which of those nations are justified in flying them over the United States and murdering people?
DW: No one's doing that.
BP: Let's just think this through, for the sake of argument. Not so many years back, nobody was using these weapons at all. If, next year, a nation flies a drone over the United States and murders someone, will that be justified? And will people in that other country be right to trust that their government did the right thing?
DW: Of course not.
BP: Why not?
DW: It just isn't the same.
BP: I agree.
DW: You do?
BP: Nothing is ever the same. But what are the differences? It's not terribly hard to imagine someone attacking the United States, while an attack on Canada sounds rather comical. But, then, Canada doesn't have troops in 177 other countries and weapons in outerspace and every ocean, doesn't spend as much on its military as every other country combined, doesn't account for 80% of foreign weapons sales to dictatorships and democracies alike, doesn't prop up vicious monarchies to exploit their resources, doesn't view its manhood as entirely dependent on its readiness to bomb anybody who looks at it funny.
DW: And your point?
BP: What if peace doesn't come after war? Is Afghanistan more peaceful now, or before the current war, or before the drawing in of the Soviet Union and the initiation of all of these recent wars? Is Iraq more peaceful now, or before the last war, or before the pair of wars and the sanctions? Is Libya more peaceful now, or before the war? Isn't peace a very hard thing to find during or after a war?
DW: Maybe, sometimes.
BP: But isn't peace right there, right within reach, before you start a war?
DW: We don't start wars.
BP: Is Yemen more peaceful? Is Pakistan more peaceful? Did we replace a ground war with a drone war? Or did we replace peace with a drone war?
DW: It's still a better option!
BP: Better than peace?
DW: No, not better than peace.
BP: Let me ask you one more odd-sounding question. Would you rather have cancer or the flu?
DW: Is this a joke?
BP: Just pick, in all seriousness, and I'll explain.
DW: The flu.
BP: Now, if there were only a few cases of cancer, and doctors were getting close to curing it, but the flu was extremely contagious, it spread rapidly around the globe, it could spring up anywhere with no known cure, and -- strange to say -- sometimes the flu began turning into a new kind of cancer -- Now, in this situation, which is worse, the few cases of cancer or the epidemic of flu?
DW: The epidemic, of course.
BP: You can have the last word.
DW: Let me think about it.
Stephen Kinzer's latest book, which he discusses, is called The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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Saw this movie last night and highly recommend it. You'll learn more about U.S. foreign policy than you could gather from a mile-high stack of the New York Times, and you'll imagine you're just being entertained. Pick up some popcorn and pull up a chair:
Fats: In the family jewels?
Gary: In the family jewels, man!
Wyatt: Worst pain there is.
Gary: Broke my heart in two!
Fats: She broke more than your heart.
Germany had planned to buy a fleet of "Euro Hawk" killer drones -- perhaps in an effort to bring the European Union up to speed with certain other Nobel Peace laureates.
But something happened on the way to the celestial colosseum.
Of course, Captain Drone Man himself undoubtedly learned the news first, unless the NSA misplaced some of Frau Merkel's emails under a pile of exchanges among nonviolent activists planning the upcoming drone summit in DC.
What happened was public pressure within a nation dedicated to peace and -- at the moment -- more resistant than Japan to being turned back toward war. Germany has now said nein, nein, and hell nein to killer flying robots. And not just to the use of weaponized drones within what Americans might call Der Homeland, but to Germany's use of remote control murder planes against human beings anywhere on earth.
Earlier this month at the United Nations, several nations, including most prominently Brazil, denounced the criminality of murdering people around the globe with drones. Now Germany has taken a serious step in the direction of condemning armed drones to the status of land mines, poison gas, and nuclear weapons. If Germany can do it, we can all do it. And the scene in this video can go global: