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We can have a Green New Deal, Rishi Sunak

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 5:53pm in

My Green New Deal colleague Colin Hines had this letter in the Guardian overnight:

Your editorial (23 November) highlights how Rishi Sunak is softening the country up for more, long-term austerity, and Polly Toynbee (By freezing pay and benefits, Sunak will be levelling down, not up, 24 November) eloquently points out its inevitable adverse effects on individuals, society and our economic wellbeing. This should surely remind us of the failure of the left to counter George Osborne’s austerity narrative, as hopes of the financiers getting their just deserts and capitalism made more socially responsible were quickly dashed. Just as we can hope that Covid will be less of a threat by spring, so now we need to prepare to counter Sunak’s bid to mimic Osborne.

Finding the money to reset our damaged economy into something fairer and greener should need no cuts. Few realise that this year the government has already turned to the Bank of England to inject – via quantitative easing £350bn – of electronic money into the economy to cover Covid costs this year. What politicians and activists of all political persuasions need to grasp is that this mechanism requires no extra demands on taxpayers or increased government borrowing, and in the past decade of its use, it has not resulted in rising inflation.

Seeing off austerity will require the realisation that QE must be used to help finance longer-term measures to deal with regional inequality, the need for secure jobs in every constituency, the repair of our threadbare social infrastructure and the climate crisis.
Colin Hines
Convenor, UK Green New Deal Group

I know it's not pure MMT, but it works, and that’s why we’re promoting it.

If you read the letters page of the Guardian you will have noted of late that it has all been doom and gloom. There has been no mention of solutions to problems, but just reiteration of the problems themselves. That’s never been my way, of Colin’s way, and we work together, a lot. The focus for us is on solutions. We need them, very badly. I am not expecting to hear many today.

Report into Australian special forces war crimes in Afghanistan ‘gut-wrenching’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 4:04pm in

Twenty-five defence force personnel face charges over thirty-nine killings

Afghan Files- Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’ screenshot

Screenshot: Australian Broadcasting Corporation Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’

A report published on November 19 into alleged war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan has stunned Australians. Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, with 400 trainers and advisers remaining till today.

Despite media stories and widespread rumours of troop misconduct, the Afghanistan Inquiry report has been described as a horrific bombshell.

The inquiry was conducted by Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reserve Major General. The independent investigation, commissioned by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), reviewed over 20,000 documents and 25,000 images and interviewed 423 witnesses. “57 incidents and issues of interest” were examined in detail.

The investigation followed a 2016 review of special forces culture by military sociologist Dr. Samantha Crompvoets. Crompvoet's investigation was commissioned by the ADF in 2015 after rumours of war crimes circulated in the special forces community. She found that there was, “illegal application of violence on operations, disregard for human life and dignity, and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times.” The review has a comprehensive list of media reports about special operations overseas from 2000 to 2015 but was finished before the sensational 2017 Afghan Files revelations mentioned below. Her review did not document specific incidents. Media stories helped to inform the Brereton investigations but are not specifically detailed in its report.

Guardian Australia reporter Paul Daley summarised the background and findings of the recent report:

For more than four years, the Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton has investigated allegations that a small group within the elite Special Air Services [SAS] and commandos regiments killed and brutalised Afghan civilians, in some cases allegedly slitting throats, gloating about their actions, keeping kill counts, and photographing bodies with planted phones and weapons to justify their actions.

Among the findings of the Brereton report are the following:

  • 39 Afghans were killed and 2 others treated cruelly between 2009 and 2013. 25 current or former ADF personnel are implicated in one or more of the 23 incidents identified.
  • The killings did not happen ‘under pressure in heat of battle’.
  • Junior soldiers were required by patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner for ‘their first kill’, a practice called ‘blooding. The commanders were usually senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers).
  • So-called ‘throwdown’ weapons were carried by Special Operations Task Group to be placed next to bodies to justify killings.

This screenshot is an example of the heavily-redacted nature of the report, with names and other details blacked out:

Brereton report extract page 73

Screenshot: Brereton report extract (page 73).

Incidents involving 19 individuals have been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for criminal investigation, which may result in murder charges.

The report also explores the fostering of a ‘warrior hero culture’ as a contributing factor. An example of the toxic culture emerged in September 2020 when an Instagram account run by special forces soldiers, past and present, mocked war crimes allegations. Many Australians on social media were appalled at the time:

The report has dominated social media. Afghan-Australian human rights lawyer Diana B. Sayed posted this statement on Twitter:

There has been ‘shock and anger’ in Afghanistan. Hani Marifat, CEO of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, raised the implications for other nations:

The Australian government’s intention to pay compensation to the families of victims in Afghanistan has been welcomed.

However, not everyone accepts the report’s recommendations:

The report found that ‘no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters.’

In an article on The Conversation, veteran journalist Michelle Grattan questioned how it was possible for those up the chain of command to not know.

If senior officers did not pick up gossip and whispers, surely they should have been enough aware of the broad special forces culture to know that extensive checks should be in place to guard against the ever-present threat of misconduct.

Former soldier Dr. Julian Fidge believes that the culture of military leadership has led to a lack of accountability at higher levels:

A potential consequence of the recent report concerns former SAS member Ben Roberts-Smith, a recipient of Australia’s highest military honour the Victoria Cross. The Court has directed him to hand over documents from the Brereton inquiry. The documents may reveal whether he is implicated as a suspect. His old SAS squadron is to be disbanded as a result of the recent report. Roberts-Smith is currently suing newspapers for defamation.

Whistleblowers and the media

Between 2014 and 2015, Australian Army lawyer David McBride leaked information on war crimes in Afghanistan to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A criminal prosecution against McBride is still proceeding. There are many people calling for the charges to be dropped:

However, Federal prosecutors are not proceeding with charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes as it was not in the public interest. Oakes helped expose secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC in 2017 (also known as the Afghan Files), he was also one of the journalists at the centre of an Australian Federal Police raid on the ABC in June 2019.

The chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell, has been accused of hypocrisy:

Colin Hocking blames the Federal police and Prime Minister Scott Minister for the pursuit of the media:

On the broader front, the ramifications of these disturbing events will be playing out for years to come, especially criminal charges.

The Correct Response To “Give Biden A Chance”: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 1:55pm in

Tags 

News, War, Politics

Hi welcome to the timeline where people call you a crazy radical extremist for saying your government should stop committing acts of mass murder.

When they say a withdrawal from Afghanistan should be contingent on certain conditions being met, the “conditions” they really mean are puppet regimes in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran.

Think of the mental contortions you’d have to do in order to see a 19-year military occupation as normal and attempts to end it as abnormal. Now look how many people in the political/media class have done those mental contortions. That’s the power of imperial narrative control.

Western propaganda works to decouple imperialism-targeted nations and people from their governments. It’s not Syria’s government, it’s “the Assad regime” with the Syrian people held as separate. It’s not China’s government, it’s “the CCP” with the Chinese people held as separate. They always work to spin governments the empire doesn’t like as these hostile, alien invaders of a nation which has nothing to do with them. They point at it like it’s an ugly growth. “Uh-oh, what’s that MADURO REGIME doing in Venezuela?? We can lance that for you.”

And of course the self-described “anarchists” who suck at thinking always fall for it, because they regard all governments as illegitimate. So they wind up clapping along with CIA/CNN narratives, cheering for the downfall of a government in unwitting service of a much bigger government.

Meanwhile the actual people of the targeted nation are generally supportive of their government and find it vastly preferable to the empire’s campaign to “free” them. Their government that they support is spun as an alien invader, by alien invaders.

Hating on China doesn’t make you a “populist”, it makes you a tool of the US State Department.

Nerd.

Trump’s horrible horrifying horrific assault on democracy that everyone’s spent weeks freaking out about is infinitely less destructive to democracy than (A) the status quo US policy of interfering in elections and toppling governments around the world, and (B) the basic US electoral system.

The only real difference between Democrats’ denial of the 2016 election results and Republicans’ denial of the 2020 election results is that Democrats’ claims were backed by sociopathic intelligence agencies with a known history of lying and by their mass media stenographers. One got an authoritative-looking seal of approval, the other did not, but that seal of approval is just as worthless as the say-so of Rudolph Giuliani.

There’s never been a better time to be a woman, minority or member of the LGBT community who works in the DC establishment and enjoys dropping cluster munitions on children.

FYI the correct response to “Give Biden a chance” is “Fuck the whole entire way off you moron. You mindless automaton. You foam-brained human livestock. You bootlicking, oligarch-coddling, mass murder-enabling shitbag.”

You live in a world full of birds, music, moonlight and miracles, where we dance on a microscopic island in an infinite ocean of mystery while beauty erupts from the core of every moment. It would be a shame to spend any of your time here defending Joe Biden.

All the conspiratorial fantasies about a Marxist Orwellian dystopia happening under Biden are far less horrific than the garden variety American imperialist mass slaughter that will actually be happening under Biden.

Being happy when a Democrat is in the White House is like a boxer celebrating every time he gets hit with a left hook instead of a right cross.

Everyone talks about how racist and misogynistic Australia is, but what they all too often forget is that it also routinely commits acts of mass murder and war crimes.

“Boot camp” is a hazing ritual for the grossest fraternity that ever existed.

Qassem Soleimani was assassinated because his successful military campaigns against ISIS and al Qaeda were the best argument against the US needing to remain in the Middle East to fight terrorists. An actual stabilizing force could not be tolerated.

Fun fact: if you ever want to chat with an American conservative you can just quietly whisper to yourself “the US is supposed to be a democracy” and one will come crashing through your wall like the Kool-Aid man yelling “ACTUALLY IT’S A REPUBLIC”.

Remember when they found a new mutation of covid at a Danish mink farm and everyone got super racist against white people and talked about how uncivilized their disgusting mink markets are?

The word “entitlement” has been (deliberately) made into a dirty word, but that’s exactly what people need right now. They need to feel entitled to dignified lives, to having their basic needs met, and to taking back what was stolen from them by the ruling class.

I talk all the time about how things are just going to keep getting worse as long as human behavior is driven by profit and then people are like “Caitlin why aren’t you talking about the Great Reset??” and I’m like “I AM!” People keep acting like a move to funnel wealth and power upward is some sort of freakish anomaly and not the entirely predictable and utterly inevitable result of leaving human behavior to be driven by profit. We were always headed in this exact direction.

When I started this gig I learned very early on that the articles which get the most shares are ones which are appealing to one of America’s two mainstream political factions. Everyone who gets into any kind of media related to US politics receives this same message. Most don’t reject the temptation.

I was given a natural incentive to go mainstream partisan; no plutocratic funding or CIA infiltration required. The partisan dynamic is just that strong, which is why so many media figures become Dem shills or doofy Trumpers instead of nonpartisan free thinkers. There’s so much energy feeding into the partisan dynamic that people can float whole media careers on it very easily. A lot of the information distortion you see is no more complex or conspiratorial than that.

Every mistake I’ve ever made at this job was due to following the lead of other people and covering the stuff others thought I should cover. Every success I’ve ever had was due to following my own insight and intuition. Now I just dismiss people who try to cajole me into writing what they want.

Which is actually a good way to live life in general.

_____________________

Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Poems For Rebels or my old book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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Trump Supporters Want to Boycott the Georgia Runoffs. Is Their Threat Genuine?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 10:51am in

Tags 

Politics

An officer in riot gear stands between supporters of President Donald Trump and counter protesters as the groups yell at each other outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

An officer in riot gear stands between supporters of President Donald Trump and counterprotesters as the groups yell at each other outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2020.

Photo: Ben Gray/AP

As a longtime observer of Georgia politics, I am at a point where I can no longer distinguish trolling from earnest madness.

A hashtag began trending this morning on Twitter: #WriteInTrumpForGA. You could probably have seen it coming as soon as Lin Wood, a Trump attorney arguing to overturn the election results here, tweeted his support for a boycott of the U.S. Senate runoff elections.

But far-right protesters had been calling for it in the street even before Wood’s comment. Vincent James Foxx took to the steps of the Georgia Capitol last week to tell “Republican traitors” who are not trying to overturn the election that “we will not be willing to show up for them.”

Foxx founded Red Elephants, a media platform based in California that the Anti-Defamation League described as promoting “conspiracy theories, anti-Semitic beliefs and white supremacist mantras.”

Nonetheless, video of his commentary went viral, though probably not the way he might have liked. Virtually all of the engagement has been with progressive commenters wishing him well here.

If Jon Ossoff beats Sen. David Perdue and Raphael Warnock beats Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the January runoff, Democrats take control of the Senate. So the reaction on the left both locally and nationally has been giddy, gleeful support for the proposition of a far-right boycott.

 Alex Jones, host of Infowars, an extreme right-wing program that often trafficks in conspiracy theories, speaks at a "Stop the Steal" rally against the results of the U.S. Presidential election inside the Georgia State Capitol on November 18, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Alex Jones, host of Infowars, an extreme right-wing program that often trafficks in conspiracy theories, speaks at a “Stop the Steal” rally against the results of the U.S. presidential election inside the state capitol on Nov. 18, 2020 in Atlanta.

Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger noted in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that 24,000 Republican voters submitted absentee ballots in the June primary and refrained from voting in the general election — enough voters to have closed Biden’s margin in Georgia.

Typically, a runoff election in Georgia might draw as few as 20 percent of the voters from the general election. More important jobs draw a higher proportion of voters, as happened in 2018 when Raffensperger himself faced a runoff contest against John Barrow, where about 40 percent of voters returned. The last U.S. Senate runoff here in 2008, between Republican Saxby Chambliss and his Democratic challenger Jim Martin, drew about 60 percent of general election voters.

The question to ask is if 30,000 people who would vote for Republican candidates are open to an argument for a boycott.

Chambliss won the runoff handily. But given recent election trends in Georgia, with Democrats so focused on turnout, one might hold presumptions of Republican victory less strongly. If total turnout in January is around 3 million votes, a 1 percent gap would be 30,000 voters. The question to ask is if 30,000 people who would vote for Republican candidates are open to an argument for a boycott.

Are people like Wood and Foxx sincere? To the degree that one can measure the sincerity of such people … probably. Sure. I’m guessing that Wood is trying to set up former Georgia congressman Doug Collins for a right-flank challenge to Loeffler or Warnock in two years, or perhaps against Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

Foxx’s deeper motivations might be a bit more nuanced. Set aside his stated reasons (his fallacious belief in a stolen election and a demand for Republicans to spend their political capital fighting it). And ignore for a moment their general contempt for “democracy” as a political value. Biden’s win means some Republicans will recalculate their electoral math, asking if courting white nationalists loses them more elections than they will win.

The far right has been in a crisis ever since the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, provoked a massive, world-changing backlash. White supremacist groups have been falling apart from lawsuits, the rolling identification of their leaders, social media deplatforming, and infighting. People like Foxx have had some access to power over the last four years. A call to boycott is a loyalty test, and loyalty tests are deliberately painful: Do this distasteful thing — disregard the law and voters — to prove you still listen to us, or we will show you what that will cost you.

Trump himself reiterated support for Loeffler and Perdue the week after the election. Yesterday, Donald Trump Jr. described calls to boycott as “nonsense” and asked people to ignore them. Neither Loeffler nor Perdue have addressed the idea directly.

Nonetheless, social media chatter about a boycott is continuing to grow. On the social media network Parler, the hashtag #boycottgeorgiarunoffs doubled its traffic overnight. But most of the accounts pushing it are brand new and utterly anonymous. Parler’s conservative supporters tout its unmoderated forum as an alternative to Facebook, but as a practical matter, it is completely susceptible to manipulation by political provocateurs.

Despite its supposed noninterference policy, Parler began striking the #WriteInTrumpForGA hashtag today. Perhaps that’s because under Georgia election rules, you can’t actually write in a candidate in a runoff. Even if you could, a write-in candidate has to be qualified by the secretary of state’s office for the votes to count. And Donald Trump is a legal resident of Florida, and would not be eligible regardless.

The idea is absurd. But that’s where we are now.

The post Trump Supporters Want to Boycott the Georgia Runoffs. Is Their Threat Genuine? appeared first on The Intercept.

Why the World Hates America and the West: We Bomb, Kill and Wreck their Countries

One of the issues William Blum repeatedly tackled in his books about the crimes of American imperialism was the complete failure of the American political establishment and the general public to understand why their country is so hated by the rest of the world. He produces quote after quote from American politicians, civil servants and senior military officers declaring that America has America’s actions have always been for the good of those nations they’ve attacked, whose politicians they’ve overthrown or assassinated and whose economies they’ve destroyed and plundered. In their opinion, it has always been done by a disinterested America for the benefit of other nations. America has been defending freedom from tyranny and trying to rebuild their economies through free trade capitalism. And American forces have never been responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians and have been concerned to rebuild the countries afterwards.

Again and again Blum shows that this is all lies. America has overthrown and interfered with democratically elected regimes as well as dictatorships. It has installed vicious fascist dictators, mass murderers and torturers in their place. It has stolen countries’ industries so that they could be acquired by American multinationals. It has hypocritically deliberately targeted civilians, even while denouncing its enemies for doing so. And while it has signed contracts obliging it to pay compensation to the nations it has attacked, like Vietnam and Serbia, these treaties have never been honoured.

But the American state and public have absolutely no idea why America is so hated and resented, particularly in the Muslim world. They’ve set up think tanks to try to work out why this is, and hired public relations companies to find ways of persuading the rest of the world why America is a force for good. In their view, this hatred is due not to America’s vicious imperialism per se, but simply to their mistaken views of it. In 2005 the Smirking Chimp, George W. Bush, sent his Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy on a tour of the Middle East to correct these mistaken impressions. She did not have an easy time of it, particularly in Turkey, where they told her where the people of that country made their views very clear. She told the crowd that sometimes to preserve the peace, America believed war was necessary, and repeated the lie that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were being better treated in Iraq. She got angry replies from the women present, to which she responded that this was just a PR problem, just like America had in other places around the world. The Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper of the Arab world, described her performance as ‘Painfully clueless’.

See: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, p. 29.

But some sections of the American political and military establishment have a far better idea of the cause of this hatred. In 1997 a study by the Department of Defense concluded that ‘Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States’.

And former President Jimmy Carter also realised that American military action in Lebanon and the consequent killing of Lebanese civilians had cause the people to hate America. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that

We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the immense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers – women and children and farmers and housewives – in those villages around Beirut…. As a result of that… we became kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.

See Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 34-5.

General Colin Powell in his memoir discusses the American military actions in Lebanon in 1983. Instead of blaming the terrorist attacks subsequently launched against America on Muslim hatred of western democracy and liberty, he recognised that they were only acting as America would if it were attacked.

‘The U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-nch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would.’ (p. 35).

A 2004 poll by Zogby International of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates came to the following conclusion, as reported in the New York Times:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hard “America?” respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy’. And when asked what the United states could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy’…. Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said that they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world. (pp. 37-8).

Which is more or less true, as Greg Palast has also shown in his book, Armed Madhouse.

The Defense Sciences Board, which advises the Pentagon, partly confirmed these findings in a report published in November 2004:

“Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet Rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies-except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends…. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies…when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…. [Muslims believe] American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, our government and public opinion shares the same attitude as the American imperialists. This was shown by the full backing of the Iraq invasion and, indeed, the whole neo-Conservative foreign policy by the unindicted war criminal, Tony Blair and the propaganda of the lamestream British media. If you believe Daily Mail hack, Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Philips, the cause of these attacks is simply Islam. It isn’t. It’s western foreign policy in the Middle East.

If we really want to do something to stop the terrorist attacks on our countries, we could start by stopping bombing, invading and looting other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, even with the accession of Biden to the presidency, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Agents of foreign influence. What about the Australian Strategic Policy Institute?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 5:59am in

Tags 

Politics

The Australia-China relationship has hit new lows, with China’s ban on a range of imports threatening $20 billion of Australian exports. However, just in the past few days Scott Morrison has said Australia’s position has been wrongly interpreted as siding with the United States over China, and that his government would not make a “binary choice” between the superpowers.


Credit – Unsplash

Which makes the funding of the Federal Government-owned think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a constant anti-Chinese mouthpiece, even more curious. Two of its biggest sources of funding are the US State Department, whose secretary Mike Pompeo has led the charge of global anti-China sentiment, and foreign weapons makers.

ASPI’s annual report, which has just been tabled in Parliament, shows that funding from the US government skyrocketed by 367% over the past financial year alone – to $1,369,773.22.

Moreover, the limited disclosure buried on page 157 of the report suggests all the funds were in some way directed to research projects attacking China. The US payments primarily came through the State Department.

The mother country also tips in

Other foreign governments made significant contributions, with the bulk of their funding contributing to ASPI programs that were either directly or indirectly linked to reports critical of China. The UK was ASPI’s second biggest foreign benefactor, contributing a total of $455,260. The governments of Japan, Israel, and Netherlands and NATO poured in another $66,072.

In the 2019-20 financial year, foreign (non-US) government contributions to ASPI were up more than 30 times on the previous year.

Weapons makers front and centre

ASPI’s loyal supporters in the military industrial complex once again stepped up. Lockheed Martin, a continuous sponsor since 2004, provided $25,000, while its US counterpart Northrop Grumman paid $67,500.

The French did their part sending over $63,300 from Thales and Naval Group.

Thales was awarded the contract to supply the Australian Army with Hawkei off-road light military vehicles in circumstances seriously questioned by the Australian National Audit Office. Completely ignoring that controversy, in September ASPI produced a report praising the Hawkei’s capabilities.

Former Defence Minister Dr Brendan Nelson, a paid advisor to the Thales Group from 2015 until December 2019, was appointed to the ASPI Council earlier this year.

Majority French-government owned Naval Group won the contract for Australia’s controversial $80 billion future submarine project.

In February 2016, ASPI’s executive director Peter Jennings wrote a glowing opinion piece on the Naval Group submarines under the headline “Vive Australia’s choice of a French submarine”.

Two months earlier the French government bestowed France’s highest national decoration, The National Order of Légion d’Honneur, on Jennings.

Annual report tabled late

The publication of ASPI’s annual report – more than a month late – and its late tabling in the Senate by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds ensured ASPI’s finances could not be scrutinized by the Senate Estimates Committee, which investigates how government agencies spend public money.

While the front end focused on the supposed gloomy news that ASPI’s core Defence Department funding had dropped to an all-time low of just 34% of total revenue, the reality is that the federal government is lining ASPI’s coffers at an alarmingly increasing rate, handing it a record number of contracts over the past financial year.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who had a stint working with giant weapons maker Raytheon and co-founded the WA Defence Industry Council before entering politics, moved into her portfolio 18 months ago. In that time ASPI has filed two sets of annual accounts that show total government funding has risen more than 50%, from just over $5 million to $7.6 million.

Moreover, under Minister Linda Reynolds the total value of government contracts awarded to ASPI has leapt by 126% over the past year.

In their preface to the annual report Jennings and his Chairman retired Army chief Kenneth Gillespie, wrote, “We would like to thank the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, for her continuing close personal engagement and support.”

That close personal engagement between the Defence Minister and ASPI’s executive director extends back two decades when both were chiefs of staffers to ministers in the Howard government.

Tracking its own finances

While ASPI’s financial statements are audited by the Australian National Audit Office, ASPI is not required to provide a detailed breakdown of its income and expenditure.

ASPI’s audit committee comprises three people with an independent chair. Its members are ASPI Council member Air Vice Marshall (Ret’d) Margaret Staib, and Geoff Brown, chief audit executive of the Department of Defence. The chair is Kate Freebody, a director of accounting consultancy FreebodyCogent Pty. Ltd., whose major client appears to be the Department of Defence. FreebodyCogent does not have a website or any published phone numbers or contact details.

According to Department of Finance records, this year her company was awarded $5.86 million in management advisory contracts with the Defence Department.

Zero disclosure on ASPI’s financial beneficiaries

One key area where ASPI has zero transparency is the money it spends commissioning reports and hiring outside people, including academics and journalists.

Last financial year it spent $2,940,454 on contractors and suppliers, yet there is no public disclosure on who it hired and what they were paid. These contributors were paid from funds mostly derived from Australian taxpayers and foreign governments.

One ASPI contributor is federal MP Dave Sharma, who produced a report for ASPI while running as a Liberal candidate for the seat of Wentworth in the 2019 election.

ASPI has 18 Visiting Fellows who, it says, “produce a range of written analyses, contribute to ASPI program areas and provide mentoring for staff”.

Among them are ABC journalist Stan Grant; former journalist and ASIO adviser John Garnaut; former deputy NSW Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas; former federal Labor politicians Stephen Loosley and David Feeney; and former Australian Signals Directorate chief Simeon Gilding.

In August last year the Australian Signals Directorate, the nation’s international spy agency, paid the think tank $99,354.85—an amount ASPI did not report anywhere.

Australia has made itself an outlier in its dealing with China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 5:59am in

Tags 

China, Politics

The Prime Minister’s dash to Japan to meet the new Japanese Prime Minister – the first foreign leader to do so – should be welcomed.  It is unusual in terms of diplomatic protocol for an established leader to visit a newly appointed leader, not the other way around, unless it is the US for which normal protocol seldom applies.

Far from being seen as kowtowing to the Japanese, Morrison’s visit has however underscored how much the world has changed around Australia. It is also a further example of how Australian foreign policy has started to notice this fact and the need for Australia to adopt more realist positions in foreign policy.

The embrace of Vietnam – a communist, one-party, authoritarian state with a deplorable human rights record – is another.  These adjectives could, of course, be used to describe another major state in East Asia.

The Defence arrangement (it is unclear what instrument exactly was signed) seems not to add much in substance to what has already been announced or is underway.  The thorny issue of capital punishment for ADF personal if found guilty for crimes committed in Japan that carry the death penalty seems not have been resolved.  Opposition to capital punishment remains an important Australian value.  It will be interesting to see how the Government manages balancing our values and interests in this particular case.

Still, what matters more is the symbolism and clearly China’s vitriolic response indicates that it has not been lost on Beijing.   The East Asian region is now one of many moving parts, all set in motion by China’s ascendency and the US’s turn inwards.

After years of being rejected by India from participating in the trilateral annual naval exercises, Malabar, Australia has now been let in, presumably as part of India’s strategic messaging to China following their mid-year clashes in Ladakh.  As a result, the Australian Navy finds itself exercising in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, far removed from areas of strategic sensitivity in East Asia.

Nonetheless, the Quad has now been militarised which will further add to Beijing’s sense of insecurity and support the hawks assessment that Australia is bent on containment of China.  The Prime Minister’s rush to Tokyo will be interpreted by Beijing as reinforcing this view.

This will most certainly crowd out any attention that the Treasurer’s conciliatory remarks towards China may have received from his speech in recent days acknowledging China’s success in managing the pandemic and returning to robust economic growth.  As Australia looks to its own economic recovery, China’s will be of fundamental importance for the Treasurer.

Also the past week, we have also seen states in East Asia engaging and hedging with China.

The Regional Economic Cooperation Partnership (RCEP) was signed finally after eight years of negotiations.  It includes all the major countries of the region.  India’s absence reinforces the minimal interests India has in East Asia and the converse, namely, that East Asia is the only security system in the region that matters.

Indicative of declining US engagement in the region, RCEP is the second major piece of regional architecture to be created without the US, following the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2014.  The US had been a founding member of the TPP but withdrew after the election of President Trump.  It is not evident that a Biden Administration will return to the TPP.  So the region continues to reshape itself to declining US engagement and China’s rising power.

When many pieces are moving, it is challenging for diplomacy and strategic missteps in timing and substance are an ever-present reality.  Just as the Prime Minster was leaving Japan, the Chinese Ambassador to Tokyo was sounding conciliatory on the fractious Senkaku/Diao Yu Dao Islands dispute and progress was announced on the Japan/China/South Korea free-trade negotiations.  Tokyo and Beijing are busily recalibrating their relationship through further engagement ahead of the change in Administration in Washington.

In contrast, Australia has made itself an outlier in its dealings with China.  This is an inconvenient truth that no amount of feigned or even real indignation coming out of Canberra over China’s actions should be permitted to conceal.

Australia is most certainly not alone in having important and complex challenges to address with a rising and assertive China.  If we were, the current dire state of our relationship would be just something we have to live with, as senior ministers suggest.  The policy failure is that among all the many countries, both in our region and beyond, which are concerned about China’s behaviour, we have not been able to walk gum and chew at the same time.

Protecting Australia’s interests involves not only hardening defences against an overreaching China, but also maintaining relations with the dominant power in the region.  We have opted for strategic competition with China at the cost of strategic cooperation where it is in our interests to do so.

In the region, Australia’s values and democratic institutions are not the only ones that sit at odds with China’s.  New Zealand for one faces all of the challenges that Australia does, but still manages to maintain constructive diplomatic relations, including high-level visits during the period in which Australia has been frozen out.

But no country more than Japan has to balance deep historical animosities, ongoing territorial issues, contingent geography, and deep economic interdependence.  Yet Japan still maintains normal diplomatic relations and engagement, including the presence of a substantial contingent of its media in China.  Xi Jinping was to have visited Japan in April this year until Covid intervened.

Some commentators, including in these pages, seem not to understand the difference between being alone and being an outlier.  Australia is definitely not alone but is certainly an outlier.  It is to be hoped that Prime Minister Morrison used some of his time last week with Prime Minister Suga to seek guidance on how to manage its various interests with an assertive China and avoid the binary choice of sycophancy or hostility which is how Australia’s China policy is now framed.

A version of this article appeared in the AFR. It has been republished with the permission of the author.

Robodebt was a Morrison fiasco at every stage (Peter Van Onselen, The Australian, 21.11.20)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 5:58am in

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The buck should stop with the PM, but he won’t be held to account. With summer just around the corner, this week’s $1.2 billion settlement of the Robodebt class action has shone a light on government failings.

Scott Morrison and his team have been coated in Teflon since the pandemic struck. A grateful nation has given its incumbent leaders the benefit of the doubt as we look around the world and see abject failure in handling the coronavirus elsewhere.

But such positivity shouldn’t blind us to poor conduct, and the Robodebt disaster is without doubt the worst example of maladministration and callous indifference to vulnerable Australians since the Coalition took office in 2013.

The Coalition is a certainty to win the next election despite a long list of deficiencies across the policy and political spectrum. Among them: the sports rorts scandal; Angus Taylor’s still unexplained use of a forged document to attack Sydney City Council; water buybacks along the Murray-Darling Basin that simply don’t pass the pub test; a $30 million taxpayer purchase of land for Sydney’s second airport at 10 times the official valuation, bought from a Liberal Party donor no less.

None of these examples of dubious practices is as bad as what we’ve witnessed when it comes to Robodebt, however. And none of them directly lands at the feet of the Prime Minister the way the Robodebt saga does.

The Coalition instituted automated payments to collect what it hoped would be billions of dollars of overpayments to welfare recipients. It justified the practice by claiming Labor had done similar in the past. That is a lie, unless comparing oranges and apples is legitimate. Labor never used automated payments for welfare recipients the way Robodebt func­tioned, which assumed guilt, not innocence, and put the onus on the welfare recipient to prove their case for a reversal. We are talking about people whose vulnerability makes doing so even harder than it might be for the rest of us.

The Robodebt scheme removed human checks from the system, completely automating the process on a scale never seen before. Red flags were raised but the government ignored them. Income averaging was used, which by definition means many vulnerable people automatically would be called on to return payments. The courts struck it out.

Anyone with half a brain knows welfare recipients don’t have bundles of cash lying around. Hence, when thousands upon thousands of notices went out demanding repayments and threatening to cut off people’s welfare if they didn’t, the mental anguish felt was off the charts. Some committed suicide, and many of their families were convinced they did so because of the stress caused by the Robodebt scheme.

This is a shameful moment in Australian history.

Rather than admit its mistake as soon as it came to light, the government fought tooth and nail to defend its missteps, settling only at the last minute before the court case was due to start. The financial cost: $1.2 billion, a record class action settlement.

Now for the most important part of this sorry story — why hasn’t anyone been held to account? The answer is simple. If one head has to roll for what has transpired it is that of Morrison. That won’t happen.

Morrison was the social ser­vices minister when Robodebt was conceived. He charged his junior minister, Alan Tudge, to prosecute the case for the capricious prac­tices Morrison wanted put in place. When the quantum of cash that the Finance Department hoped to collect from Robodebt was realised, the eyes of Treasury lit up. It was just what the bean counters ordered as the government sought to return the budget to balance and make political mileage from doing so. By that time Morrison was the nation’s treasurer, right when Treasury was putting the squeeze on the Department of Social Services to deliver the promised windfall on offer from Robodebt.

The surplus was central to the Coalition’s re-election strategy, featuring in campaign ads and rhetorically throughout. Within that, the money that Robodebt was to earn was important. With the truth about the scheme’s failures already on show, the government defended itself, didn’t apologise and continued to leave the vulnerable to rot on the vine.

Morrison was Prime Minister by that point, the ultimate beneficiary of the political strategy.

Knowing what we do about the financial cost of Robodebt ($1.2bn) and the toll on people’s lives (even contributing to a loss of life), it is hard to stomach the hypocrisy we see and hear from Morrison. Using the parliament to thunder about former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate authorising a $19,000 purchase of Cartier watches as executive bonuses. Demanding she step down. Hearing the Prime Minister constantly refer to Labor as having blood on its hands because of the handful of lives lost during the home insulation program rollout, even though the royal commission the Coalition called found that the scheme was not responsible for those deaths.

The scale of devastation from Robodebt dwarfs any and all such failures. Yet not one head will roll because the only one that should is Morrison’s: he is the glue that held together every poor decision on Robodebt for years. He won’t sack himself. Morrison has barely apologised for what happened.

US president Harry S Truman had a sign on his desk that read “The buck stops here”. You will never find such a sign on Morrison’s desk. I can’t be sure Morrison knew the extent of the problem he was unleashing when he contrived Robodebt. More likely he had no idea.

Marketing, not public policy, is his shtick. I suspect he saw the chance to hit welfare recipients with bills to help the budget bottom line. A win-win for a Liberal government that doesn’t get votes from those on welfare but does score political points for its management of the economy. A chance to look tough. More red meat for the party’s base.

But surely on reflection the Prime Minister realises how low he went. How much damage he caused. How many lives he ruined. Maybe not. It’s not as if this devout Christian ever took the time to reflect on his asylum-seeker policies in that way.

For operators such as Morrison who’ve lived their entire adult lives inside the partisan world of politics, they know politics is a blood sport, which means sometimes blood gets spilt.

Peter van Onselen is political editor at the Ten Network and a professor of politics and public policy at the University of Western Australia and Griffith University. This article is  posted with the approval of the writer.

Investigating ADF murder is not an AFP core competency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 5:58am in

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The path to court for SAS murder suspects won’t be smooth, quick, certain or inevitable. Justice Brereton had a power federal police investigators will not have: he could compel soldiers to give answers, promising them that nothing they said could be used in cases against them. [Though they could be required to give evidence against others.]

Investigating murders is not the AFP’s long suit. While its detectives in the ACT office handle the odd murder case – usually three to six a year – most are straightforward. Those that aren’t are rarely solved. Murder is generally a matter for state or territory jurisdictions.

National AFP detectives have become skilled in drug and terrorism matters and can turn their hand to complex frauds, mostly after preliminary briefs have been handed over by investigators in tax, or social security.

But the skills required to investigate alleged murders committed thousands of miles away, with many critical witnesses unable to speak English, are a world apart from what the AFP usually does or has experience in. While a few officers will have ACT experience, or experience in state forces before they transferred sideways to the AFP, none is of a seniority or experience that they could naturally head a substantial homicide squad. A few senior officers at executive level think their general detective experience makes them the equal of any in the land. But this is not the professional assessment of their peers in state forces. NSW and Victoria, despite their obvious limitations, are far better trained and equipped to do the job.

If they are ever charged, the accused soldiers will have no reason to cooperate with any investigation, and their legal advisers will be urging them not to do so. Only when they are at serious risk of conviction will there be any advantage in a confession, or cooperation in convicting others, in exchange for easier treatment. Those who must testify against mates will mostly do so sullenly, and try to widen any cracks in the case.

The AFP, and many other forces, have become lazy in recent years because of ready access to bugging devices and telephone and computer taps. They also have various means of coercing co-operation, or concealing the processes of justice, through bogus national security claims.

Although many of these investigative short cuts have been imported, often without proper public consultation, they may be of little advantage in a  murder case. And neither the Government nor the ADF is keen to disclose details of its secret communications systems. Brereton and his team assembled the evidence to near brief stages without resorting to such information.

The arts of interrogation have been neglected because of forensic shortcuts. And anyone who wants to see a real balls-up should review AFP interviews with Mohammed Haneef, or AFP interviews of Australians in rendition camps.

At times investigative strategy can trick admissions from Islamic terrorists not known for subtlety. But SAS troopers are trained in resisting hostile interrogation, in the art of avoiding semantic traps, and in their rights to keep their mouths shut.

The special coordinator of the investigation will have a very difficult task, and not only in the gathering of admissible evidence. He will have no help from the Director of Public Prosecutions, because the DPP is not tasked with or equipped to supervise investigations and is generally bad at it when the office tries to take charge. A DPP’s job is to receive evidence and determine whether it is enough for a successful prosecution to be likely. If necessary they can return the brief to police with a report on its legal deficiencies. If the brief is solid enough – and the Commonwealth DPP sets the threshold high – the job is to prosecute. Despite that threshold, the DPP loses many more cases than one might expect – a testament either to the vagaries of juries or the fact that they are not as good as they think.

Police investigators, and executives, reviewing the Brereton report might be struck by similarities between ADF culture and practice and their own. And by the way that systems routinely fail. Brereton’s report shows chapter and verse how internal investigations can be frustrated by experienced officers, how officers overlook bad behaviour out of “loyalty” to their men, or run interference against internal and external inquiries that might upset the troops

There were clear signs of things being awry within the SAS. Coalition partners gossiped about it. The media was on to it. Talk came to officers’ notice. There were local conflicts, including with Australian Secret Intelligence Service officers passing on intelligence, that ought to have sounded alarms. Officers at various levels occasionally asked questions. But the system reported up, not down, and many officers, safe inside the wire, thought they should not second-guess the boys taking the risks. Nor incur their ire by asking too many questions.

Some officers helped edit battlefield reports so they appeared bland and uninteresting, unlikely to cause alarm upstairs. When there were complaints, the boys, with the assistance of officers, lawyered up, lost their temper with people who were not real soldiers questioning judgments, and blandly denied everything. Commanders, up to the very top, dismissed Afghan complaints as coming from people repeating enemy propaganda or on the make for compensation. It was a major dereliction of duty at all levels.

Could anything similar occur in the AFP – perhaps the most politicised force in the nation?

Paraphrase Paul Brereton slightly and it describes how police internal affairs units, coroners’ officers, and even integrity units investigate other police, and, overwhelmingly, find that complaints have not been made out. The culture of which Brereton complains in special forces – of flat refusal to account – has long been a feature of Australian police forces, especially those, such as the AFP, which have never been the subject of independent external review.

The ADF, like the AFP, is learning from and copying the culture of modern politics, as our formal watchdogs, such as auditors general, are defanged and starved of funds, and as our leaders, from the prime minister down, display their contempt for law, propriety and transparency.

Generation Forever War: Biden’s National Security Picks Herald Return to Hawkish Normalcy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 4:57am in

After four years of Trumpian national security policy that was, by turns, assailed as “rudderless,” “schizophrenic,” “incoherent,” and “riven with contradictions,” the conventional wisdom says that the incoming Biden administration will pursue conventional American statecraft akin to the Obama White House.

President-elect Joe Biden’s first picks for senior national security posts — Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence — served in the Obama administration and are now being hailed as the sort of steady hands that America needs after the chaotic Trump administration. But that’s not the good news it seems to be. The Biden plan, outlined on his presidential transition website, suggests a “normal” version of national security that includes the deep flaws of the centrist-liberal approach. There is a call for continued mammoth Pentagon budgets (“the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of the next century”) with an emphasis on emerging battlespaces (“cyberwarfare … new challenges in space”), the endorsement of ossified Cold War-era security partnerships (“keeping NATO’s military capabilities sharp”), and veiled references to confronting China (“strengthen our alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asian democracies”), as well as business as usual in the Middle East (“ironclad commitment to Israel’s security”).

The costs of normalcy have been grave. “It’s worth keeping in mind that the global war on terror has killed more than 7,000 U.S. servicemembers — more than twice the number of people killed by the 9/11 attacks — and more than 800,000 lives worldwide,” said Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s director of Security With Human Rights. “It’s also cost the U.S. more than $6.4 trillion. It’s hard to see why a Biden administration would want to continue on this trajectory.”

   

Biden’s presidential team of national security advisers is loaded with leading members of the Beltway foreign policy establishment unaffectionately known as “the Blob.” It’s a well-worn group of advisers who backed or waged the disastrous wars of the last two decades, and the group is notable for keeping the military-industrial complex’s revolving door greased and spinning. His transitional advisors include, for instance, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin (of Raytheon), former principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy Kathleen H. Hicks (of Aerospace Corporation), and the former No. 2 civilian at the Pentagon, Robert Work (of Raytheon and Govini), among many others in the incoming administration’s orbit. The most emblematic and illustrative of Biden’s military-industrial warriors is the current frontrunner to be his defense secretary: Michèle Flournoy.

Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy, left, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright are photographed through a television camera viewfinder on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the on the European Missile Defense plan. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

Defense Undersecretary Michèle Flournoy, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chair Gen. James Cartwright are photographed through a television camera viewfinder on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1, 2009.

Photo: Harry Hamburg/AP

Flournoy’s pedigree is Blobby in the extreme, beginning with studies at Harvard University (like many past defense secretaries) before she crossed the Atlantic to take a master’s degree in international relations at Oxford. At the Pentagon in the 1990s, she served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, and deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. In 2002, she rotated out of government and into the mainstream (that is, hawkish) Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank largely dependent on Pentagon largesse and funding from the weapons industry. In 2007, she co-founded her own Beltway think tank, the Center for a New American Security, which is not only highly influential in policy circles but now ranks second only to the RAND Corporation in funding from the U.S. government and its defense contractors, including the arms-merchant heavyweights Northrop Grumman and Boeing.

From CNAS, Flournoy went on to co-lead President Barack Obama’s transition team at the Defense Department before serving as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. She then spun back through the revolving door to the Boston Consulting Group, whose military contracts jumped from $1.6 million to $32 million after she became a senior advisor.

In 2017, Flournoy co-founded WestExec Advisors, which boasts of being “a diverse group of senior national security professionals with the most recent experience at the highest levels of the U.S. government.” Another of its co-founders was none other than Antony Blinken, the secretary of state-designate. And one of WestExec’s consultants was Avril Haines, the Biden nominee for director of national intelligence who is a member of the CNAS board of directors and whose affiliation with the controversial data mining firm Palantir disappeared from her biography when she joined the Biden campaign. As Flournoy describes it, WestExec functions as “a smart insurance policy for our clients, giving them higher confidence in their business decisions and in their ability to anticipate and prepare for the future.” In an analysis for the Project on Government Oversight, Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey defined WestExec’s business another way: “helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies.”

In 2018, Flournoy even joined the board of directors of Booz Allen Hamilton, a top 20 defense contractor.

Flournoy has rubbed elbows in the right places: the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the CIA Director’s External Advisory Board, and the Defense Policy Board. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group, as well as a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “We’re all familiar with her,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a former congressional adviser now with the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing Washington think tank, who described Flournoy as a “known entity” in Beltway defense circles. Last month, at a typically chummy get-together for leading lights from the Pentagon and its contractors, the Potomac Officers Club’s Artificial Intelligence for Maneuver Virtual Event, Flournoy had a virtual “fireside chat” with Greg Wenzel, an executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. When asked how the next administration should conduct national security strategy and how it will change, Flournoy said, “There is a fair amount of consensus on the diagnosis of the problem, which is China and Russia.”

Squandering an Opportunity

Biden appears well on his way to squandering a unique opportunity to demonstrate that it won’t be business-as-usual at his Pentagon. If Biden wants to buck the trend, as a first step he could agree to the recent request from Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan to “commit to appointing Secretaries of Defense with with no previous ties to defense contractors.” A pledge to alter the cast of characters making defense policy would be prudent move, according to William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “I’m not necessarily for an all-out ban on all people with those backgrounds serving in a new administration, but they should be balanced with appointees who are independent of those kinds of ties,” he told The Intercept. “Anyone with defense industry ties should be thoroughly questioned on those connections in confirmation hearings, and pledge to recuse themselves from issues relating to former employers or clients.”

Altering the expected national security brain trust could be followed by a few quick wins on the policy front. Heather Brandon-Smith, the legislative director for militarism and human rights for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group, is hopeful that language in the 2020 Democratic Party platform advocating the repeal and replacement of “decades-old authorizations for the use of military force” might provide a starting point for broader and bolder initiatives. The place to start would be the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which authorized the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and was cited earlier this year in the Trump administration’s justification of the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani. “I am quite optimistic that, even possibly as a first 100 days achievement, we could see the repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF,” she told The Intercept. “I’m hopeful that the Biden administration will see it as an outdated, unnecessary authorization that remains open to future abuse. It could be a first step to ending forever wars.”

  Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) (L) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) talk about their introduction of a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda and the Taliban during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol May 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. The new AUMF would repeal and replace Congress' 2001 and 2002 authorizations while expanding the list of terrorist organizations that the U.S. can take military action against.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., left, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., talk about their introduction of a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban during a news conference on May 25, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A number of experts told The Intercept that if President-elect Biden makes good on his stated pledge to “end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen,” it would also be an important early effort that demonstrates a willingness to break with allies who violate international law and ends a policy that has fostered a humanitarian disaster. “There’s a significant possibility with Yemen,” said Phyllis Bennis, who directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. “There’s some room for a real shift that changes a very dangerous and damaging aspect of U.S. foreign policy.” In practical terms, Bennis said ending support meant three key policy changes: making permanent the suspension of U.S. refueling of Saudi aircraft and prohibiting any direct participation in wars waged by allies; ending the sharing of intelligence that Saudi Arabia uses for targeting purposes; and, since it’s nearly impossible to hold nations to the “end use” agreements in terms of weapons systems, halting military sales to Saudi Arabia.

There has already been significant bipartisan consensus around withdrawing U.S. support to the Saudi coalition for strategic and humanitarian reasons. “Ending our engagement in the conflict in Yemen not only prevents further civilian harm, but it also makes clear to our partners around the world that we take issues regarding the effects of our security assistance seriously,” said Ursala Knudsen-Latta, the legislative representative for peacebuilding at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Many experts similarly believe that the tremendous U.S. Covid-19 death toll — more than 250,000 and climbing — has underscored the fact that many national security threats cannot be confronted militarily. Even Flournoy has been forthright on this. “We are defining national security too narrowly. Dealing with pandemics and safeguarding the health of the American population from a threat like [Covid-19] should be part of our national security thinking and rubric,” she said earlier this year. “Maybe this pandemic will change that. But we have got to think about public health preparedness as part of our national security going forward.”

But experts warn that to effectively shift the national security narrative, the standard Beltway foreign policy paradigm has to be reengineered by attacking the defense budget.

A sign depicting a hand holding a lighter beneath a US flag and next to a photo of a lighter near a military armoured vehicle with text reading in Arabic "as the lighter burned the followers of America in Yemen, the lighter will burn America in Iraq" is seen during a demonstration by supporters of the Iran-backed Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces outside the entrance to the Iraqi capital Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone on November 7, 2020, demanding the departure of remaining US forces from Iraq. - Several hundred protesters gathered in the Iraqi capital on Saturday afternoon to demand US troops leave the country in accordance with a parliament vote earlier this year. (Photo by Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

A sign text reading in Arabic, “as the lighter burned the followers of America in Yemen, the lighter will burn America in Iraq,” is seen during a demonstration. Supporters of the Iran-backed Hashed al-Shaabi demand the departure of remaining U.S. forces from Iraq, outside the entrance of Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone on Nov. 7, 2020.

Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Cutting the Military Budget

Andrew J. Bacevich, the president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, sees ending the global war on terror — and replacing the military counterterrorism rubric with a law enforcement model — as part of an ambitious three-pronged plan to fundamentally remake a national security policy, which he sees as currently structured around armed overseas interventions, staggering levels of military spending, a vast network of foreign bases, and an overly influential arms industry.

In addition to halting the forever wars in the greater Middle East and Africa, Bacevich advocates an end to the trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization plan announced by Obama and then taken up and expanded by President Donald Trump. “In a time of so many fiscal demands, that would be a strong statement — that we’re not going to spend a trillion-plus dollars building new bombers, missiles, and nuclear submarines,” he told The Intercept. “That would be a sign of real change.”

The third leg of Bacevich’s national security sanity triad makes him an outlier in traditional foreign policy circles: an American withdrawal from NATO. “It’s time for the United States to insist that Europe take responsibility for its own security,” he explained. “That means beginning a gradual move toward a NATO that doesn’t include the United States. I think it’s a way of showing that we don’t have to have a military presence everywhere.”

In addition to a fundamental reorientation of U.S. policy, the triple transformation advocated by Bacevich would make it easier for the Biden administration to finance its ambitious domestic agenda. Bacevich argued that these types of major policy shifts would allow a “significant opportunity to rethink the military budget and free-up resources so that Biden can implement his healthcare, infrastructure, and ‘Build Back Better’ program.”

Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, advocates reductions in the defense budget on the order 50 percent. “We can cut $350 billion and still be safe,” she said. She’s far from alone in advocating meaningful cuts. In July, for instance, Reps. Mark Pocan and Barbara Lee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders advocated parallel measures in the House and Senate to reduce Pentagon spending by 10 percent, a savings of more than $70 billion. The Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of former White House, Pentagon, and congressional budget analysts, retired military officers and other experts from across the political spectrum, put together an even more ambitious plan to cut $1.25 trillion in proposed Pentagon spending over the next decade. Bennis advocated immediately cutting the long-troubled Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon-funded border wall construction, the Overseas Contingency Operations funding which keeps the forever wars going, as well as closing down overseas military bases.

Bennis believes that making significant cuts to the Pentagon budget is the lynchpin of any effort to provide the social programs that have galvanized the Democratic base. “Movements are now talking about military budgets beyond the anti-war and anti-militarism crowd,” she explained. “People are recognizing that as long as you’re spending 53 cents of every discretionary federal dollar on the military, there’s not going to be money to pay for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All and free college education and a jobs program. If you’re looking for the money to pay for all these things, then you need to start with the military.”

Flournoy recently acknowledged that cost-cutting may be coming to the Pentagon, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic and “competing priorities” will put “downward pressure on the defense budget.” But she also suggested the opposite in a policy paper she co-authored earlier this summer, insisting that the U.S. military “must take a series of much bigger and bolder steps to keep its military-technological edge over great power competitors such as China.” The paper conveniently lays out exactly what the next secretary of defense should prioritize as the department’s “top investment priority” and where the U.S. should place its “big bets.” Her recommendations center on big-ticket efforts clustered around the so-called network of networks, which means the combination of artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, as well as manned, unmanned, and autonomous weapons systems. The report leaves room for debate about exactly which “big bets” should be placed, but not if they should. “Whether or not these are the right big bets can and should be debated,” Flournoy and her co-author wrote. “The important thing is for the department leadership to decide and coalesce around a set of big bets, and then to pursue them relentlessly and urgently in service programs and budgets.”

Ending the Forever Wars

At first glance, Biden’s national security blueprint might look like a departure, even a repudiation, of the Obama template and his insistence on fighting the “right war” in Afghanistan. “Biden will end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure,” reads the plan for “Leading the Democratic World” at JoeBiden.com. “Staying entrenched in unwinnable conflicts only drains our capacity to lead on other issues that require our attention, and it prevents us from rebuilding the other instruments of American power.” But Biden’s plan isn’t actually what it seems.  The fine print reads: “Biden will bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS.” So, on second glance — even after inheriting Trump’s negotiated settlement with the Taliban and the outgoing president’s sizable troop reduction — Biden’s pledge to “end the forever wars” appears to be less about an “end” and more about “forever.”

Earlier this year, Flournoy co-wrote an op-ed calling the U.S. deal with the Taliban “the best chance we have to spare another Afghan generation a life of war.” But it was also larded up with the type of national security axioms that ensure forever wars. “If the United States just pulls out, Afghanistan would in short order descend into chaos and become once again a haven for terrorists, a source of regional instability and a threat to the United States,” reads the piece, which ends with a call to “bring our troops home with honor.” “Peace with honor” and fears of a bloodbath have long been trotted out by those clinging to, and unnecessarily prolonging, failed wars they have made their own through escalation.    

Afghanistan is far from the only failed war baggage toted by Flournoy, Blinken, Haines, and others who served in the Obama administration. The bulk of Obama’s national security policy was, in fact, typified by headline-grabbing victories that amounted to little strategically, like the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden; seemed mostly illusory, like the “pivot to Asia”; or was deep-sixed by his successor, especially the Iran nuclear deal. Embracing and expanding key features of President George W. Bush’s war on terror, especially the use of drones and special operations forces in quasi-wars from Somalia to Yemen, succeeded in producing little more than stalemates and civilian casualties. And then there was the 2011 U.S.-led NATO air campaign that helped overthrow Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the longtime Libyan dictator.

Blinken broke with Biden, his boss, to champion the U.S. intervention that Obama quickly hailed as a success. Later, the president would admit that “failing to plan for the day after” the overthrow of Gaddafi was the “worst mistake” of his presidency. (Blinken offered only a half-hearted mea culpa. “I have to acknowledge that we obviously did not succeed in the Obama-Biden administration in getting that right,” he said this summer.) That failure has left Libya as a near-failed state in near-constant crisis and destabilized the African Sahel, prompting a humanitarian disaster in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso that is, almost a decade later, mushrooming as Biden prepares to take office.

America’s military misadventures and their fallout — from the forever war in Afghanistan to support for the Saudi war in Yemen, from a decade of chaos in Libya to the expanding crisis in the Sahel — offer the most compelling reason to forge a new national security policy. It would require the United States to acknowledge that its military cannot solve the problem of terrorism, and cease the extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists, according to Amnesty International’s USA’s Daphne Eviatar. “It also means doing a far better job of protecting civilians when the U.S. is engaged in actual armed conflict, by clarifying and limiting who can be lethally targeted, and ending the use of explosive weapons in civilians areas, and of course the use of cluster bombs.”

Beyond the savings for infrastructure, health care, education, and the Green New Deal, said Bennis, is a simple reason that’s often ignored in discussions of policy priorities and Pentagon budgets: the human toll. Eschewing a return to national security normalcy means saving lives. “It means that we don’t kill as many people around the world,” said Bennis. “And that’s a good thing just by itself. Period. Full stop.”

The post Generation Forever War: Biden’s National Security Picks Herald Return to Hawkish Normalcy appeared first on The Intercept.

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