Category Archives: Drones

Our Disaster

An entire generation of Yemeni children has suffered the traumas of war, many of them orphaned, maimed, malnourished, or displaced. The United Nations reports a death toll of 100,000 people in that nation’s ongoing war, with an additional 131,000 people dying from hunger, disease, and a lack of medical care. A report from Save the Children, issued in November 2018, estimated at least 85,000 children had died from extreme hunger since the war began in 2015.

Since then, 3.65 million people have been internally displaced and the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded has infected 2.26 million and cost nearly 4,000 lives. Attacks on hospitals and clinics have led to the closure of more than half of Yemen’s prewar facilities.

“Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian disaster,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs wrote on April 23. “Nearly 80 percent of the population requires some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. Ten million people are a step away from famine, and seven million people are malnourished.”

The war has had a horrific impact on all Yemeni civilians, but it has compounded vulnerability to violence for women and girls. A recent AP report described a network of secret detention centers where security forces have severely abused women they’ve targeted as dissenters. In the Sanaa governorate alone, an estimated 200 to 350 women and girls are being held, according to multiple human rights groups. A U.N. panel of experts accused Sultan Zabin, the head of the Sanaa criminal investigative division, of running an undisclosed detention site where women have been raped and tortured.

World health experts regard Yemen as a potential hot spot for the coronavirus and have worked frantically to prepare for its arrival.

“Five years of fighting have degraded the health infrastructure, exhausted people’s immune systems, and increased acute vulnerabilities,” the United Nations said in mid-April. As a result, warned Mark Lowcock, the U.N.’s top aid official, “COVID-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely, and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries.”

When Lowcock made this statement, Yemen had recorded just one confirmed case of COVID-19 and no deaths. As of May 31, Yemen had 337 confirmed cases and 89 deaths. On May 30, The Lancet quoted Altaf Musani, the World Health Organization’s representative in Yemen:

Based on recently applied models for the context in Yemen, we are estimating in a worst-case scenario with no mitigation measures 28 million people infected, at least 65,000 deaths, and around 494,000 hospitalisations. It is a deeply alarming situation, highly catastrophic if people do not make serious behavioural changes [and] if we do not make some course corrections.

The policies of the United States are deeply implicated in Yemen’s suffering, through the sale of billions of dollars in munitions to Saudi Arabia and other countries that have intervened in the civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged the United Nations to reduce the aid it delivers to areas controlled by the Houthis.  A New York Times report quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying that Pompeo, at a 2019 conference in Warsaw, said the coalition forces should kick the stuffing out of the Houthis, although Pompeo, according to the unnamed diplomat, “used an earthier noun than stuffing.”

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia led a military coalition of nine Arab states to intervene in a conflict raging in Yemen. The coalition said it was acting to restore Yemen’s ousted president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, to power.

But professor Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni who teaches at Michigan State University, contends the coalition’s real motive was to gain control of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a maritime “chokepoint” through which millions of barrels of crude oil flow each day.

The Saudi warmakers anticipated a brief war, dubbing it “Operation Decisive Storm,” and expecting to quickly overwhelm the rebellious fighters, called the Houthis. They believed the rebels would be no match for the combined military strength of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the seven other Arab countries in the coalition, who were collectively backed by the United States and the United Kingdom.

But the war dragged on for months, turning into a stalemate, with disastrous consequences for Yemeni civilians. The Saudis asked the United States for massive increases in the supply of weapons. By the end of 2015, Human Rights Watch documented the U.S. had sold Saudi Arabia 600 Patriot Missiles, a million rounds of ammunition, $7.8 billion in various weaponry, four Lockheed Littoral Combat Ships, and 10,000 advanced air-to-surface missiles, including laser-guided bombs and “bunker busting” bombs.

The Obama Administration, notes Al-Adeimi, sold Saudi Arabia $115 billion of weapons and provided additional support in the form of targeting assistance, training, and maintenance of aircraft and vehicles. The Trump Administration has continued to support Saudi Arabia, including its 2017 pledge to sell $350 billion in weapons to the repressive regime over a ten-year period. President Donald Trump cited this lucrative package in declining to take action against Saudi Arabia for murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The United States has also provided cover for Saudi Arabia in the U.N. Security Council, which passed a resolution in April 2015 that demanded an end to Yemeni violence but made no mention of the Saudi-led intervention.

Al-Adeimi understands the difficult position the United Nations is in, since it depends heavily on donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. But she is dismayed by what she calls its “all-siding” the war — addressing the conflict as though it were between evenly matched opponents.

“One hundred thousand Yemenis have been killed,” Al-Adeimi says. “The Yemenis don’t have even one plane, much less fighter jets and warships!”

On March 27, the Trump Administration suspended aid to Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, where 70 percent of Yemen’s population live. It accuses the Houthis of obstructing aid deliveries. Meanwhile, the Saudis are enforcing a blockade on all of Yemen’s land, sea, and airports, forcing its population into dependence on relief organizations.

Aisha Jumaan, a Yemeni who works as an epidemiologist in Washington State, says the effect of these aid cuts was immediate. She worries that Yemen may be manipulated by donors who can threaten to withhold desperately needed food, medicine, water, and fuel.

Jumaan and her organization, the Yemen Relief & Reconstruction Foundation, along with Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Yemeni Alliance Committee, are urging the United States to reconsider its aid suspension, to give Yemen all possible resources to prevent and respond to COVID-19.

In May 2017, the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen had clearly gone on longer than predicted. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared on national television and asked the Saudis to be patient. He said having a dialogue with the rebels was not possible, so the coalition was waiting them out, adding “Time is in our favor.”

Three years later, the war is still dragging on, and the flow of weapons from the United States continues unabated. Even now, in a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, Lockheed Martin has a multibillion-dollar contract to build four Littoral Combat Ships, which will be delivered to Saudi Arabia.

In 2019, the investigative website Bellingcat reported that eleven individual U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have each exported more than $100 million worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Altogether, the United States provided up to $6.8 billion in weapons including bombs, rocket launchers, and machine guns through March 2019.

Some of these weapons may be linked to war crimes. Identifying marks on U.S. bombs used in the 2018 Dahyan bus bombing, which killed forty children and eleven adults, linked back to a Lockheed Martin plant in Pennsylvania.

On a monthly basis, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned shipping company, Bahri, sends cargo ships to Wilmington, North Carolina, the Port of Baltimore and other U.S. ports, to collect bombs, grenades, cartridges, and defense-related aircraft. The United States also supplies weapons to Bahrain and other countries actively participating in the Saudi-led war against Yemen.

On April 8, the Saudi-led coalition declared a unilateral two-week ceasefire, expressing concern about the spread of COVID-19. But within days, the Houthis were battling groups loyal to the coalition, which retaliated with dozens of air strikes. The Houthis had already issued their own proposal for ending the war and insisted that no durable peace could be achieved without the withdrawal of foreign troops and a termination of the blockade.

When the two-week ceasefire expired, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition announced a month-long extension. Yet there were numerous reports of continued coalition air strikes. The Saudis may want to extricate themselves from the war, but so far they haven’t stopped the bludgeoning air strikes or lifted the blockade.

• A version of this article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine

Sanaa, Yemen. 30 April 2020. A health worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant on the hands of people at a market in the old city of Sanaa, amid concerns of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).  Photo Credit: Hani Al-Ansi/dpa/Alamy Live News.

The Death of a General

The U.S. military-industrial-congressional triangle (MIC) is comprised of the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Armed Forces; industry, the corporations that sell goods and services to the Pentagon and allied governments; and U.S. Congress, which authorizes funding for the Pentagon to purchase industry’s goods and services. The MIC is insulated. It is entirely removed from the will of the U.S. public; the public elects the congressional side of the triangle, but industry corrupts Congress (via, for example, campaign finance, strategic allocation of manufacturing plants, think tank narratives, and forceful lobbyists), neutralizing the prospects of redress or the attainment of a republic. Last week at Baghdad International Airport, the U.S. military, under the direction of former Raytheon executive (current Secretary of War) Mark Esper, assassinated another human, Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Also killed in the airstrike were members of Kata’ib Hezbollah, a paramilitary organization operating as part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are part of the overall Iraqi state security apparatus. This follows U.S. airstrikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah in eastern Syria and Western Iraq on Sunday, December 29. Global citizens add these deaths to the hundreds of thousands who have died in the post-9.11 wars.

U.S. President Donald Trump approved the airstrike against Gen. Soleimani. From George W. Bush through Donald J. Trump, the White House is a premier dealer of goods and services from the U.S. war industry. It sells to allied regimes, like the despotic House of Saud, and facilitates use of such goods and services in wars, hot and cold, against populaces in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The salient, relevant difference between Trump and his recent predecessors is that he approved the airstrike on Gen. Soleimani, while Bush and Obama had rejected such an assassination. The murder of Soleimani must be seen against the backdrop of increased funding and authorities given by Congress to the military and industry sides of the MIC in recent National Defense Authorization Acts. It was only a matter of time until an occupant of the White House approved the airstrike when faced with such immense military-industrial pressure. Though Trump is a brutal tyrant, this airstrike isn’t about him. It is about the military-industrial weight that has captured U.S. government.

The airstrike was carried out using a General Atomics MQ-9 drone, a favorite of the U.S. military and CIA. The Blue Brothers, Neal and Linden who own General Atomics, have made millions of dollars selling such drones to France, the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Spain, and other governments. The Blue Brothers are just two of dozens of high-profile profiteers guiding the war industry (including Marillyn Hewson at Lockheed Martin, Tom Kennedy at Raytheon Technologies, Bill Brown at L3Harris, and Nazzic Keane at SAIC). A variety of ordnance, from General Dynamics bombs to Lockheed Martin & Raytheon missiles, can be launched from General Atomics drones. Thousands have died from this deadly combination. Expensive, seductive, plentiful, and often indiscriminate, drones are the consummate instrument of the MIC élite steering the moribund U.S. Empire.

For years, corporate media, accepting advertising dollars from war corporations and punditry from MIC officials, have hyped Gen. Soleimani as the sly, strategic mastermind of Iran’s Quds Force—always “elite,” never contextualized. Corporate media and the D.C. regime say Gen. Soleimani is a “terrorist.” The MIC abuses the term “terrorist,” contorting it to such an extent that now anyone who pushes back against D.C.’s edicts or hegemony is branded a “terrorist.” Soleimani was a “terrorist” because he supported Hezbollah, a defensively oriented social welfare provider based in Lebanon; opposed Israeli Apartheid; and wielded significant influence in Iraq, a nation the U.S. government invaded and shredded in 2003. The fact that Iranian-backed paramilitary organizations were some of the most successful groups confronting the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq has been repeatedly withheld from corporate media accounts of Iranian activity.

Girding the assassination of Soleimani are two tricks of the MIC trade: defensive posturing and blaming the enemy no matter the circumstances. U.S. military leadership justified the airstrike by claiming Gen. Soleimani was developing plans to attack U.S. diplomats and military personnel. This has since been exposed as a lie. The MIC regularly frames its attacks, big and small, as defensive operations. Iran is to blame. When undisclosed parties attacked oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during summer, 2019, the MIC blamed Iran. In September, Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for strikes against Saudi oil facilities. The MIC blamed Iran. Unknown parties launched a rocket attack at a U.S. military base near Kirkuk during late-December, killing one U.S. mercenary. The MIC blamed Iran while asserting that Gen. Soleimani was ultimately responsible for previous killings of U.S. military personnel occupying Iraq. MIC logic positions D.C.’s actions as defensive, responding to aggression.

The leadership within the Pentagon that bullies Iran and pushes us all toward war is stacked with civilian officials who made their fortunes at war corporations. These civilian officials—in such imposing posts as Under Secretary for Policy, Under Secretary for Acquisition & Sustainment, and Secretary—will soon return to industry to profit once more, this time from the aggressive policies they recently enacted. But what about the uniformed military leaders? The 3- and 4-star generals and admirals who co-lead the Pentagon will retire shortly and join war corporations as advisers, lobbyists, counselors, vice presidents, and directors. (Some, like Adm. James Stavridis and Gen. John Allen, also enter academia and industry’s think tanks.) The airstrike on Gen. Soleimani serves no strategic or tactical military purpose. Matters of strategy and tactics do not concern current or aspiring war profiteers.

U.S. Congress, which has abstained from its constitutional authority to declare war and enforce peace, played its role well. Senators Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse issued roaring praise of the airstrike, while, on the other hand, Senators Bernie Sanders and Tom Udall framed the airstrike as “Trump’s dangerous escalation” and “President Trump is bringing our nation to the brink of an illegal war,” respectively. By focusing on the Trump White House, both Sanders and Udall miss the underlying corporate impetus driving the MIC, which will always find new enemies to justify bureaucratic authority, territorial expansion, and massive war budgets (the bulk of which is spent on corporations). Intelligence and White House officials briefed members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, post-strike, Friday afternoon in a classified setting. (Reminder: war corporations spend millions of dollars annually lobbying and funding the campaigns of officials on these Committees.) Secrecy and compartmentalization prevent the U.S. public from being informed on matters of war and peace, and effectively snuff out another avenue of democratic engagement.

D.C. imposes warzones on disparate peoples, from Colombia to the Sahel to Iraq to the Philippines. Global war is professionally and financially profitable to the élites running the military-industrial-congressional triangle. Iraqi protestors from across the political and sectarian spectra have been calling for Tehran and D.C. to stay out of Iraq’s internal affairs. One day the aforementioned regimes will heed the people’s demands.

Will Americans Let Trump Start World War III for Saudi Arabia and Israel?

On Saturday, September 14th, two oil refineries and other oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia were hit and set ablaze by 18 drones and 7 cruise missiles, dramatically slashing Saudi Arabia’s oil production by half, from about ten million to five million barrels per day. On September 18, the Trump administration, blaming Iran, announced it was imposing more sanctions on Iran and voices close to Donald Trump are calling for military action. But this attack should lead to just the opposite response: urgent calls for an immediate end to the war in Yemen and an end to US economic warfare against Iran.

The question of the origin of the attack is still under dispute. The Houthi government in Yemen immediately took responsibility. This is not the first time the Houthis have brought the conflict directly onto Saudi soil as they resist the constant Saudi bombardment of Yemen. Last year, Saudi officials said they had intercepted more than 100 missiles fired from Yemen.

This is, however, the most spectacular and sophisticated attack to date. The Houthis claim they got help from within Saudi Arabia itself, stating that this operation “came after an accurate intelligence operation and advance monitoring and cooperation of honorable and free men within the Kingdom.”

This most likely refers to Shia Saudis in the Eastern Province, where the bulk of Saudi oil facilities are located. Shia Muslims, who make up an estimated 15-20 percent of the population in this Sunni-dominated country, have faced discrimination for decades and have a history of uprisings against the regime. So it is plausible that some members of the Shia community inside the kingdom may have provided intelligence or logistical support for the Houthi attack, or even helped Houthi forces to launch missiles or drones from inside Saudi Arabia.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, immediately blamed Iran, noting that that the air strikes hit the west and north-west sides of the oil facilities, not the the south side that faces toward Yemen. But Iran is not to the west or northwest either – it is to the northeast. In any case, which part of the facilities were hit does not necessarily have any bearing on which direction the missiles or drones were launched from. Iran strongly denies conducting the attack.

CNN reported that Saudi and US investigators claim “with very high probability” that the attack was launched from an Iranian base in Iran close to the border with Iraq, but that neither the U.S. nor Saudi Arabia has produced any evidence to support these claims.

But in the same report, CNN reported that missile fragments found at the scene appeared to be from Quds-1 missiles, an Iranian model that the Houthis unveiled in July under the slogan, “The Coming Period of Surprises,” and which they may have used in a strike on Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia in June.

A Saudi Defence Ministry press briefing on Wednesday, September 18th, told the world’s press that the wreckage of missiles based on Iranian designs proves Iranian involvement in the attack, and that the cruise missiles flew from the north, but the Saudis could not yet give details of where they were launched from.

Also on Wednesday, President Trump announced that he has ordered the U.S. Treasury Department to “substantially” increase its sanctions against Iran. But existing U.S. sanctions already place such huge obstacles in the way of Iranian oil exports and imports of food, medicine and other consumer products that it is hard to imagine what further pain these new sanctions can possibly inflict on the besieged people of Iran.

U.S. allies have been slow to accept the U.S. claims that Iran launched the attack. Japan’s Defense Minister told reporters “we believe the Houthis carried out the attack based on the statement claiming responsibility.” The United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed frustration that the U.S. was so quick to point its finger at Iran.

Tragically, this is how U.S. administrations of both parties have responded to such incidents in recent years, seizing any pretext to demonize and threaten their enemies and keep the American public psychologically prepared for war.

If Iran provided the Houthis with weapons or logistical support for this attack, this would represent but a tiny fraction of the bottomless supply of weapons and logistical support that the U.S. and its European allies have provided to Saudi Arabia. In 2018 alone, the Saudi military budget was $67.6 billion, making it the world’s third-highest spender on weapons and military forces after the U.S. and China.

Under the laws of war, the Yemenis are perfectly entitled to defend themselves. That would include striking back at the oil facilities that produce the fuel for Saudi warplanes that have conducted over 17,000 air raids, dropping at least 50,000 mostly U.S.-made bombs and missiles, throughout more than four long years of war on Yemen. The resulting humanitarian crisis also kills a Yemeni child every 10 minutes from preventable diseases, starvation and malnutrition.

The Yemen Data Project has classified nearly a third of the Saudi air strikes as attacks on non-military sites, which ensure that a large proportion of at least 90,000 Yemenis reported killed in the war have been civilians. This makes the Saudi-led air campaign a flagrant and systematic war crime for which Saudi leaders and senior officials of every country in their “coalition” should be held criminally accountable.

That would include President Obama, who led the U.S. into the war in 2015, and President Trump, who has kept the U.S. in this coalition even as its systematic atrocities have been exposed and shocked the whole world.

The Houthis’ newfound ability to strike back at the heart of Saudi Arabia could be a catalyst for peace, if the world can seize this opportunity to convince the Saudis and the Trump administration that their horrific, failed war is not worth the price they will have to pay to keep fighting it. But if we fail to seize this moment, it could instead be the prelude to a much wider war.

So, for the sake of the starving and dying people of Yemen and the people of Iran suffering under the “maximum pressure” of U.S. economic sanctions, as well as the future of our own country and the world, this is a pivotal moment.

If the U.S. military, or Israel or Saudi Arabia, had a viable plan to attack Iran without triggering a wider war, they would have done so long ago. We must tell Trump, Congressional leaders and all our elected representatives that we reject another war and that we understand how easily any U.S. attack on Iran could quickly spiral into an uncontainable and catastrophic regional or world war.

President Trump has said he is waiting for the Saudis to tell him who they hold responsible for these strikes, effectively placing the U.S. armed forces at the command of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has conducted U.S. foreign policy as a puppet of both Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, making a mockery of his “America First” political rhetoric. As Rep. Tulsi Gabbard quipped, “Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Senator Bernie Sanders has issued a statement that Trump has no authorization from Congress for an attack on Iran and at least 14 other Members of Congress have made similar statements, including his fellow presidential candidates Senator Warren and Congresswoman Gabbard.

Congress already passed a War Powers Resolution to end U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, but Trump vetoed it. The House has revived the resolution and attached it as an amendment to the FY2020 NDAA military budget bill. If the Senate agrees to keep that provision in the final bill, it will present Trump with a choice between ending the U.S. role in the war in Yemen or vetoing the entire 2020 U.S. military budget.

If Congress successfully reclaims its constitutional authority over the US role in this conflict, it could be a critical turning point in ending the state of permanent war that the U.S. has inflicted on itself and the world since 2001.

If Americans fail to speak out now, we may discover too late that our failure to rein in our venal, warmongering ruling class has led us to the brink of World War III. We hope this crisis will instead awaken the sleeping giant, the too silent majority of peace-loving Americans, to speak up decisively for peace and force Trump to put the interests and the will of the American people above those of his unscrupulous allies.

Israel has attacked Lebanon and Syria: So what?  

On August 25th, 2019, Israel attacked Lebanon. It has done it again.

Just as it attacked Syria, the same night.

RT reported the same day:

Israeli drone flights were “an open attack on Lebanese sovereignty” and an assault on UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, Hariri said on Sunday, just hours after reports of two Israeli UAV incidents in Beirut.

Hariri called the drone incursion a “threat to regional stability and an attempt to increase tensions.”

He said there’s a heavy presence of planes in the airspace over Beirut and its suburbs, adding he will consult with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on what could be done to repel the “new aggression.””

So, what? Really, we have been ‘here’ before, on so many occasions.

PM Hariri is fuming, but he is one of the closest allies of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in the region. In fact, he is a Saudi citizen. Is he going to do anything, like getting into a war with Israel? Never.

Can he actually do anything?  No. Nothing, even if he would want to. The truth is that practically he can do absolutely nothing. Not he, nor Lebanon’s President Aoun, or even the Lebanese armed forces. Lebanon has no means with which to repel any Israeli attack. Absolutely no means! The country’s air force is pathetic, consisting of several flying toys, like modified Cessnas, old helicopters, and several A-29 Super Tucanos. That could hardly frighten some of the mightiest and well-trained squadrons in the world – those of the Jewish state.

The bitter and uncomfortable truth is, also, that Israel can basically do anything it desires, at least in this part of the world.

Just a few days ago, I dared to drive, again, from Beirut all the way down to Naqoura, and then, along the Blue Line (‘protected’ by the United Nations), east to Kfarkela.

Now, the repulsive Israeli wall which is scarring one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Middle East, has almost been completed, all along the border. One year ago, the Lebanese government protested, calling it almost an act of war. The Israelis did not care. As always, they did what they wanted. They came right towards the line, or more precisely, at least on several occasions, they crossed the line; and constructed their concrete monstrosity right in front of the eyes of the Lebanese soldiers and the UN personnel. “So, now, what are you going to do?” they were practically saying, without pronouncing it.

New Israeli Wall (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

Nobody has done anything in retaliation. Zero! Now UNIFIL Indonesian soldiers are taking selfies right in front of the Blue Line, leaning against their armored vehicles, while Hezbollah flags are waving only a few meters away from Israel. All this horror show is just some 10 kilometers from the Israeli occupied Syrian territory of the Golan Heights. You can see the Golan Heights easily from here. A few years ago I was there, in the Golan Heights; I ‘smuggled’ myself there, to write a damming report. I learned then, and I am getting more and more confirmation now: Israelis are really great experts at building the walls that are ruining and fragmenting the entire region!

But then and now, nothing that can stop them!

Whatever Israel bombs it gets away with it, no one dares to intervene.

Today as the Israel drones, full of explosives, flew into Lebanon, UN battle ships were docked in the harbor of Beirut. After an explosion rocked a Shi’a neighborhood, damaging the Hezbollah Media Center (which I visited some two years ago), the ships did not even change their position, let alone depart from the harbor in order to defend Lebanon!

So why are these ships there? No one knows. No one asks, obviously.

Here, it is always like that. I drive to a Hezbollah area. There is a private checkpoint. I photograph it. They stop me. A huge guy with a machinegun blocks my way. I jump out of the car, put my hands together: “Do you want to arrest me?” He gets insecure. I ignore him. I drive away. I am pissed off: why not better fight the Israelis and their constant invasions, with such a physique and weaponry?

A friend of mine, a top UN official from the Gulf who doesn’t want to be identified, just told me bitterly:

There is no condemnation: there is complete silence from the United Nations and from the West.

Hariri feels obliged to protest, as his nation was attacked. But is he really outraged? Hardly. He hates Syria, he hates Hezbollah.

Lebanon is only united by a few iconic dishes, culinary delights; not by politics.

Is the country ready to defend itself? Hardly. Those who have money are too busy racing their European cars, without mufflers, on potholed streets, or showing their legs in various five-star malls.

The poor people of Lebanon do not matter; they do not exist. Palestinians matter nothing, living and dying, cramped like sardines in repulsive camps with hardly any rights. This has been going on for long decades.

Many Lebanese Christians actually secretly cheer Israel. Or not so secretly… And they are so enamored with everything Western, that, as they told me on several occasions, they would love to be colonized by France, again.

Lebanon is so fragmented by race, religion, social status, that it cannot stand on its feet. Turkish powerplant platforms are providing energy. Infrastructure has collapsed. Filth is everywhere. Cynical corruption consumes everything. But exhibitionism and showing off never stop. Money is there only for hedonistic clubs and sojourns to Nice. Hezbollah is the only institution which cares about the welfare of all Lebanese people; the only force ready to defend the country against foreign interventions. Israel and the West know it. And they are doing all they can to destroy Hezbollah.

Lebanon has become a laughing stock in the region. Like this, it is very difficult to face one of the mightiest militaries on earth.

*****

Just a few hours before Lebanon was hit, Israel admitted that its air force hit the Shi’ite militia and Iranian targets in Syria. It declared that it took out “killer drones” prepped by the Quds Force to carry out attacks in Israeli territory.

Israel justifies everything by its ‘defense’. Any outrageous attack, any bombing, is always ‘preventive’. The world has become used to it, by now. The world is doing nothing to stop it.

People die. Many do; annually. So, ‘the Israeli citizens can be safe’. So the West and its allies can control the region, indefinitely.

On August 25th, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, described the ongoing situation in the Middle East as ‘very, very dangerous’:

U.S. tries to revive Daesh in Iraq… U.S. helicopters are rescuing Daesh in Afghanistan…

He spoke about the attack on Lebanon:

The drones that entered the suburbs at dawn are military aircraft. The first aircraft was a reconnaissance aircraft flying at low altitude to get an accurate picture of the target. We did not shoot down the plane, but some young men threw stones at it before it fell. What happened last night was a suicide drone attack on a target in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Netanyahu would be mistaken if he thinks that this issue can go unnoticed. Lebanon will face a very dangerous situation if this incident goes unaddressed. The dawn suicide attack is the first act of aggression since 14 August 2006. The Lebanese State’s condemnation of what happened and referral of the matter to the Security Council is good, but these steps do not prevent the course of action to be taken.  Since 2000, we have allowed Israeli drones for many reasons but no one moved.  Israeli drones entering Lebanon are no longer collecting information, but assassinations. From now on, we will face the Israeli drones when they enter the skies of Lebanon and we will work to bring them down.  I tell the Israelis that Netanyahu is running with your blood.

The West and its allies are escalating tensions all over the Middle East. Some say, “war is possible”. Others say “it is imminent”. But it is not just a possibility. There is a war. Everywhere. In Afghanistan and Syria, in Yemen and Iraq. Wherever you look! Even in Lebanon.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Barack Obama: “Turns Out I’m Really Good At Killing People”

In Obama’s Unending Wars, Kuzmarov has brought together many telling proofs, nuggets, of just how horrible the world is, and just how responsible the US and its henchmen around the world are. A kind of who-does-it. Kuzmarov is that rare analyst (Belen Fernandez is another) who respects footnotes, leaving fascinating bits there that would otherwise detract from his focus.

Standing out in my mind after reading OUW is the power that China has matured into in the past three decades, the US more and more resentful and frightened by it. Russia also has reclaimed much of its international clout, abandoned by Yeltsin, retrieved and nurtured by Putin, again infuriating the US. Other developed countries play almost no part in OUW, as if passive spectators of the geopolitical battles now being fought, as if they don’t even exist.

But as a Canadian, that makes perfect sense. Canada long ago lost any respect internationally, respect it once merited during and immediately after WWII, the only ‘good war’ the world has ever seen, fought courageously by ‘good guys’ against ‘bad guys’. We are living in a grey fog ever since. OUW is a fine lighthouse piercing through it.

 

Uncle Sam = Great Satan

That brings me to the other impression Kuzmarov’s book leaves: a mourning for the once well-meaning Uncle Sam, under the last great US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over a quasi-socialist experiment, the only way to extract the US from its capitalist hell, and who made friends with everyone, except the ‘bad guys’ Hitler and Tojo. Sadly FDR died before he could cement his vision of a peaceful world order, where the US was not the world policeman fighting pretty well the rest of the world, able to cow most countries, and making enemies of those who insisted on independence.

Kuzmarov mentions FDR only as author of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ towards Latin America, basically cancelling the Monroe Doctrine. It was a mixed bag, with FDR’s acceptance of Nicaragua caudillo Samoza as ‘our son of a bitch’, but even in admitting that shameful act, FDR underlines his distaste for realpolitik. FDR was fighting an already ravenous US imperialist elite, who openly supported Hitler, who had, since the invasion of Philippines in 1898, been invading, occupying, setting up puppet regimes increasingly, especially in Central America.

But FDR is the antithesis of Obama. It is Wilson who is the role model for Obama. An intellectual president with an elegant plan, a mission, to bring the world to heel in the name of American principles, and anyone in the way — beware!

There are so many facts marshalled, it is hard to keep focused. Halfway through, the name Crown caught my eye, a recurring motif. Already on p. 20, we learn that one of Obama’s primary financial sponsors was Henry Crown & Company, which owns 20% of General Dynamics (GD), manufacturer of the Trident rocket, Stryker troop carrier, bunker buster bombs, LAV-25 amphibious armored vehicle, Abrams tank, nuclear subs, naval destroyers … During Obama’s presidency, General Dynamics bought out 11 firms specializing in satellites, geospatial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, working for 16 intelligence agencies (how many are there!) after investing $10m per year in lobbying. Then it gets interesting. GD got caught lying to the government, but — what, me worry? — paid a $4m ‘fine’ and the same year (2016) tripled its profits over 2000.

There are many Crowns. Their dynasty began as Material Services Corporation, one of the government’s largest WWII contractors (sued for $1m for price-gouging). Rechristened GD by 1962, it was awarded a $7b Pentagon contract for bombers (influence peddling investigation quashed). James Crown told the New York Times that his father was ‘fairly hawkish about Israel’s security,’ and felt Obama was ‘terrific on Israel.’ Lester told the Chicago Jewish News that the two-state solution was fine if ‘you will have a demilitarized, peaceful Palestinian entity.’ Ha! Not a ‘state’. Hey, did Lester help Jared Kushner write his ‘deal of the century’?

Obama’s legacy is clear. He is a good provider. He is just not interested in corruption. The imperial gravy train is full speed ahead. It is now an ‘intelligence’ government, with shadowy private corporations increasingly doing the imperial dirty work, leaving the real ‘bad guys’ looking cultured, too smart to be nasties. Bush-Cheney have their Blackwater (rechristened Xe now Academi). Obama told CIA director Leon Panetta the CIA would ‘get everything it wanted.’ The NYT reported that ‘in the 67 years since the CIA was founded, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs as Mr. Obama with Mr. Brennan’ (architect of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program).

It certainly looks, now, that Trump has boxed himself in everywhere he has tried to be original: Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria… But Obama put the finishing touches on the box. Kuzmarov makes it clear that all of those Trump ‘initiatives’ — economic war against Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, negotiations with the Taliban, US troops in Syria (uninvited) — were all in Obama’s game plan.

Obama promised ‘we can’. We all pointed to his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003, his Nobel Peace prize, misunderstanding his ‘no stupid war’ for ‘no war’. Obama saw himself as the ‘smart war’ guy. After all he is ‘black’, so he can’t possibly be an agent of US white-man imperialism; he’s so much smarter than stupid Bush with his ‘stupid war’.

Handbook

Reading Kuzmarov is like reading a speeded-up survey of the past decade, with the same scenarios repeated: something smacks of people power, the US nurtures instability (take your pick, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso …), leading to a collapse of authority, growth of insurgents, ‘invite’ in US troops, make sure your new puppet is secure. But that could be Haiti, or Chad, or Syria.

It’s hard to keep on top of all the machinations in the world, so you can see OUW as a handbook, focus on the gaps in your knowledge. I found Yemen especially instructive. The Houthi only recently formed as a force, harking back to the pre-colonial Zaydeh clan that ruled in the north prior to the outbreak of civil war in the 1960s (i.e., they have street creds).

By 2013, the Houthi were part of a larger coalition that included deposed dictator Saleh and his loyalists, various tribal militias and most military and public sector workers, who were protesting the corruption and poor living standards under the post-2011 (unelected) Saudi-approved Mansour Hadi. The Pentagon had a working relationship with the Houthi in the fight against al-Qaeda (i.e., they’re okay). But Obama and now Trump refuse to work with them, supporting the Saudi sponsor, which has meant the resurgence of al-Qaeda in southern Yemen and the worst humanitarian crisis going.

The US-led Saudi coalition against the Houthi recruited al-Qaeda to fight the Houthi (haven’t we heard that before? Afghanistan 1980s?). Shia are immune to the al-Qaeda virus, which was spawned by the Saudi Wahhabi sect. So if the US is serious about fighting al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al, its natural ally is not Saudi Arabia but Iran.

Did ‘smart’ Obama see that? Is that why he persisted in trying to bring Iran back into the international community, to work with it to really, really defeat the Islamic terrorists?

In Obama’s defense, he did a few brave, principled things:

*He carried through on the START talks and treaty with Russia

*He supported negotiations with Iran and even coughed up $400m to settle a pre-1979 contract for arms to the Shah which were never delivered

*He (sort of) normalized relations with Cuba

*He pardoned hundreds of prisoners who had been caught in Clinton’s ‘three-strikes’ sentencing bill

*He pardoned Chelsea Manning (but went after Snowden and Assange with a vengeance)

*He voted to abstain on a UN condemnation of Israeli settlements

*He was mixed on the environment, encouraging fracking, but cancelling the pipeline through Standing Rock (though not for long).

It is important to remember this in assessing his legacy. Just painting Obama ‘black’ doesn’t leave much room for analysis. My own views on Obama are mixed. He was not just a puppet, though his good initiatives were few and timid. Power certainly corrupted him, as it did his earlier JFK heirs, Bill and Hillary, who likewise moved from (disavowed) student radicalism to outright channelers of Cecil Rhodes.

Kuzmarov mentions Bill Ayers as a friend of Obama. But Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, lost his illusions about Obama after he was elected. In 2013, he told USA Today:

Every president in this century should be put on trial … for war crimes. Every one of them goes into office — an office dripping with blood — and then adds to it. And, yes, I think that these are war crimes. I think that they’re acts of terror. [Then:] He is a curious man who does a lot of reading. He’s a really good guy.

Don’t believe everything you read or that people are quoted as saying. I suspect Ayers was just playing to the mainstream audience. No point in signing your own death warrant for USA Today.

Which brings me to the unanswered question: Yes, Obama is slick, articulate, clever, well read. Not very funny, despite the cheery smile. But does he believe the things he spouts? Even half or one tenth? As I read his mellifluous words in OUW, I conjured up Obama’s schoolmarmish, mechanical, measured baritone, exhorting us to listen up:

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence… I cannot be guided by [Gandhi and King’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is. … To say that force may someday be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.*

In his Nobel Peace prize lecture, he recalls winner Wilson (1919) who “led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.”

One-tenth? He did go to Hiroshima (the first sitting US president), though he was careful not to mention who did what there.

As I read, I would pause from time to time to daydream ‘what if…?’

This is Kuzmarov’s last chapter ‘Seeking a better way to live’, and it is not just platitudes. ‘I know why I don’t want the empire. There are better ways to live and better ways to die.’** And there are Americans who understand that. In The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (1988), Seymour Melman criticized the peace movement for not developing and promoting a long term program for converting the US into an economy of peace.

Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX), once a hawk, convened a meeting of members who had proposed economic conversion legislation to switch the US economy from the Vietnam-era killing machine into … whatever. But Newt Gingrich (Lockheed Martin in his constituency) targeted him in a political witch-hunt, and the plan died. Just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, when there were no enemies (phantom or otherwise), Newt drowned out any further discussion of economic conversion. A historic opportunity had been destroyed.

There are good American politicians! But what about the 1.3m American soldiers? What do they do, every day, day after day? Polish boots, terrorize Afghans, terrorize terrorists, play video war games, drink beer, counting the days till their leave from whatever hell-hole they’re in? Surely there are better ways to live and die.

There are so many horrible things the US does, that if it didn’t, the whole world (including the US) would benefit. Standing up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, letting alone good guys like Maduro. Making peace with Russia and Iran (Obama at least tried with the latter). The world wouldn’t hate the US if it let up a bit on the jingoism, the killing. Why can’t an American president do good anymore, like FDR? Or Lincoln?

The latter gives a hint. Doing the right thing often results in assassination in the US. After JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X, the likelihood of a truly progressive (like Obama’s youthful friend Bill Ayers) is almost zero, and if s/he strays a bit too far from the script, BANG!

My sore spot

I have only one dispute with this stimulating, instructive and highly readable survey of imperialism. Kuzmarov dismisses the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as the empire’s choice in 2012. That is not true. They were/are in no one’s back pocket — US or Saudi. They have been victimized from both sides.

Kuzmarov notes that they refused to join the US-led campaign to overthrow Assad, upsetting Obama, though logically they should have. The Syrian MB was slaughtered in 1980 when they starting a violent uprising, inspired by the (peaceful) Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Morsi said little about them, instead extending a hand to Iran, the first Egyptian president to visit Tehran (for the Non-Aligned Movement conference). Only in June 2013, with the coup in the air, did Morsi call for an international campaign to overthrow Assad. Kuzmarov rightly states this was pretty tame stuff, and that Obama was hoping for more, a replay of the 1980s in Afghanistan.

But 2013 was not 1980. And even this limp support for overthrowing a leader and his army was too much for the Egyptian army, which was/is rooting for Assad, fearing their MB. Take my word. Morsi is right up there with Lenin and Khomeini, defending the revolution.

* ‘The World Beyond Iraq’, Fayetville, North Carolina, March 19, 2008.

** William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life, Oxford University Press, 1980. p266.

Drones

In recent years, the importance of military drones has become increasingly obvious and the use of drones is increasingly controversial.1 Periodic overviews and attempts to clarify and understand drones can be very useful for people concerned with this new technology and should be directed towards a re-imagining of what drones are and are used for.

The American military has in recent years increasingly suffered from a “Jupiter Complex”, or a commitment to a vision of one single global battlefield, where the most modern sciences and technologies are believed to be best applied to constant and continuous global surveillance, reconnaissance, and information networking, including a weaponized attack and emergency response system which is envisioned, designed, and intended to establish a constant American military presence over the entire surface of the planet Earth. Among other things, this Jupiter Complex has advocated and encouraged a program for armed drone patrols, drone surveillance, and drone-based missile strikes on a planetary scale. Following 9/11, the US Congress approved an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”, which the Bush administration interpreted as an authorization to expand the use of armed drones, which had at that time become for some people an exciting new military technology. The American Department of Defense (DoD) operates drones under the AUMF, which is an openly overt authorization, and the DoD reports to Congressional armed services committees in public hearings where drone funding is public and known. The DoD has arrangements established through diplomatic channels and other forums and an established and known chain of command with recognized accountability standards regarding the use of military drones.

There had been at least a seven-fold total increase in drone attacks between the Bush and Obama administrations. During Bush’s presidency, there were less than 50 strikes launched between 2004 and 2009, mostly during the last year of the second term and mostly inside Pakistan. This trend would have almost certainly continued in the years following Bush’s second term, since drones are considered a Revolution in Military Affairs (RIMA), which inevitably generates repercussions in politics and government. Over the two years between 2009 and 2010, President Obama authorized more than four times as many strikes than during Bush’s entire term, at one point averaging one strike every four days compared with one strike every forty days during Bush’s term. In Obama’s first four months, there were as many strikes as during Bush’s entire term. Again, these deployments would have occurred regardless of election results. Drones had by that time become a priority amongst influential military, industry, and government leaders and an issue of intense contention.

There were at least 420 American launched drone strikes (and perhaps many more) between 2004 and 2013. As many as 5,000 people might have been killed, but perhaps many more. By 2011, nearly 2,300 people had been killed by American drones. In 2013, the number could have reached 4,700 or more with at least 3,600 verified. Most strikes and deaths have occurred inside Pakistan, where there were at least 9 strikes in 2007, 36 in 2008, 53 in 2009, 122 in 2010, 73 in 2011, 48 in 2012, and at least 27 in 2013. There have been a growing number of strikes in Yemen, where nearly 100 have happened since 2002, with nearly 500 people killed. In 2009, there were as many as 80 strikes in Yemen. In 2012, there were at least 42 strikes, with at least 200 people killed. US drones have also attacked a “handful” of targets in Somalia since 2006, including the first in two years during late 2013.

Budgets, Procurement, and Costs

The budgets of various managing authorities responsible for drone programs, including the American Defense Department, and the global expansion of drone basing are examples of how this Jupiter Complex is manifested.

Between 1988 and 2000, the United States spent about $4 billion on military “drones”. In 2000, $284 million. In 2001, at least $667 million, by 2005, there was at least an 18% spending increase, reaching $1 billion annually. Since 2001, a 23% annual spending increase. Between 2001 and 2013, there was a forty-fold increase in spending, and costs grew from less than $1 billion to an estimated $26 billion cumulative by 2013. By 2010, drones were costing America up to $5 billion annually, with at least $6 billion spent in 2011, $5.8 billion in 2012, $6 billion in 2013, $6.3 billion in 2014, and a projected $6.5 billion in 2015. Some estimates see $30.8 billion in acquisition and research spending between 2011 and 2015. Other estimates expect between $30 and $40 billion in spending by 2021 (for about 730 drones).

“Drones” collectively consume between 10% and 20% of Pentagon spending on military aircraft and at least 1% of the entire Pentagon budget, rising to an unknown total after factoring in classified spending, which could be billions of dollars. In 2010, of an estimated $58 billion Pentagon “black budget” on spending for classified programs and operations, which includes drones, investments in drones consumed an unknown but respective share of $19 billion for research and development, $17 billion for procurement, and $15 billion for operations and maintenance. In early 2014, the US Congress had $530 billion in classified spending, an unknown amount of which was (is) for drones.

By 2011, the US already accounted for at least one-third of all spending on all drones by all countries. By 2022, US spending may account for between 62% and 77% of global research and development and between 55% and 69% of procurement. Of a projected $94 billion total spending globally by 2022, the US may account for as much as $85 billion, much of which is spending for military drones, including thousands of armed and/or weaponized drones.

In 2000, the US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stated that drones should comprise one-third of the Pentagon’s air fleet by 2015. Drones today (2014) represent roughly one-third of the entire Pentagon air fleet, numbering up to 11,000, with nearly 500 weaponized. There were fewer than 200 American military drones in 2001, and fewer than 10 were armed or weaponized. By 2009, there were at least 5,500 total US military drones, and there were at least 8,000 by 2012. Procurement declined slightly after an unprecedented spike peaking during the US “surge” in Iraq, the Pentagon is expected to (or was at one time expected to) double the number of its drone fleet by 2020 to as many as 15,000, including thousands of armed drones. In 2012, one of the Pentagon’s drone programs purchased at least 1,211 drones. The number of purchases for this program dropped slightly below 300 in 2013, and expected purchases in 2014 were below 60. In a separate program managed under a separate authority within the Pentagon, investment increased by $600 million for as many as 150 drones annually through 2018, with a possible two to three-fold increase in coming years. For another growing drone program at the Pentagon, directed by another separate managing authority, the US military will likely purchase at least 730 drones through 2022, which is a 35% inventory increase at a cost of roughly $37 billion over ten years.

Another example of growing procurement is the Pentagon’s “Unmanned Multi-role Surveillance and Strike” program, which had 72 drones in 2010, and could grow by 600% to nearly 500 drones by 2020, with a 700% spending increase from $1 billion to at least $7 billion. By 2022, “multi-role” drones may total nearly 550, which is a four-fold increase from 2012. Even if procurement steadies or declines, costs are still expected to rise as drone models become more sophisticated and expensive, as manufacturing monopolies on materials and technologies solidify, and as manufacturing orders are revised by the Pentagon and financial forecasts are modified. In 2005, for instance, the Pentagon was billed for an 18% increase in costs because it was buying so many drones, but in 2011, when an order for 22 drones was reduced to 11, the Pentagon absorbed an additional 11% spike in costs. Depending on the type and model, a single drone can cost anywhere between $5 million and $150 million, and in rare cases for test models and prototypes, costs can rise as high as $635 million. The most popular model right now (2014) costs about $150 million each. But costs rise in other ways not included in budgets.

In addition to research and development, and purchases, expenses increase with costs to operate “ground cockpit” systems and other support infrastructure needed to run the program on a global scale. These costs are one example of how to see where the drone program’s costs are expanded beyond procurement. As of 2014, the US had at least sixteen stateside drone training and operating bases, and more than a dozen other known drone-oriented airbases around the world, including in Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and at least six bases in Africa. Since 2013, the US has been running drones from at least four locations inside Tunisia to monitor people and events in Algeria and Libya. US drones have also been launched into Mali from a US base inside Niger, where at least 100 Americans are stationed (as of 2014, anyway). In Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemmonier the US spent at least $38 million annually to lease 500 acres for an airbase that housed more than 3,000 American service members and support personnel, including as many as 1,100 Special Operations personnel ( this was a three-fold increase since 2011). Drones accounted for 30% of all US military flights from the Djibouti base and at least 16 patrols were launched daily into Yemen and other countries in the region until 2013, when crashes and mishaps forced the US to relocate. The US has spent at least $68 million on runway renovations in Djibouti, at least $7 million training local air traffic controllers to help with drone flight coordination, and a total of at least $1.4 billion building Camp Lemmonier into an airbase designed specifically to accommodate American drones. The American Congress authorized at least $13 million to relocate the base following the persistent complications encountered there.

In addition to drone basing and procurement, and classified spending and research and development, costs also rise as the US buys fewer piloted aircraft and trains fewer “flight ready” pilots. Piloted aircraft accounted for 95% of US aircraft in 2005, but fell to 69% by 2012, with a projected 10% additional decline by 2020. The most advanced piloted American aircraft cost about $100 million more than the latest drone aircraft, and costs are growing as fewer airplanes are produced and procured. A collective decrease in airplanes and pilots is expected to coincide with an increase in costs, which have been projected to rise from about $17 billion to $19 billion annually. The cost of training drone specialists is only one-tenth the cost for training flight-ready pilots, and the number of flight-ready pilots being trained has fallen to about 250 annually (as of 2014). A byproduct or consequence of the US drone program is that the cost of training fighter and bomber pilots is expected to increase while the US is producing fewer pilots ready to fly fewer, but much more expensive and sophisticated, aircraft.

Another cost in using drones comes through losses from accidents and mishaps. Despite improving technology, drones still have high failure rates, and mishaps in hostile and non-hostile environments are common and are considered inevitable. A noteworthy accident happened in 2011, when a US drone crashed into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. In late 2013, a US drone crashed into the side of a US Navy vessel near San Diego, California. At least five armed American drones have crashed out of Djibouti since 2011, at least 3 have been lost inside Iran (as of 2014). The US had recurring problems at Camp Lemmonier because of crashes related to launch problems and drones congesting civilian, non-military, airspace. An unknown number of US drones have been lost inside Pakistan, and other crashes have been documented. Crashes often occur during landings or due to weather conditions, and there are high failure rates while trying to land on naval vessels. Crashes happen through systems and communications malfunctions, unintentional “engine kills”, and human error. Crashes have become the focus of studies on counter-drone technologies, including scrambling and jamming GPS signals.

A reliable idea of failure rates is difficult to gather because the number of units and locations of total drones lost is unknown, but at least 200 and possibly many more, have crashed since 2004 in several different countries. Mishaps were frequent during the Bush administration, but are less common as the US gains experience and refines capabilities using drones. Some estimates suggest a failure rate of at least 9 drones lost per 100,000 flying hours, with a higher number lost during the first 50,000 flying hours. In 2004, mishaps were very high, but flight hours were at only about 50,000. By 2011, mishaps decreased as flight hours rose to about 650,000. In 2005, five different drone models crashed between 20 and 285 different times under different circumstances. By 2009, some estimates calculated 7.5 crashes per 100,000 hours. At least 70 of 195 launched between 2008 and 2009 crashed “catastrophically” or at “crippling rates”. In 2010, there had been at least 79 verified accidents at the cost of about $1 million each, though the cost of losses has been declining. In 2012, at least 50 drones were verified as entirely lost.

These numbers show only a very general idea of totals, since a reliable absolute bare minimum total is unknown. It is also unclear how many drones have been lost in hostile incidents, which can include drones being shot down or being targeted by electronics interference, jamming, and scrambling. In addition to the financial losses of a destroyed drone, these incidents collectively lead to the unregulated proliferation of lethal technology that has no solidified legal foundations and has been the subject of intense and ongoing controversy amidst an intensifying global drone arms race which many observers suppose will turn the world into one between countries with, and countries without, military drones.

In addition to the expenses and costs detailed above, drone spending also rises during the regular operations of drones. A typical price-tag for an hour of drone airtime is between $3,500 and $5,000, not including costs for munitions during combat missions, which can run from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Since 2005, there has been at least a 1,200% increase in US drone patrols globally, with a 600% increase between 2003 and 2009. In 2007, there were at least 21 patrols at any given time during a 24-hour period. In 2010, there were at least 500,000 flight hours logged. In 2011, there were at least 350,000 hours logged with 54 patrols. In 2012, there were at least 330,000 hours logged, and by 2013, there were more than 2 million total flight hours logged, creating such an overabundance and backlog of drone video and film to review and to edit, that outside agencies and corporations were consulted and contracted by the Pentagon, including the National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency and the sports entertainment media network ESPN. At any given time, at least 65 different US drone patrols could be happening around the world. Combat patrols are made up of at least four aircraft, including one in-flight, one in-maintenance, one in-transit, and one re-fueling. For a given 24-hour patrol there are at least seven and as many as ten crews of at least twenty people each operating and monitoring drones. One-hundred is a typical number of people for lethal strike drone missions. In rare cases, up to 300 people could be involved, including remote control pilots, sensor operators, systems coordinators, information analysts, communications and video crew, field personnel, intelligence operatives, military lawyers, senior civilian officials, private companies’ representatives, and drone mechanics and other staff.

Drone Expansion and Criticisms

As the military drone program establishes itself, the US military is trying to fulfill a growing demand for drone pilots and related personnel. The drone generation in America is seeing a growth beyond military training and into university and graduate degree programs, laboratory funding, and investments in corporate development. By 2009, in the US military, there were about 400 trained drone specialists, some migrating from traditional Air Force training, or with prior “air sense” and flying experience, and some novice and entry-level. By 2009, more drone specialists were being trained than traditional combat pilots. In 2011, the Air Force Academy graduated its first class of 350 drone specialists, compared with 250 conventional pilots that year. At least 350 operators were trained in 2012, adding to the total that year of 950 operators and 1,400 drone pilots. By 2015, the Air Force expected at least 2,000 each of both drone pilots and operators, and a growing number of support staff. The cost of training drone specialists was about one-tenth the cost of training conventional pilots in 2014, and the training process has been streamlined in many cases because of high demand. Many trainees take a course of only 3 or 9 months instead of 10 or 16 months for more thorough specialization. Specialists do not usually live an “active-duty lifestyle” and do not endure the demanding physical testing which “flight ready” pilots require. Some drone specialists are assigned to patrols with as few as 20 flying hours logged, instead of the 200 hours set by higher standards and less demanding deadlines for other drone specialists. For these, and other reasons, drone specialists are considered to be detached from combat mentality except for a desensitized “push button” and “PlayStation” mentality, which is sort of byproduct of modern technologies that has raised concerns about the “dehumanization” of warfare.

Drones tend to generate a perception of war as a simulation or video game, and drone operators are often seen as a “chair force”, or, “cubicle warriors” criticized as second-class soldiers fighting a coward’s war by striking targets from remote distances (perhaps as many as 8,000 miles from a target) with no possibility of retaliation by any actual enemy in any immediately shared battle-space. There are accounts of psychological stress drone pilots endure as a result of monitoring computer screens for extended time periods and sometimes launching missiles that kill innocent people. About 30% of drone operators probably do have some stress related to their assignments, and an estimated 20% are considered clinically distressed. Of 600 operators and drone pilots surveyed by the Air Force in 2011, 42% had moderate to high stress and 20% had “emotional burnout”. In addition to concerns about the type of soldiers drone operators are, there are also criticisms about a perceived lack of honor, or a loss of virtue, in drone warfare. In 2013, for example, the Pentagon encountered a controversy by planning to issue a “Distinguished Warfare Medal” to drone operators who had an “extraordinary direct impact on combat operations”. Production of the medal was discontinued following criticisms from dozens of US senators and from service veterans about the nature of drone warfare and drone specialists’ place in drone warfare.The issue of drone operators is connected to larger issues in the age of weaponized drones.

Drones are controversial because they are an application of a non-military technology to an overtly offensive military aim. The US chose to employ drone technology as a weapon, and has since 2001 become the focus of intense criticism from observers in every academic and scientific field and discipline. The criticisms of US foreign service officers, of veteran military commanders, military operational and administrative officials, and others, suggest a situation that has struggled to reach stability but has been advocated for anyway. Despite convictions that military drones are useless or counterproductive, and amidst ongoing debates and attempts to clarify and solidify a legal framework for drones, drones have continued to be deployed in American military and intelligence operations, which many see as a serious mistake.

In mainstream American politics, for example, open opposition to drones or open criticisms of drone attacks has been noticeable only very rarely. The opposition of the American political left and others has been increasingly focused on the human rights violations, the lack of transparency and accountability, the violations of due process, the misinterpretation of authorizations, and the continued denial of information which has been happening since drones were first introduced. In the sciences and philosophy, drones have raised questions about ethical programming and computer autonomy, where drones as weapons are either considered inherently unethical or else have been put to unethical ends. Questions are also being raised about whether it is or is not ethical to allow drones an increasing amount of autonomy and separation from human control, where the role of monitoring increases and the role of controlling drones decreases. The autonomy debate involves drone operators and the so-called “human loop”, where today there is a human “in the loop”, there will be in the future merely a human “on the loop”. One of the most serious criticisms is that drone warfare makes going to war or deciding to use force less scrutinized or “easier” and that the ease with which the US seems to have been using drones has led to abuses and excesses with very little accountability and almost no transparency. The Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, employs people who answer to no known chain of command. The scrutiny over CIA drone strikes continues to be a serious controversy even though drones are being developed and deployed without any established legal agreements or consensus amongst the various people involved in these operations.

Resistance to and scrutiny of drones has been evident for as long as drones have been relevant as a new military technology. During the early years of the US drone program, the consensus within the US military was that drones were not an honorable way to fight. This sentiment became less influential as the program developed and drones were prioritized by influential factions at the Pentagon and in government and industry. During the Bush administration, CIA Director George Tenet expressed reservations about the CIA’s authority to use drones in conflict scenarios. Military hierarchy has been affected by disagreements about drones. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission expressed concerns about the US drone program being under CIA control and recommended changes that have since been reiterated, if still ignored, by policymakers. Following the 9/11 Commission’s report, the General Accounting Office in 2005 alluded to establishing a single authority for drones, amidst a lack of oversight. In 2011, the US Ambassador to Pakistan left office following repeated disagreements with the CIA and the White House over the negative impact of ongoing US drone strikes inside Pakistan. A Congressional filibuster in 2013 publicized drones, albeit in a sensationalist way, and serves as an example of a latent concern within the American government about drones amidst an increasingly tacit acceptance of drones. By 2014, the US Congress’ “Unmanned Systems Caucus” (the “Drone Caucus”), had at least 60 members in both major parties. Between 2011 and 2012, the Drone Caucus received at least $2.3 million from the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a drone lobbying and trade group representing as many as 600 corporations, companies, and businesses, and over 7,000 individuals. The AUVSI gives Congress at least $250,000 annually and doubled its lobbying budget in 2011. This investment shows how, despite some concerns about drones, the defense budget can be recycled by the defense industry back into political lobbying and thereby influence government and policy to support the drone initiatives of industry and some military leaders.

Drones have been criticized by some military veterans as being “strategically dumb” and “tactically smart”, where any benefit is too costly and any mistakes too counterproductive to justify the deployment of drones as weapons. As time passes and drone specialists inevitably gain experience and influence, drone policy will be increasingly directed by a new generation of people unsympathetic to the concerns of many military officers, human rights advocates, and others. When official training for drone operators started in 2010, for instance, policymakers inside the military mostly included veteran combat pilots who were very highly skeptical and sometimes openly unsupportive of military drones. The tendency was to see drones as expensive and wasteful, and any benefit being negligible and any mistakes being very costly. Experience had shown that drones could not survive hostile conditions, but as America’s military power increased, the nature of America’s wars changed, becoming more asymmetrical and low-intensity, which some saw as an opportunity to introduce drone technology.

The conventions of war changed following the Cold War and as the Global War on Terror has changed into an undefined, open-ended, ongoing, “long” war, drones have become integrated and “federated” into the US military, and have become normalized despite the concerns of military leadership and others about the highly controversial nature of drones and drone combat. Drones were, and are, perceived as stifling reform and encouraging abuse, and as being wrongly employed as a strategy while they would have been better employed, very sparingly, if at all, as a tactic. For some, again, any strategic benefit drones might offer is generated at too great a cost and for too small a gain to justify the problems generated when drones cause damage, which is apparently far too often. The “whack-a-mole” criticism noticed by experienced observers says that for any one target the US kills, several other “enemies” will have been created. In this way, drones are known to have generated several types of blowback and to have backfired on far too many occasions and for too wide a variety of reasons.

Drones are criticized as being prone to create and sustain insurgency and to perpetuate endless war, yet they are being used in America’s ongoing military operations globally under the auspices of the Global War on Terror. The GWOT is understood to involve “asymmetrical” warfare, where the proportion of US force is strong enough to create a military imbalance making high-intensity conventional conflict between two or more superpowers increasingly less likely and low-intensity small-scale unconventional hostilities more likely. The US is not at war with other nations and national armies, but instead is at war with non-state actors in a transnational and globalized battlefield. In this situation, drones are believed or portrayed to have some relevance, but these assumptions have not been validated. Moreover, drones have been problematic beyond these military concerns expressed by veteran US commanders.

Conclusion

More than 15 years after America started attacking targets with drones, and after a period of well-documented abuses and ongoing controversies, no consensus exists, no single comprehensive international statement on drones exists, and yet the practice of drone attacks continues to establish a worrisome precedent of unregulated military activity amidst an intensifying and unregulated proliferation of lethal drone technology around the world. Drones have raised objections about and have been associated with problems including extraordinary rendition, CIA black-sites, enhanced interrogation and torture, kill lists, targeted assassinations and signature strikes, collateral damage, and extrajudicial killings. People continue to live in fear of drones, and yet there are no indications that the reality being created by drones will ever be governed by a consensus which reflects the concerns of those with valid observations, considerations, and insights about drones.

US military drones and the use of military drones have affected the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Drones have raised debates among professionals interested in just war theory, international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict, and law on national sovereignty and self-determination. The US has suffered allegations of war crimes, violations of rights to due process, a lack of transparency and accountability, and criticisms over a refusal to provide or share any basic information on drone warfare or to clarify the basis and justifications for the policies supporting deployment of drones.

The most serious issues about the impact drones are having include collateral damage, casualties to innocent bystanders, the CIA program and its attendant problems, endless spending on what is unpopular with experienced decision makers and many American citizens, the proliferation of lethal technology, endangering American civilians, and questions about the role of the courts either having a role in deciding who to target, or having only a limited role in deciding if US drone attacks are legal. Outside of government, human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, and most of the rest of the word have expressed concern or disapproval of US drones. These include, but are certainly not limited to, criticisms from Reprieve, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Pakistan Body Count, the New America Foundation, the American Moslem Political Action Committee, CODEPINK, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Questions persist about the approval and vetting process used in CIA strikes, including the respective roles of the presidency, the courts, and the military. The CIA program has a black budget. Operatives do not answer to any known chain of command. The CIA operate as many as 80 drones tracking up to 20 targets at a given time. CIA drones are maintained and armed by private contractors and account for as many as 80% of all American drone strikes. The US Air Force works with the CIA during some strikes and many CIA operatives were formerly in the US Air Force.

Drones have been used under the AUMF, and also under Title 10 of the US Code of Laws, which is considered to be outdated, but which has been avoided as an issue for American politicians because of concerns that political careers may be jeopardized if any kind of public stance on drones is declared. The CIA is, and has been, running covert drone operations, and reporting to Congressional intelligence committees only in closed sessions, while receiving unknown classified funding and authorization. CIA operatives do not have a known chain of command and often work with private companies who have no oversight or accountability, or adherence to any established rules of conflict but only secretive arrangements with unknown terms with host governments.

Most countries around the world strongly disapprove of US drone strikes and popular opinion polls and informal polls within military circles around the world show a strong suspicion and dislike for US drones and drone policy generally. In countries experiencing US drone strikes and hosting drone infrastructure, the unpopularity is unusually intense. Protests are common, and in too many places the US is seen as an occupying and invasive presence, with an attendant arrogance and belligerence, that only complicates an already dismal situation for those concerned with America’s problematic attitudes and ideas about human rights in the 21st century.

  1. Note: This article was written several years ago and some of the figures can be updated to remain current, but the information is still useful and hopefully offers some general ideas about drones and drone technology as these technologies are being applied to America’s controversial military programs around the world. Thanks to the efforts of human rights organizations and others who have worked to raise awareness and to positively change the problem of military drones today.

When Bolsonaro and Netanyahu Are “Brothers”: Why Brazil Should Shun the Israeli Model

Newly-inaugurated Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, is set to be the arch-enemy of the environment and of indigenous and disadvantaged communities in his country. He also promises to be a friend of like-minded, far-right leaders the world over.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see a special kind of friendship blossoming between Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We need good brothers like Netanyahu,” Bolsonaro said on January 1, the day of his inauguration in Brasilia.

Bolsonaro is a “great ally (and) a brother”, Netanyahu replied.

But, while Bolsonaro sees in Netanyahu a role model – for reasons that should worry many Brazilians – the country certainly does not need ‘brothers’ like the Israeli leader.

Netanyahu’s militancy, oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people, his racially-motivated targeting of Black African immigrants and his persistent violations of international law are not at all what a country like Brazil needs to escape corruption, bring about communal harmony and usher in an era of regional integration and economic prosperity.

Netanyahu, of course, was keen on attending Bolsonaro’s inauguration, which is likely to go down in Brazilian history as an infamous day, where democracy and human rights came under their most serious threat since Brazil launched its democratic transition in the early 1980s.

In recent years, Brazil has emerged as a sensible regional power that defended Palestinian human rights and championed the integration of the ‘State of Palestine’ into the larger international community.

Frustrated by Brazil’s record on Palestine and Israel, Netanyahu, a shrewd politician, saw an opportunity in the populist discourse parroted by Bolsonaro during his campaign.

The new Brazilian President wants to reverse Brazil’s foreign policy on Palestine and Israel, the same way he wants to reverse all the policies of his predecessors regarding indigenous rights, the protection of the rainforest, among other pressing matters.

What is truly worrying is that, Bolsonaro, who has been likened to Donald Trump – least because of his vow to “make Brazil great again” – is likely to keep his promises. Indeed, only hours after his inauguration, he issued an executive order targeting land rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil, to the delight of the agricultural lobbies, which are eager to cut down much of the country’s forests.

Confiscating indigenous peoples’ territories, as Bolsonaro plans to do, is something that Netanyahu, his government and their predecessors have done without remorse for many years. Yes, it is clear that the claim of ‘brotherhood’ is based on very solid ground.

But there are other dimensions to the love affair between both leaders. Much work has been invested in turning Brazil from having an arguably pro-Palestinian government, to a Trump-like foreign policy.

In his campaign, Bolsonaro reached out to conservative political groups, the never truly tamed military and Evangelical churches, all with powerful lobbies, sinister agendas and unmistakable influence. Such groups have historically, not only in South America, but in the United States and other countries as well, conditioned their political support for any candidate on the unconditional and blind support of Israel.

This is how the United States has become the main benefactor for Israel, and that is precisely how Tel Aviv aims to conquer new political grounds.

The western world, in particular, is turning towards far-right demagogues for simple answers to complicated and convoluted problems. Brazil, thanks to Bolsonaro and his supporters, is now joining the disturbing trend.

Israel is unabashedly exploiting the unmitigated rise of global neo-fascism and populism. Worse, the once perceived to be anti-Semitic trends are now wholly embraced by the ‘Jewish State’, which is seeking to broaden its political influence but also its weapons market.

Politically, far-right parties understand that in order for Israel to help them whitewash their past and present sins, they would have to submit completely to Israel’s agenda in the Middle East. And that is precisely what is taking place from Washington, to Rome to Budapest to Vienna … And, as of late, Brasilia.

But another, perhaps more compelling reason is money. Israel has much to offer by way of its destructive war and ‘security’ technology, a massive product line that has been used with lethal consequences against Palestinians.

The border control industry is thriving in the US and Europe. In both cases, Israel is serving the task of the successful role model and the technology supplier. And Israeli ‘security’ technology, thanks to the newfound sympathy for Israel’s alleged security problems, is now invading European borders as well.

According to the Israeli Ynetnews, Israel is the seventh largest arms exporter in the world and is emerging as a leader in the global export of aerial drones.

Europe’s excitement for Israel’s drone technology is related to mostly unfounded fears of migrants and refugees. In the case of Brazil, Israeli drones technology will be put to fight against criminal gangs and other internal reasons.

For the record, Israeli drones manufactured by Elbit Systems have been purchased and used by the former Brazilian government just before the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

What makes future deals between both countries more alarming is the sudden affinity of far-right politicians in both countries. Expectedly, Bolsonaro and Netanyahu discussed the drones at length during the latter’s visit to Brazil.

Israel has used extreme violence to counter Palestinian demands for human rights, including lethal violence against ongoing peaceful protests at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel. If Bolsonaro thinks that he will successfully counter local crimes through unhinged violence – as opposed to addressing social and economic inequality and unfair distribution of wealth in his country – then he can only expect to exasperate an already horrific death toll.

Israeli security obsessions should not be duplicated, neither in Brazil nor anywhere else, and Brazilians, many of whom rightly worry about the state of democracy in their country, should not succumb to the Israeli militant mindset which has wrought no peace, but much violence.

Israel exports wars to its neighbors, and war technology to the rest of the world. As many countries are plagued by conflict, often resulting from massive income inequalities, Israel should not be seen as the model to follow, but rather the example to avoid.

Drone Days of Summer

This summer flew by. While many of us were baking in the heat, the U.S. war industry was raking in the money, selling unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. “drones”). All told, summer sales of drones and related technology topped $3,509,000,000. Such waste is a national tragedy.

Boeing

Boeing’s main drone division is known as Insitu. It manufactures and assembles its products in Washington and Oregon along the Columbia River. Two of its bestsellers are the Blackjack and the ScanEagle.

Boeing sold Blackjack parts worth roughly $9 million to the U.S. Marine Corps in July and again in August, capping off the summer by selling Blackjack drones and equipment worth $53.9 million to Poland.

Poland wasn’t the only country that Boeing successfully courted this summer. At the end of June, Boeing sold Lebanon ScanEagle drones worth $8.2 million. This deal included helping set up the equipment and training the Lebanese military on how to operate it. Lebanon is a long-term Boeing customer. In September 2015, for example, Boeing sold ScanEagle drones to Lebanon, delivered to a base in Hamat.

Endless war brings endless opportunity to create and market new weaponry. Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray is a good example of this. On 30 August, Boeing sealed a deal (worth a cool $805 million) to provide the Pentagon with four MQ-25A vehicles, which are capable of flying from aircraft carriers.

Like any proficient war corporation, Boeing spreads production across congressional districts. The MQ-25 Stingray is worked on in St. Louis, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Cedar Rapids, IA; Palm Bay, FL; San Diego, CA; and many overseas locations. Take caution. The claim that the “defense” industry brings “jobs, jobs, jobs” is a stale public relations ploy. It hides the truth: spending on healthcare, education, or clean energy creates more jobs than spending on war.

Sometimes allied governments get weapons for free. In the middle of the summer, Boeing sold the Pentagon over $10.8 million worth of ScanEagle systems and spares, which the Pentagon is giving to Afghanistan’s military. The Pentagon paid for this with “building partner capacity funds,” not through foreign military sales (FMS). Building partner capacity funds come directly from the U.S. taxpayer. The war in Afghanistan is now entering its seventeenth year—seventeen years of corporate profit.

Owned and Operated

One of Boeing’s bigger payoffs of the summer came in early August when the war corporation sold up to $232 million worth of drone services to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in a continuation of an earlier deal. Under the terms of the deal, Boeing contractors—what one might call “mercenaries”—support USSOCOM operations, using Boeing’s proprietary drone infrastructure. This is a stellar example of how war corporations now run the wars.

General Atomics behaves the same way. In June, General Atomics sold nearly $40 million for MQ-9 “surge support” in U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), primarily helping U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

Not to be outdone, Textron is offering its drones to protect the Pentagon’s footprint in Afghanistan. In early August, Textron’s AAI division sold over $12 million worth of “force protection efforts” at Bagram and Kandahar airfields. Under the deal, Textron provides and operates various drones to protect the aforementioned bases.

Boeing, General Atomics, and Textron make millions selling and operating drones in war zones overseas, further increasing the corporate takeover of what was once an inherently governmental job: waging war.

General Atomics

The General Atomics MQ-9 “Reaper” is the Pentagon’s workhorse. When there’s a drone strike, the MQ-9 is most likely the culprit. In recent years, General Atomics has sold the MQ-9 to Spain, the U.K., Italy, and France. It’s a cash cow.

General Atomics produces many pricey gizmos for its drone fleet. On 14 June, General Atomics sold the Pentagon nearly $23 million worth of engineering on MQ-9 radars. On 20 August, General Atomics sold $133.9 million worth of new sensors on the MQ-9. On 22 August, General Atomics sold over $11 million worth of engineering services on the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drone. (The MQ-1C is an upgrade of the Pentagon’s former favorite, the MQ-1 Predator, which was retired in recent months.)

CAE USA Inc. creates the training curriculum for MQ-9 drone pilots and sensor operators. At the end of the summer, CAE USA sold the Pentagon four months of air crew training and course work development for General Atomics’ drones. CAE USA delivers the curriculum to major drone hubs within the United States: Creech Air Force Base (AFB), NV; Hancock Air National Guard Base, NY; Holloman AFB, NM; and March Air Reserve Base, CA.

Raytheon

“The Hive” is what I’ve nicknamed a cluster of towns in northeast Texas where the U.S. war industry produces some of its most profitable and destructive goods, including the infamous F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The towns comprising The Hive are Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie, Greenville, McKinney, and Richardson.

Raytheon produces many of its aircraft sensors in McKinney, including electro-optical, infrared (EO/IR) devices that are bolted onto the underside of drones. These devices cost an arm and a leg, bringing Raytheon a lot of money.

In McKinney, Raytheon makes the targeting system used on the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C “Triton” drone. At the end of the summer, Raytheon received millions to get this multi-spectral targeting system up and running on some of the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C drones.

Raytheon makes the targeting system for the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper as well. In July, Raytheon received over $10 million to upgrade this targeting system in McKinney. On 31 August, Raytheon received over $281 million for targeting system (MTS-B) turrets, upgrades, and spares.

Money flowed swiftly to Raytheon this summer. In June, Raytheon received $29.6 million to develop a Low Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) prototype. The next day, Raytheon received $45.8 million for work on the Common Sensor Payload (CSP) system, which is used on General Atomics drones. It is worth noting that the current Raytheon CEO used to be the executive supervising development of such technology.

Northrop Grumman

The Pentagon is throwing money at the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, a new drone designed to complement Boeing’s P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft.

At the beginning of June, Northrop Grumman received $61.7 million to “provide operator, maintenance, logistic support and sustainment engineering” in support of MQ-4C drones “to ensure the aircraft are mission-capable.” In straightforward terms, Northrop Grumman got paid to keep doing what it’s doing, keeping a costly weapon of war up and running.

War corporations are greedy, just like other corporations. In mid-July, Northrop Grumman received over $41 million for MQ-4C drones, field service representatives, and work on training devices. Five days later, Northrop Grumman received $19.3 million for MQ-4C software updates. Selling software updates on a brand-new weapon of war is a blatant rip-off. No consumer would ever pay for mandatory software upgrades on their 2018 automobile immediately after driving it off the lot, yet this sort of abusive deceit is commonplace in the war machine. Such treachery highlights the real relationship between the U.S. war industry and its primary customer, the Pentagon. War corporations are running the show.

Many leeches are attracted to the funding associated with endless war. The day before U.S. Independence Day, the British corporation Rolls-Royce sold the Pentagon $420 million worth of maintenance and repair on the MQ-4C’s engines. At the end of July, Northrop Grumman received $7.5 million to incorporate “interoperability” in support of the RQ-5 Hunter drone, which was originally an Israeli product, tested in the skies over Palestine.

Millions Up For Grabs

There are many more players in the drone racket. Millions are to be made from selling surveillance drones and associated technology to the Pentagon and allied governments around the world.

SSC Pacific is an integral military node through which the U.S. war industry profits. SSC Pacific uses cyber, drones, and information technology to help the U.S. Navy dominate the Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of August, four corporations sold engineering services to SSC Pacific. Their work focuses on providing “emerging positioning, navigation and timing technologies for C4ISR applications,” basically helping to develop reconnaissance technology and the related command and control equipment.

AeroVironment Inc. sells small drones to the Pentagon and allied nations. At the end of June, AeroVironment sold hardware for its Switchblade drone. A month later, AeroVironment sold communications devices to Norway for use on drones like the RQ-12A WASP. Just like all U.S. war corporations, AeroVironment sells to governments with dismal or questionable human rights records. Previous customers of AeroVironment include Egypt and Ukraine.

War corporations like CACI and L3 sell goods and services that comprise the information technology backbone of the U.S. Armed Forces. At the beginning of June, CACI (Six3) received $48.6 million to help the U.S. Navy deploy “counter-UAS” technology. Counter-UAS equipment tries to stop drones (“unmanned aerial systems”) from approaching U.S. government facilities, usually by jamming the incoming vehicle.

On the last day of July, Leonardo DRS, an Italian war corporation, sold the Pentagon its expertise to engineer and test counter-UAS technology. At the end of August, L3 sold sensors, which will likely be used on Textron’s RQ-7 Shadow drone. The sensors (“Electro-Optic/Infrared/Laser Designator Payload”) sold for $454 million.

Academic institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the Pentagon’s favorite bastions of scientific and mathematical knowledge. But endless war corrupts all corners of academia. In mid-August, George Mason University received over $60 million to help the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) improve the hardware and software that connect and synchronize small drones.

Unmanned vehicles are not limited to the skies above. Increasingly, the U.S. war industry lobbies for dominating the depths of the oceans with unmanned vehicles. In mid-June, Metron Inc. sold its expertise ($8 million) to work on advanced modular payloads for unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV). Later in the summer, several war corporations and academic institutions, including Draper Lab, L3, SAIC, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, sold over $561 million worth of UUV research and development.

While the Pentagon spends billions of tax dollars on drones, students struggle with mounting debt, children go hungry, and the nation suffers from stagnant wages and a lack of universal healthcare. Boeing, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and other war corporations do not care. They are busy developing, marketing, and selling weapons of war to the Pentagon and allies worldwide. These same corporations fund think tanks, bribe U.S. Congress with campaign contributions, and lobby Capitol Hill daily in order to sustain endless war. Drone sales over the summer months—totaling over $3.5 billion—show how profitable this racket really is.

Marching for Peace: From Helmand to Hiroshima

I have just arrived in Hiroshima with a group of Japanese “Okinawa to Hiroshima peace walkers” who had spent nearly two months walking Japanese roads protesting U.S. militarism.  While we were walking, an Afghan peace march that had set off in May was enduring 700km of Afghan roadsides, poorly shod, from Helmand province to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. Our march watched the progress of theirs with interest and awe.  The unusual Afghan group had started off as 6 individuals, emerging out of a sit-in protest and hunger strike in the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah, after a suicide attack there created dozens of casualties. As they started walking their numbers soon swelled to 50 plus as the group braved roadside bombs, fighting between warring parties and exhaustion from desert walking during the strict fast month of Ramadan.

The Afghan march, which is believed to be the first of its kind, is asking for a long-term ceasefire between warring parties and the withdrawal of foreign troops. One peace walker, named Abdullah Malik Hamdard, felt that he had nothing to lose by joining the march. He said: “Everybody thinks they will be killed soon, the situation for those alive is miserable. If you don’t die in the war, the poverty caused by the war may kill you, which is why I think the only option left for me is to join the peace convoy.”

The Japanese peace walkers marched to specifically halt the construction of a U.S. airfield and port with an ammunition depot in Henoko, Okinawa, which will be accomplished by landfilling Oura Bay, a habitat for the dugong and unique coral hundreds of years old, but many more lives are endangered. Kamoshita Shonin, a peace walk organizer who lives in Okinawa, says:

People in mainland Japan do not hear about the extensive bombings by the U.S. in the Middle East and Afghanistan, they are told that the bases are a deterrent against North Korea and China, but the bases are not about protecting us, they are about invading other countries. This is why I organised the walk.

Sadly, the two unconnected marches shared one tragic cause as motivation.

Recent U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan include the deliberate targeting of civilian wedding parties and funerals, incarceration without trial and torture in Bagram prison camp, the bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz, the dropping of the ‘Mother of all bombs’ in Nangarhar, illegal transportation of Afghans to secret black site prisons, Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and the extensive use of armed drones. Elsewhere the U.S. has completely destabilised the Middle East and Central Asia, according to The Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report released in 2015, stated that the U.S. interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone killed close to 2 million, and that the figure was closer to 4 million when tallying up the deaths of civilians caused by the U.S. in other countries, such as Syria and Yemen.

The Japanese group intend to offer prayers of peace this Monday at Hiroshima ground zero, 73 years to the day after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city, instantly evaporating 140,000 lives, arguably one of the worst ‘single event’ war crimes committed in human history. Three days later the U.S. hit Nagasaki instantly killing 70,000. Four months after the bombing the total death toll had reached 280,000 as injuries and the impact of radiation doubled the number of fatalities.

Today Okinawa, long a target for discrimination by Japanese authorities, accommodates 33 U.S. military bases, occupying 20% of the land, housing some 30,000 plus U.S. Marines who carry out dangerous training exercises ranging from rope hangs suspended out of Osprey helicopters (often over built-up residential areas), to jungle trainings which run straight through villages, arrogantly using people’s gardens and farms as mock conflict zones. Of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, many to most would have trained on Okinawa, and even flown out directly from the Japanese Island to U.S. bases such as Bagram.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan the walkers, who call themselves the ‘People’s Peace Movement’, are following up their heroic ordeal with protests outside various foreign embassies in Kabul.  This week they are outside the Iranian Embassy demanding an end to Iranian interference in Afghan matters and their equipping armed militant groups in the country. It is lost on no-one in the region that the U.S., which cites such Iranian interference as its pretext for building up towards a U.S.-Iran war, is an incomparably more serious supplier of deadly arms and destabilizing force to the region. They have staged sit-in protests outside the U.S., Russian, Pakistani and U.K. embassies, as well as the U.N. offices in Kabul.

The head of their impromptu movement, Mohammad Iqbal Khyber, says the group have formed a committee comprised of elders and religious scholars. The assignment of the committee is to travel from Kabul to Taliban-controlled areas to negotiate peace.

The U.S. have yet to describe its long term or exit strategy for Afghanistan. Last December Vice President Mike Pence addressed U.S. troops in Bagram: “I say with confidence, because of all of you and all those that have gone before and our allies and partners, I believe victory is closer than ever before.”

But time spent walking doesn’t bring your destination closer when you don’t have a map.  More recently U.K. ambassador for Afghanistan Sir Nicholas Kay, while speaking on how to resolve conflict in Afghanistan said: “I don’t have the answer.”  There never was a military answer for Afghanistan.  Seventeen years of ‘coming closer to victory’ in eliminating a developing nation’s domestic resistance is what is called “defeat,” but the longer the war goes on, the greater the defeat for Afghanistan’s people.

Historically the U.K. has been closely wedded to the U.S. in their ‘special relationship’, sinking British lives and money into every conflict the U.S. has initiated. This means the U.K. was complicit in dropping 2,911 weapons on Afghanistan in the first 6 months of 2018, and in President Trump’s greater-than-fourfold average increase on the number of bombs dropped daily by his warlike predecessors. Last month Prime Minister Theresa May increased the number of British troops serving in Afghanistan to more than 1,000, the biggest U.K. military commitment to Afghanistan since David Cameron withdrew all combat troops four years ago.

Unbelievably, current headlines read that after 17 years of fighting, the U.S. and Afghan Government are considering collaboration with the extremist Taliban in order to defeat ISKP, the local ‘franchise’ of Daesh.

Meanwhile UNAMA has released its mid-year assessment of the harm done to civilians. It found that more civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018 than in any year since 2009, when UNAMA started systematic monitoring. This was despite the Eid ul-Fitr ceasefire, which all parties to the conflict, apart from ISKP, honoured.

Every day in the first six months of 2018, an average of nine Afghan civilians, including two children, were killed in the conflict. An average of nineteen civilians, including five children, were injured every day.

This October Afghanistan will enter its 18th year of war with the U.S. and supporting NATO countries. Those young people now signing up to fight on all sides were in nappies when 9/11 took place. As the ‘war on terror’ generation comes of age, their status quo is perpetual war, a complete brainwashing that war is inevitable, which was the exact intention of warring decision makers who have become exceedingly rich of the spoils of war.

Optimistically there is also a generation who are saying “no more war, we want our lives back”, perhaps the silver lining of the Trump cloud is that people are finally starting to wake up and see the complete lack of wisdom behind the U.S. and its hostile foreign and domestic policies, while the people follow in the steps of non-violent peace makers such as Abdul Ghafoor Khan, the change is marching from the bottom up.

Okinawa to Hiroshima Peace Walk (Photo by Maya Evans)

Enough Is Enough: If You Really Want to Save Lives, Take Aim at Government Violence

It is often the case that police shootings, incidents where law enforcement officers pull the trigger on civilians, are left out of the conversation on gun violence. But a police officer shooting a civilian counts as gun violence. Every time an officer uses a gun against an innocent or an unarmed person contributes to the culture of gun violence in this country.

— Celisa Calacal, Journalist

Enough is enough.

That was the refrain chanted over and over by the thousands of demonstrators who gathered to protest gun violence in America.

Enough is enough.

We need to do something about the violence that is plaguing our nation and our world.

Enough is enough.

The world would be a better place if there were fewer weapons that could kill, maim, destroy and debilitate.

Enough is enough.

On March 24, 2018, more than 200,000 young people took the time to march on Washington DC and other cities across the country to demand that their concerns about gun violence be heard.

More power to them.

I’m all for activism, especially if it motivates people who have been sitting silently on the sidelines for too long to get up and try to reclaim control over a runaway government.

Curiously, however, although these young activists were vocal in calling for gun control legislation that requires stricter background checks and limits the kinds of weapons being bought and sold by members of the public, they were remarkably silent about the gun violence perpetrated by their own government.

Enough is enough.

Why is no one taking aim at the U.S. government as the greatest purveyor of violence in American society and around the world?

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting.

Violence has become our government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the drone killings used to target insurgents.

Enough is enough.

The government even exports violence worldwide, with weapons being America’s most profitable export.

Indeed, the day before thousands of demonstrators descended on Washington DC to protest mass shootings such as the one that took place at Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump signed into law a colossal $1.3 trillion spending bill that gives the military the biggest boost in spending in more than a decade.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Here we have thousands of passionate protesters raging, crying and shouting about the need to restrict average Americans from being able to purchase and own military-style weapons, all the while the U.S. government—the same government under Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton and beyond that continues to act as a shill and a shield for the military industrial complex—embarks on a taxpayer-funded death march that will put even more guns into circulation, and no one says a thing about it.

Why is that?

Why does the government get a free pass?

With more than $700 billion earmarked for the military, including $144.3 billion for new military equipment, you can expect a whole lot more endless wars, drone strikes, bombing campaigns, civilian deaths, costly military installations, and fat paychecks for private military contractors who know exactly how to inflate invoices and take the American taxpayers for a ride.

Enough is enough.

You can be sure this financial windfall for America’s military empire will be used to expand the police state here at home, putting more militarized guns and weapons into the hands of local police and government bureaucrats who have been trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than the U.S. Marines.

While Americans have to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.

Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities.

Seriously, why do IRS agents need AR-15 rifles?

Enough is enough.

Remember, it was just a few months ago that President Trump, aided and abetted by his trusty Department of Justice henchman Jeff Sessions, rolled back restrictions on the government’s military recycling program to the delight of the nation’s powerful police unions.

Under the auspices of this military “recycling” program, which was instituted decades ago and allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, more than $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990.

Ironically, while gun critics continue to clamor for bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts all of these and more, including some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have.

In the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons have become routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.

Over the course of 30 years, police officers in jack boots holding assault rifles have become fairly common in small town communities across the country. As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Although these federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments at taxpayer expense are being sold to communities as a benefit, the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army.

It’s a militarized approach to make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are being inundated with unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts of the military industrial complex.

Thanks to Trump, this transformation of America into a battlefield is only going to get worse.

Get ready for more militarized police.

More police shootings.

More SWAT team raids.

More violence in a culture already drenched with violence.

Enough is enough.

You want to talk about gun violence?

According to the Washington Post, “1 in 13 people killed by guns are killed by police.”

While it still technically remains legal for the average citizen to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed by police.

You don’t even have to have a gun or a look-alike gun, such as a BB gun, in your possession to be singled out and killed by police.

There are countless incidents that happen every day in which Americans are shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, or challenge an order.

Growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

Enough is enough.

With alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by twitchy, hyper-sensitive, easily-spooked police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better.

Killed for standing in a “shooting stance.” In California, police opened fire on and killed a mentally challenged—unarmed—black man within minutes of arriving on the scene, allegedly because he removed a vape smoking device from his pocket and took a “shooting stance“.

Killed for holding a cell phone. Police in Arizona shot a man who was running away from U.S. Marshals after he refused to drop an object that turned out to be a cellphone. Similarly, police in Sacramento fired 20 shots at an unarmed, 22-year-old black man who was standing in his grandparents’ backyard after mistaking his cellphone for a gun.

Killed for carrying a baseball bat. Responding to a domestic disturbance call, Chicago police shot and killed 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier who had reportedly been experiencing mental health problems and was carrying a baseball bat around the apartment where he and his father lived.

Killed for opening the front door. Bettie Jones, who lived on the floor below LeGrier, was also fatally shot—this time, accidentally—when she attempted to open the front door for police.

Killed for running towards police with a metal spoon. In Alabama, police shot and killed a 50-year-old man who reportedly charged a police officer while holding “a large metal spoon in a threatening manner.”

Killed for running while holding a tree branch. Georgia police shot and killed a 47-year-old man wearing only shorts and tennis shoes who, when first encountered, was sitting in the woods against a tree, only to start running towards police holding a stick in an “aggressive manner.

Killed for crawling around naked. Atlanta police shot and killed an unarmed man who was reported to have been “acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked.” Police fired two shots at the man after he reportedly started running towards them.

Killed for wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey. Donnell Thompson, a mentally disabled 27-year-old described as gentle and shy, was shot and killed after police—searching for a carjacking suspect reportedly wearing similar clothing—encountered him lying motionless in a neighborhood yard. Police “only” opened fire with an M4 rifle after Thompson first failed to respond to their flash bang grenades and then started running after being hit by foam bullets.

Killed for driving while deaf. In North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel K. Harris—who was deaf—after Harris initially failed to pull over during a traffic stop.

Killed for being homeless. Los Angeles police shot an unarmed homeless man after he failed to stop riding his bicycle and then proceeded to run from police.

Killed for brandishing a shoehorn. John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, lived in an assisted living center, used a walker to get around, and was shot and killed by police who mistook the shoehorn in his hand for a 2-foot-long machete and fired multiple beanbag rounds from a shotgun at close range.

Killed for having your car break down on the road. Terence Crutcher, unarmed and black, was shot and killed by Oklahoma police after his car broke down on the side of the road. Crutcher was shot in the back while walking towards his car with his hands up.

Killed for holding a garden hose. California police were ordered to pay $6.5 million after they opened fire on a man holding a garden hose, believing it to be a gun. Douglas Zerby was shot 12 times and pronounced dead on the scene.

Killed for calling 911. Justine Damond, a 40-year-old yoga instructor, was shot and killed by Minneapolis police, allegedly because they were startled by a loud noise in the vicinity just as she approached their patrol car. Damond, clad in pajamas, had called 911 to report a possible assault in her neighborhood.

Killed for looking for a parking spot. Richard Ferretti, a 52-year-old chef, was shot and killed by Philadelphia police who had been alerted to investigate a purple Dodge Caravan that was driving “suspiciously” through the neighborhood.

Shot seven times for peeing outdoors. Eighteen-year- old Keivon Young was shot seven times by police from behind while urinating outdoors. Young was just zipping up his pants when he heard a commotion behind him and then found himself struck by a hail of bullets from two undercover cops. Allegedly officers mistook Young—5’4,” 135 lbs., and guilty of nothing more than taking a leak outdoors—for a 6’ tall, 200 lb. murder suspect whom they later apprehended. Young was charged with felony resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

This is what passes for policing in America today, folks, and it’s only getting worse.

In every one of these scenarios, police could have resorted to less lethal tactics.

They could have acted with reason and calculation instead of reacting with a killer instinct.

They could have attempted to de-escalate and defuse whatever perceived “threat” caused them to fear for their lives enough to react with lethal force.

That police instead chose to fatally resolve these encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Remember, to a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.

We’re not just getting hammered, however.

We’re getting killed, execution-style.

Enough is enough.

When you train police to shoot first and ask questions later—whether it’s a family pet, a child with a toy gun, or an old man with a cane—they’re going to shoot to kill.

This is the fallout from teaching police to assume the worst-case scenario and react with fear to anything that poses the slightest threat (imagined or real).

This is what comes from teaching police to view themselves as soldiers on a battlefield and those they’re supposed to serve as enemy combatants.

This is the end result of a lopsided criminal justice system that fails to hold the government and its agents accountable for misconduct.

You want to save lives?

Start by doing something to save the lives of your fellow citizens who are being gunned down every day by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

You want to cry about the lives lost during mass shootings?

Cry about the lives lost as a result of the violence being perpetrated by the U.S. government here at home and abroad.

If gun control activists really want the country to reconsider its relationship with guns and violence, then it needs to start with a serious discussion about the role our government has played and continues to play in contributing to the culture of violence.

If the American people are being called on to scale back on their weapons, then as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government and its cohorts—the police, the various government agencies that are now armed to the hilt, the military, the defense contractors, etc.—need to do the same.

It’s time to put an end to the government’s reign of terror.

Enough is enough.