From the outset of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Presidency the infamous New York billionaire made it clear that the tactic of moral panic would be his chosen route to making it all the way to the White House. Like many politicians of the wealthy classes before him, threatening images of the “dangerous classes” were used wantonly to illustrate the common sense behind his ultra-conservative solutions to social and economic problems caused by fundamental disenfranchisement, inequality and poverty. Thus, the Trump campaign have treated us incessantly to scabrous descriptions of human beings who are supposedly arrayed against our innocent American sensibilities. They came thick and fast in the form of immigrant Mexican rapists, black urban gang bangers, Latino drug dealers and Muslim terrorists, among others. In each case, of course, it was always Donald the righteous who would save us from ourselves and thereby from these modern day “folk devils.”
Trump would not be the first Republican Presidential candidate to employ such tried and tested racialized “others” to reach the desired levels of fear and loathing among his supporters. Nixon in 1968 invoked the image of the “silent majority” encircled by rioting urban blacks and rampaging students, Reagan in 1976 used the specter of the black “welfare queen” to symbolize the “waste” of the entitlement system, George H. W. Bush in 1988 conjured the black rapist in the guise of Willie Horton to highlight the misplaced liberalism of his challenger Michael Dukakis, while George W. Bush appealed to the ongoing enemy of post-9/11 Islamic terrorism to shore up his inept time in office. But no one other than Trump has so brazenly, single-mindedly and arguably successfully used the moral panic strategy to advance his ambitions for public office.
Why then has this tactic of systematic lies, distortion and hyperbole gone from being so effective in the earlier stages of his presidential run now to be in tatters such that a journalist at Trump’s first solo press conference after just over three weeks in the job asked him, “Why should America trust you?” Meanwhile, as of writing, the renowned Pew Research Center announces that Trump’s approval ratings are once more at “historic lows” and hitting the 39 percent mark, in stark contrast to Obama who was getting 64 percent during the same time in his first presidency and even George W. Bush who was at 53 percent during his initial go at playing commander-in-chief.
To understand this turn of events it is important to consider how the pioneers of the concept saw the moral panic as a process with a life cycle and not at all as a “big lie” machine that was entirely sustainable. They all pointed out that the groups, persons or communities singled out by “right thinking people” through scapegoating and stereotypification reflected unresolved social anxieties produced by a social control system unable to base itself any longer on a moral consensus. They concurred that the more a regime depends on moral panics to govern the more it undermines its own legitimacy which is precisely what we are witnessing in the present White House melt-down. Such a regime through its addiction to its own rhetoric eventually sews the seeds of its own destruction.
Several British sociologists were at the forefront of this research. Stan Cohen, one of the first to coin the phrase while describing the media frenzy in the ‘60s over brawling English “mods and rockers” saw that it was youth’s embrace of hedonism and consumption undermining the message of disciplined work and restraint that was really at stake. Jock Young, who studied the public condemnation of “drug-takers” during the same period, concluded that the social interventions did more harm than the so-called “deviant” behavior (the U.S. War on Drugs is an ongoing example). Meanwhile, Stuart Hall described Margaret Thatcher’s discovery of young black “muggers” terrorizing English inner-cities as more about her commitment to be the virus that killed socialism and the global project of hyper-wealth concentration and inequality (what we now call “neo-liberalism”) than any concern over crime rates. Consequently, moral panics are never things in themselves no matter how self-serving. Further, they will always eventually motivate much larger sectors of society to question the legitimacy of both the diagnoses and policies that follow while encouraging new bonds of solidarity with those populations most targeted and vilified.
What we currently witness therefore is a moral panic process that instead of functioning as a unified narrative that constantly injects momentum into the various apparatuses of ideological production, pushing us ever closer to the practices of tyranny and dictatorial necessity, instead becomes the very object of our scorn and disbelief. This growing opposition to the cynical manipulation of our fears and vulnerabilities, whether real or imagined, in turn prompts us to envision a quite different world in which to resolve our social discontent and political unhappiness.
We see this with each Trumpian Punch and Judy show, a debilitating spectacle that has become both the form and essence of the Presidential regime. In response we, the people, recoil in disgust and amazement at the level to which our fellow human beings have debased themselves while we also begin to realize and accept the fallacy of our political fantasy, i.e., that we have been living in a world that pretentiously refers to itself as fundamentally democratic.
In other words, the dialectics of the moral panic now ensure that we not only participate in the death agony of what one Guardian writer describes as “a terrible mistake” but in the unraveling of society’s general fabric. It is not that the Emperor has no clothes but rather the whole neo-liberal project becomes revealed in all its stark naked ugliness along with the body politic that has enabled it. These are definitely new times. From where I sit the removal of Trump and his gaggle of know-nothings will only be the beginning as we enter a time when the future is truly up for grabs.
For more than 15 years, the Middle East “peace process” initiated by the Oslo accords has been on life support. Last week, United States president Donald Trump pulled the plug, whether he understood it or not.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could barely stifle a smile as Trump demoted the two-state solution from holy grail. Instead, he said of resolving the conflict: “I am looking at two states or one state … I can live with either one.”
Given the huge asymmetry of power, Israel now has a free hand to entrench its existing apartheid version of the one-state solution – Greater Israel – on the Palestinians. This is the destination to which Netanyahu has been steering the Israel-Palestine conflict his entire career.
It emerged this week that at a secret summit in Aqaba last year – attended by Egypt and Jordan, and overseen by US secretary of state John Kerry – Netanyahu was offered a regional peace deal that included almost everything he had demanded of the Palestinians. And still he said no.
Much earlier, in 2001, Netanyahu was secretly filmed boasting to settlers of how he had foiled the Oslo process a short time earlier by failing to carry out promised withdrawals from Palestinian territory. He shrugged off the US role as something that could be “easily moved to the right direction”.
Now he has the White House exactly where he wanted it.
In expressing ambivalence about the final number of states, Trump may have assumed he was leaving options open for his son-in-law and presumed peace envoy, Jared Kushner.
But words can take on a life of their own, especially when uttered by the president of the world’s only superpower.
Some believe Trump, faced with the region’s realities, will soon revert to Washington’s playbook on two states, with the US again adopting the bogus role of “honest broker”. Others suspect his interest will wilt, allowing Israel to intensify settlement building and its abuse of Palestinians.
The long-term effect, however, is likely to be more decisive. The one-state option mooted by Trump will resonate with both Israelis and Palestinians because it reminds each side of their historic ambitions.
The international community has repeatedly introduced the chimera of the two-state solution, but for most of their histories the two sides favoured a single state – if for different reasons.
From the outset, the mainstream Zionist movement wanted an exclusive Jewish state, and a larger one than it was ever offered. Some even dreamed of the recreation of a Biblical kingdom whose borders incorporated swaths of neighbouring Arab states.
In late 1947, the Zionist leadership backed the United Nations partition plan for tactical reasons, knowing the Palestinians would reject the transfer of most of their homeland to recent European immigrants.
A few months later they seized more territory – in war – than the UN envisioned, but were still not satisfied. Religious and secular alike hungered for the rest of Palestine. Shimon Peres was among the leaders who began the settlement drive immediately following the 1967 occupation.
Those territorial ambitions were muffled by Oslo, but will be unleashed again in full force by Trump’s stated indifference.
The Palestinians’ history points in a parallel direction. As Zionism made its first inroads into Palestine, they rejected any compromise with what were seen as European colonisers.
In the 1950s, after Israel’s creation, the resistance under Yasser Arafat espoused a single secular democratic state in all of historic Palestine. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Palestinians’ growing isolation in the early 1990s, did Arafat cave in to European and US pressure and sign up for partition.
But for Palestinians, Oslo has not only entailed enduring Israel’s constant bad faith, but it has also created a deeply compromised vehicle for self-government. The Palestinian Authority has split the Palestinian people territorially – between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – and required a Faustian pact to uphold Israel’s security, including the settlers’, at all costs.
The truth, obscured by Oslo, is that the one-state solution has underpinned the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for more than a century. It did not come about because each expected different things from it.
For Israelis, it was to be a fortress to exclude the native Palestinian population.
For Palestinians, it was the locus of national liberation from centuries of colonial rule. Only later did many Palestinians, especially groups such as Hamas, come to mirror the Zionist idea of an exclusive – if in their case, Islamic – state.
Trump’s self-declared detachment will now revive these historic forces. Settler leader Naftali Bennett will compete with Netanyahu to take credit for speeding up the annexation of ever-greater blocs of West Bank territory while rejecting any compromise on Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, particularly the youth, will understand that their struggle is not for illusory borders but for liberation from the Jewish supremacism inherent in mainstream Zionism.
The struggle Trump’s equivocation provokes, however, must first play out in the internal politics of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a supremely clarifying moment. Each side must now define what it really wants to fight for: a fortress for their tribe alone, or a shared homeland ensuring rights and dignity for all.
A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.
Resistance to unjust government action is the duty of all people who care about human rights.
As Dr. King reminded us in his letter from a Birmingham jail, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
It is now clear that Latinos and Muslims are Trump’s first target for government actions. The orders just released put ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and US Customs and Border Protection on steroids. These new policies also will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ , as well as Black and Muslim communities.
Here are ten recent examples of how people are directly resisting.
One. Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation. Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas. People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.
Two. People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks. People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.
Three. Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting. Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.
Four. Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.
Five. Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary. Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.
Six. Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions. Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.
Seven. Divesting from stocks of private prisons. Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly. Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.
Eight. Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent. Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations. Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help. Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful. Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims. Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.
Eleven. Social self-defense. Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting. This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.
Resist! For more information on how, check out some of the many organizations already resisting targeting and deportations. Mijente offers creative ideas and examples for action to expand the idea of sanctuary to protect all residents from criminalization and deportation. National Day Laborer Network has many resources for communities seeking to stop deportations. Central to the campus sanctuary movement is MovementCosecha. The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild provides resources for lawyers. Faith communities looking into this should connect with the Sanctuary Movement. Puente Arizona is a great example of grassroots organizing in local communities.
Twice in recent weeks President Donald Trump reinforced his image of ignorance on African-Americans with astounding statements. Those statements amplified concerns about this president who rose to the Oval Office through a campaign tarred by brazen bigotry from his surrogates, his supporters and himself.
During a recent press conference, where Trump’s deportment was assessed as bizarre by conservatives and liberals, the self-proclaimed “least racist person…ever” evidenced ignorance about the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) –- that 46-year-old Capitol Hill contingent concerned with issues important to African-Americans.
During that press conference Trump bizarrely asked an African-American journalist to arrange a meeting for him with the CBC. He also falsely stated that a CBC member had rejected his repeated requests to meet with him.
Days before that press conference flub, President Trump made a faux pas regarding legendary 19th Century black activist Frederick Douglass during a White House meeting with a dozen-plus handpicked blacks held on the first day of African-American History Month.
During remarks at that February 1st “listening session,” Trump referenced Douglass as if the fabled abolitionist/orator/statesman was still alive. Trump somehow missed the fact that Douglass died 122-years ago, in February 1895.
Douglass died in DC at his home that is now a National Historic Site located less than five miles from the White House. Trump’s faux pas on Frederick Douglass ignited widespread ridicule, from social media postings to mainstream news media accounts.
However, more monumental than Trump’s blunders on the CBC and Frederick Douglass is the fact that his flub-ups fit the pattern of a long history of blunders made persistently by the Republican Party from presidents down to local party functionaries. For decades, GOP policy stances on issues of importance to African-Americans have ranged from indifference to assaults
Take, for example, Trump’s February 1st White House event presented as an outreach to blacks. Excluded from that meeting were blacks individuals who are widely recognized and/or respected — people prominent in civil rights, business or religion. Such exclusion is characteristic of GOP behavior that black Republicans have warned party leaders about for decades.
Sixteen years ago, the GOP’s former head of outreach to blacks lashed out at her party’s repeated blunders on race-related matters.
“Like it or not, the Congressional Black Caucus and heads of civil rights and labor groups are trusted by black voters. Republicans should try talking to them,” Faye Anderson said, faulting the GOP for foisting “handpicked” blacks distrusted by black voters, on such “outreach” efforts.
Trump’s February 1st meeting drew rebuke from leading black Republican consultant and columnist Raynard Jackson who termed Trump’s interactions with blacks “unmitigated disasters.” Jackson criticized Trump for excluding blacks serving on “his own transition team” and black members of the Republican National Committee’s governing body from that February meeting.
“This is totally bewildering to me,” Jackson wrote in a recent column.
Frederick Douglass, during an 1886 speech, made an observation that remains unheeded by too many across America: “Where justice is denied, where ignorance prevails…neither persons nor property will be safe.”
“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security… This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”
—Historian Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45
There is something being concocted in the dens of power, far beyond the public eye, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of this country.
Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware. Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware. And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.
The world has been down this road before.
As historian Milton Mayer recounts in his seminal book on Hitler’s rise to power, They Thought They Were Free, “Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people‑—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’, without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”
We are at our most vulnerable right now.
The gravest threat facing us as a nation is not extremism—delivered by way of sovereign citizens or radicalized Muslims—but despotism, exercised by a ruling class whose only allegiance is to power and money.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
America is burning, and all most Americans can do is switch the channel, tune out what they don’t want to hear, and tune into their own personal echo chambers.
We’re in a national state of denial.
Yet no amount of escapism can shield us from the harsh reality that the danger in our midst is posed by an entrenched government bureaucracy that has no regard for the Constitution, Congress, the courts or the citizenry.
If the team colors have changed from blue to red, that’s just cosmetic.
The playbook remains the same. The leopard has not changed its spots.
Scrape off the surface layers and you will find that the American police state is alive and well and continuing to wreak havoc on the rights of the American people.
“We the people” are no longer living the American Dream.
We’re living the American Lie.
Indeed, Americans have been lied to so sincerely, so incessantly, and for so long by politicians of all stripes—who lie compulsively and without any seeming remorse—that they’ve almost come to prefer the lies trotted out by those in government over less-palatable truths.
The American people have become compulsive believers.
As Nick Cohen writes for The Guardian, “Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.”
While telling the truth “in a time of universal deceit is,” as George Orwell concluded, “a revolutionary act,” believing the truth—and being able to distinguish the truth from a lie—is also a revolutionary act.
Here’s a truth few Americans want to acknowledge: nothing has changed (at least, not for the better) since Barack Obama passed the reins of the police state to Donald Trump.
The police state is still winning. We the people are still losing.
In fact, the American police state has continued to advance at the same costly, intrusive, privacy-sapping, Constitution-defying, relentless pace under President Trump as it did under President Obama.
Police haven’t stopped disregarding the rights of citizens. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip, shoot and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials are no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace. Indeed, they continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.
SWAT teams haven’t stopped crashing through doors and terrorizing families. Nationwide, SWAT teams continue to be employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activities or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession. With more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans for relatively routine police matters and federal agencies laying claim to their own law enforcement divisions, the incidence of botched raids and related casualties continue to rise.
The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security haven’t stopped militarizing and federalizing local police. Police forces continue to be transformed into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. In training police to look and act like the military and use the weapons and tactics of war against American citizens, the government continues to turn the United States into a battlefield.
Schools haven’t stopped treating young people like hard-core prisoners. School districts continue to team up with law enforcement to create a “schoolhouse to jailhouse track” by imposing a “double dose” of punishment for childish infractions: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court. In this way, the paradigm of abject compliance to the state continues to be taught by example in the schools, through school lockdowns where police and drug-sniffing dogs enter the classroom, and zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior.
For-profit private prisons haven’t stopped locking up Americans and immigrants alike at taxpayer expense. States continue to outsource prison management to private corporations out to make a profit at taxpayer expense. And how do you make a profit in the prison industry? Have the legislatures pass laws that impose harsh penalties for the slightest noncompliance in order keep the prison cells full and corporate investors happy.
Censorship hasn’t stopped. First Amendment activities continue to be pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remained the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”
The courts haven’t stopped marching in lockstep with the police state. The courts continue to be dominated by technicians and statists who are deferential to authority, whether government or business. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years have most often been characterized by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests. They have run the gamut from suppressing free speech activities and justifying suspicionless strip searches to warrantless home invasions and conferring constitutional rights on corporations, while denying them to citizens.
Government bureaucrats haven’t stopped turning American citizens into criminals. The average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal, while reinforcing the power of the police state and its corporate allies.
The surveillance state hasn’t stopped spying on Americans’ communications, transactions or movements. On any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether it’s your local police, a fusion center, the National Security Agency or one of the government’s many corporate partners, is still monitoring and tracking you.
The TSA hasn’t stopped groping or ogling travelers. Under the pretext of protecting the nation’s infrastructure (roads, mass transit systems, water and power supplies, telecommunications systems and so on) against criminal or terrorist attacks, TSA task forces (comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams) continue to do random security sweeps of nexuses of transportation, including ports, railway and bus stations, airports, ferries and subways, as well as political conventions, baseball games and music concerts. Sweep tactics include the use of x-ray technology, pat-downs and drug-sniffing dogs, among other things.
Congress hasn’t stopped enacting draconian laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the NDAA. These laws—which completely circumvent the rule of law and the constitutional rights of American citizens, continue to re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t stopped being a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast.” Is the DHS capable of plotting and planning to turn the national guard into a federalized, immigration police force? No doubt about it. Remember, this is the agency that is notorious for militarizing the police and SWAT teams; spying on activists, dissidents and veterans; stockpiling ammunition; distributing license plate readers; contracting to build detention camps; tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices; carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities; using the TSA as an advance guard; conducting virtual strip searches with full-body scanners; carrying out soft target checkpoints; directing government workers to spy on Americans; conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers; carrying out Constitution-free border control searches; funding city-wide surveillance cameras; and utilizing drones and other spybots.
The military industrial complex hasn’t stopped profiting from endless wars abroad. America’s expanding military empire continues to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense.
The Deep State’s shadow government hasn’t stopped calling the shots behind the scenes. Comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes, this government within a government continues to be the real reason “we the people” have no real control over our so-called representatives. It’s every facet of a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics.
And the American people haven’t stopped acting like gullible sheep. In fact, many Americans have been so carried away by their blind rank-and-file partisan devotion to their respective political gods that they have lost sight of the one thing that has remained constant in recent years: our freedoms are steadily declining.
Here’s the problem as I see it: “we the people” have become so trusting, so gullible, so easily distracted, so out-of-touch and so sure that our government will always do the right thing by us that we have ignored the warning signs all around us.
In so doing, we have failed to recognize such warning signs as potential red flags to use as opportunities to ask questions, demand answers, and hold our government officials accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law.
Unfortunately, once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms, or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when you ignore the warning signs.
This is what happens when you fail to take alarm at the first experiment on your liberties.
This is what happens when you fail to challenge injustice and government overreach until the prison doors clang shut behind you.
In the American police state that now surrounds us, there are no longer such things as innocence, due process, or justice—at least, not in the way we once knew them. We are all potentially guilty, all potential criminals, all suspects waiting to be accused of a crime.
So you can try to persuade yourself that you are free, that you still live in a country that values freedom, and that it is not too late to make America great again, but to anyone who has been paying attention to America’s decline over the past 50 years, it will be just another lie.
The German people chose to ignore the truth and believe the lie.
They were not oblivious to the horrors taking place around them. As historian Robert Gellately points out, “[A]nyone in Nazi Germany who wanted to find out about the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the campaigns of discrimination and persecutions need only read the newspapers.”
The warning signs were definitely there, blinking incessantly like large neon signs.
“Still,” Gellately writes, “the vast majority voted in favor of Nazism, and in spite of what they could read in the press and hear by word of mouth about the secret police, the concentration camps, official anti-Semitism, and so on. . . . [T]here is no getting away from the fact that at that moment, ‘the vast majority of the German people backed him.’”
Half a century later, the wife of a prominent German historian, neither of whom were members of the Nazi party, opined: “[O]n the whole, everyone felt well. . . . And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time. . . . We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”
In other words, as long as their creature comforts remained undiminished, as long as their bank accounts remained flush, as long as they weren’t being discriminated against, persecuted, starved, beaten, shot, stripped, jailed and turned into slave labor, life was good.
This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.
As Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor observed, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
Freedom demands responsibility.
Freedom demands that people stop sleep-walking through life, stop cocooning themselves in political fantasies, and stop distracting themselves with escapist entertainment.
Freedom demands that we stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans and start thinking like human beings, or at the very least, Americans.
Freedom demands that we not remain silent in the face of evil or wrongdoing but actively stand against injustice.
Freedom demands that we treat others as we would have them treat us. That is the law of reciprocity, also referred to as the Golden Rule, and it is found in nearly every world religion, including Judaism and Christianity.
In other words, if you don’t want to be locked up in a prison cell or a detention camp—if you don’t want to be discriminated against because of the color of your race, religion, politics or anything else that sets you apart from the rest—if you don’t want your loved ones shot at, strip searched, tasered, beaten and treated like slaves—if you don’t want to have to be constantly on guard against government eyes watching what you do, where you go and what you say—if you don’t want to be tortured, waterboarded or forced to perform degrading acts—if you don’t want your children to grow up in a world without freedom—then don’t allow these evils to be inflicted on anyone else, no matter how tempting the reason or how fervently you believe in your cause.
As German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
In not so merry old medieval England, wrongful injuries between people either were suffered in silence or provoked revenge. Cooler heads began to prevail and courts of law were opened so such disputes over compensation and other remedies could be adjudicated under trial by jury.
Taken across the Atlantic to the colonies, this system – called tort law or the law of wrongful injuries – evolved steadily to open the courtroom door until the nineteen seventies. It was then that the insurance industry and other corporate lobbies began pushing one restriction after another through state legislatures– not restrictions on corporations’ rights to sue, but restrictions on the rights of ordinary people to have their day in court.
Lawmakers, whose campaign coffers were stuffed by corporate lobbyists, were not concerned about advancing their passing rules that arbitrarily tied the hands of judges and jurors—the same judges and jurors who were the only people to see, hear and evaluate individual cases in their courtrooms. Legislation imposing caps on damages – as with California’s $250,000 lifetime cap on pain and suffering – was especially cruel for those victims of medical malpractice who were young, unemployed or elderly and thus do not have significant enough wage losses to receive sufficient damages.
In recent decades, the nonsense about our society being too litigious (except for business vs business lawsuits) has become even more extreme. Not only do we file far fewer civil lawsuits per capita than in the 1840s, according to studies by University of Wisconsin law professors, but jury trials have been declining in both federal and state courts, with trials down by 60% since the mid-1980s.
My father used say that “if people do not use their rights, they will over time lose their rights.” This truism brings us to a new book by University of Connecticut Law Professor Alexander Lahav, with the title In Praise of Litigation (Oxford University Press). The title invokes the necessity of legal recourse in a society whose ordinary people are being squeezed out of their day in court, being denied justice, and are becoming cynical enough to want to get out of jury duty—a right for which our forebears demanded from King George III.
Professor Lahav makes the point we should have learned in high school, or at least college. The right to litigate is critical to any democratic society. Imagine living in a country where no one can sue powerful wrongdoers or the government. We have names for countries like that. They’re called dictatorships or tyrannies.
Here is author Lahav’s summary: “Litigation is a civilized response to the difficult disagreements that often crop up in a pluralist society. The process of litigation does more than resolve disputes: it contributes to democratic deliberation. This is the key to understanding what this process is supposed to be about and what should be done to improve it. By appreciating the democratic values people protect and promote when they sue – enforcement of the law, transparency, participation and social equality – reformers can work toward a court system that is truly democracy promoting.”
It would be more reassuring if more judges reflected those words. Were that the case, they would be fighting harder to expand the shrinking court budgets (about two percent of state budgets) that are increasingly causing civil trials to be deferred or courtrooms to be temporarily closed. Tighter budgets lead judges to excessively pressure lawyers to settle or go to arbitration. The latter is a malicious inequity between consumers, workers and other people unequal in power vis-a-vis big corporations like Wells Fargo, Exxon/Mobil, Pfizer and Aetna, who force consumers to sign fine print contracts that limit people’s rights to use the courts.
The usual sally against praising civil litigation is the claim of too many frivolous suits. Whenever Richard Newman, the Executive Director of the American Museum of Tort Law, hears that asserted, he asks for examples. They are not forthcoming. For good reason. Litigation is expensive; lawyers have to guard their reputations and judges, who largely lean to the conservative side, are in charge of their courtrooms. They are quite ready to approve motions to dismiss a case or summary judgments.
We have to take a greater interest in our courts. They are open to the public for a reason. Students need to visit them and understand what the burdens are on courts, and how our civil justice system can be improved. When I ask assemblies of students if they have ever visited a court as a spectator, hardly one in ten raise a hand.
Courts should not be places of case overloads and long delays. They should be welcoming temples of justice where judge and jurors engage in reasoned deliberation for the advancement of justice as part of a functioning democracy. The demands for justice are such in our country that courts should have more judges, more juries and more trials.
As the great judge, Learned Hand, wisely wrote “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”
Historically, the overwhelming majority of union organizers have been males. That was true in the pre-Wagner Act era, it was true at the dawn of Feminism’s “Second Wave,” and it’s still true today. There are a ton of precedents for this, and a multitude of reasons to support it—some of which, admittedly, are eminently sensible, and some of which not only make no sense at all, but are disrespectful and snide.
Of course, ingrained gender beliefs are tough to eradicate. Conventional wisdom suggests that because union organizing is (or can be) a rough and tumble enterprise, not recommended for the faint of heart, it’s best left in the hands of men.
But as shamelessly “sexist” and ignorant as that perception is, it’s also so counter-productive as to border on self-defeating. Indeed, when you get down to the part of organizing which salesmen refer to as “closing the deal”—where workers are asked to sign union cards—women are very likely the better recruiters. Who would have thunk it?
In the minority of cases where women organizers have actually been utilized as organizers, they wind up being confined to “women-intensive” or “women-friendly” occupations such as nursing and health care, clerical, hotel housekeeping, and the garment industry.
If there’s a manufacturing, or trucking, or heavy industry, or mechanical tradecraft shop being targeted by a labor union, it’s automatically relegated to the category of “men’s work.” Let the boys handle it. As a consequence, women—even gifted, experienced women recruiters—are almost always excluded from these “masculine” organizing drives. And that represents a tremendous waste of resources.
What upper-echelon union leaders don’t understand is that the decision to join (or not join) a union is based on more than purely practical, economic considerations. By now, virtually everyone in the job market knows that union shops pay significantly more than non-union shops, and that they offer better benefits and working conditions.
Working people don’t have to be told this. They don’t have to be told that a union contract can make all the difference in the world. They already know that. Accordingly, their reasons for choosing NOT to join a union are largely psychological and sociological. They’re complicated.
And this is where women enter the equation. As stereotypical and mawkish as this is going to sound, women have the ability to influence men in ways that men do not. They have ways to appeal to men that men do not. At the risk of sounding like some superannuated crazy person, let us refer to this as “feminine charm.” And this is as true in organizing—recruiting new members—as it is in strikes.
Ask any local union president or strike captain. If they are honest, they will tell you that women are far more valuable on the picket lines than their male counterparts. When a union is out on strike, women rank-and-file members tend to be more resilient, more dependable, more resolute, and more efficient. They whine less, they shout and scream less, and they require less hand-holding.
Which is why, during a protracted and nerve-wracking strike, a group of determined, pro-union women can be so useful to a union local. They have the ability to “shame” men into sucking it up and maintaining their solidarity. I’ve seen it done too many times. I’ve watched in amazement as it happened.
Two men may get into a shouting match or a fistfight over the merits of remaining on strike, with neither man giving an inch, but let a woman step into the fray and accuse a man, a fellow picketer, of “not having the balls” to finish what he started, and it’s a different story. The only noise you’ll hear is the unmistakable squeaky sound of gonads shriveling.
Let a woman publicly show more “guts” than a man—whether it be in a strike situation or as a union organizer—and the entire dynamic changes. It’s a testosterone thing. Men want to impress the ladies; they can’t bear to be one-upped by them.
Thus, if America’s labor unions are to have any hope of getting up off the canvas and continuing the fight, the AFL-CIO must rethink its organizing philosophy. They need to recalibrate. They can start by designating 2017 as the “Year of the Woman Warrior.”
Before making their home in Damascus, Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak had regularly visited Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, where they developed lasting friendships and deepened cultural awareness. Iraq was steadily deteriorating under thirteen years of U.S./UN imposed economic sanctions. Despite iron clad determination by U.S. policy makers to isolate Iraq, Gabe and Theresa repeatedly challenged the economic sanctions by carrying medicines and medical relief supplies to Iraqi children, families and hospitals.
They also helped organize opportunities for scores of other U.S. and U.K. people to visit Iraq as part of Voices in the Wilderness (VitW). Voices delegations politely but firmly notified U.S. authorities that they would break the economic sanctions by personally carrying duffel bags filled with children’s vitamins, antibiotics, medical textbooks, surgical kits, first aid material and medical relief supplies, all of which the economic sanctions prohibited. Evidence for prosecution of one delegation included a bottle of water and a blank video that had been purchased in Baghdad.
Punishment ostensibly imposed to force the Iraqi government’s compliance with weapons inspectors had directly contributed towards the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under age five. The VitW campaign succeeded in sending 70 delegations to Iraq, all of which prompted greatly needed education and public discussion in cities and towns across the U.S. and the U.K. Leslie Stahl posed the question in a Sixty Minutes segment that aired in May of 1996: were the deaths of over one half million children under age five an acceptable price to pay for a dubious policy? “Yes, Leslie,” said Madeline Albright, who was the U.S. Secretary of State. “I’m a humanitarian person, and it’s a difficult choice to make, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”
Gabe and Theresa begged to differ.
Voices in the Wilderness (VitW) was based in a second floor apartment on Chicago’s north side, a few miles south of Gabe’s and Theresa’s home in Evanston. Eyes lit up inside “the office” whenever Gabe and Theresa came up the stairs. Along with their encouragement and wisdom, they would always bring fresh baked pastries or a loaf of bread. About a dozen young people had poured energy and determination into strengthening VitW efforts to defy the sanctions against Iraq. They in turn drew immense inspiration and guidance from Gabe and Theresa.
“I think I understand,” a young nurse from the U.K. murmured, as he sat at the bedside of a dying child in the pediatric ward of a major hospital in Baghdad. “It’s a death row for infants, isn’t it?” A death row for infants. Travelers to Iraq encountered brutal, lethal punishment of children. Every hospital visit was nothing less than shocking. By the time the U.S. military had geared up for the 2003 Shock and Awe campaign, Iraqis had already been pummeled, starved, humiliated and bereaved. “You come and you say, you will do, you will do,” said one Iraqi teenager, addressing a delegation of U.S. people visiting her high school class. “But nothing changes. Me, I am sixteen. Can you tell me, what is the difference between me and someone who is sixteen in your country? I’ll tell you. Our emotions are frozen. We cannot feel!” She sat down, suddenly overcome by feelings of anguish.
Many people worldwide may have been tempted, through mainstream media coverage, to think that only one person lived in Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Voices delegation members cultivated a passion to tell people about what they had seen and heard while visiting Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and other Iraqi cities. Gabe and Theresa exemplified a beautiful ability to explore history, culture, complexity, diversity and nuance, wherever they traveled. To this day, they maintain close friendships with people they first met during their visits to Baghdad. Always, their concern for children occupied the forefront of their distress and commitment.
Their research and study, along with their good humor, helped all of us gain needed maturity as we tried to campaign for ending the hideous economic war and prevent a new round of bombing and invasion.
Having watched them in action through many years of Voices witness and work, I wasn’t surprised by their readiness to become rooted in Damascus, intent on finding ways for ordinary U.S. people to begin reparations to Iraqis whose lives have been forever altered and traumatized by successive U.S. military and economic wars. But I often feel mesmerized by their seemingly endless capacity to learn, grow and serve. I remember visiting them in Damascus when they were learning Arabic. Utterly diligent in their studies, they knew they must give immovable priority to daily lessons.
Yet they also managed to invite young people to study with them, sharing with others their remarkable tutor, Mazen. Young people who went to study Arabic in Damascus could count on Gabe and Theresa for help with housing and orientation. What’s more, they would be treated to enlivening trips and boundless encouragement.
Eventually, these two efficient and hospitable teachers began to imagine practical, sustainable ways to help Iraqi youngsters, displaced by war, continue their studies. In September, 2016, a UNHCR report “highlighting education as an overlooked casualty of the global refugee crisis,” (NYT, 9/15/2016) noted that:
Nearly two-thirds of the six million school-age children classified as refugees have no school to attend…Roughly 1.75 million refugee children are not enrolled in primary school and 1.95 million refugee adolescents are not in secondary school, the refugee agency report said.
“It is essential that we think beyond basic survival,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
Gabe and Theresa had identified one of the most grievous results of war and displacement. A new generation becomes undereducated, less able to care for their families and meet basic needs.
Ever appreciative of challenges and confident in their exceptional capacity to team up, they explored the many strands needed to develop potential for Iraqi youngsters to attend Universities in the U.S. The Iraq Student Project became a growing tapestry.
For Gabe and Theresa, and eventually a stalwart group of supporters who sometimes participated in springtime visits to Syria, Damascus was an idyllic setting in which to pursue a project that put them in touch with resilient and fascinating young people. Never Can I Write of Damascus…celebrates a plethora of sights, sounds, aromas, delicacies and intricacies of the city as experienced over the seven years when Gabe and Theresa resided there. But the Iraqi Student Project also connected them to a staggering array of bureaucratic requirements. With numerous forms to fill out and interviews to face, they doggedly pursued University admission and a U.S. student visa for each student who entered the U.S.
I marveled at their indefatigable, constant attentiveness to so much detail. They look back on those rigors with good humor and a gentle irony. Characteristically, they turn adverse experiences into a means for deepening needed empathy. Gabe recently suggested that I read a novel, The Corpse Washer, by Sinan Antoon. (It’s one of several books discussed in an annotated bibliography at the end of their book). Antoon writes with heart-wrenching sensitivity about how difficult it becomes to cross a divisive border following a war:
(p. 149) “I felt as if we had been struck by an earthquake which had changed everything. For decades to come we would be groping our way around in the rubble it left behind. In the past, there were streams between Sunnis and Shi’ites, or this group and that, which could be easily crossed or were invisible at times. Now, after the earthquake, the earth had all these fissures and the streams had become rivers. The rivers became torrents filled with blood, and whoever tried to cross drowned. The images of those on the other side of the river had been inflated and disfigured…concrete walls rose to seal the tragedy.”
Pope Francis exhorts listeners to overcome the fears that drive people to seal themselves off from others. With the walls come weapons and the weapons lead to war. “Why,” Pope Francis asked, when addressing the U.S. Congress in 2015, “would anyone give weapons to people who use them for war?” The answer, he said, was simple. “The answer is money, and the money is drenched in blood.”
Weapons and bloodshed have wreaked new chaos and havoc, destroying the lives and homes of people throughout Syria and beyond. Gabe and Theresa left Damascus in 2012. Since that time, thousands more have been displaced. The UN estimated in April 2016 that at least 400,000 Syrians have been killed. The rivers have become torrents of blood.
When I last visited with Gabe and Theresa, they shook their heads in silent sorrow, contemplating the ruinous debacle of endless war. Nevertheless, they and their friend Mazen have discovered ways, in Istanbul, to assist young refugees seeking continued education. When walls arise that would seem to seal the tragedy of war in concrete boundaries, Gabe and Therese find ways to cross the borders. Never Can I Write of Damascus invites us to do the same.
(A version of this article first appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 8, 2017.)
The recent confirmation by the US that DU ammunition was used in two attacks in Syria in late 2015 raises a number of troubling questions.
Firstly, why was DU used? Has it been used again? Will it be used again?
Secondly, and no less important, what will happen next in order to mitigate any health or environmental risks the contaminated sites may pose?
A joint investigation by Airwars and Foreign Policy that was published earlier this week, has finally confirmed that the US used DU in Syria, and that in both cases the targets were large convoys of fuel tankers.
According to the Airwars report, CENTCOM spokesman Major Josh Jacques said that “5,265 armor-piercing 30mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on November 16th and 22nd 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles in the country’s eastern desert.”
The admission is important because in early 2015, the US had assured reporters that DU had not and would not be used in Syria. In March 2015, Coalition spokesman John Moore said that “US and Coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.”
Later that month, a Pentagon representative told War is Boring that A-10s deployed in the region would not have access to armor-piercing ammunition containing DU because the Islamic State didn’t possess the tanks it is designed to penetrate.
Following a tip off from ICBUW member the Nuclear Resister last year, Airwars’ Sam Oakford, who investigated both the latest story and the revelations published last October, approached US Central Command (CENTCOM) for confirmation. CENTCOM and the US Air Force first denied DU was fired, then offered differing accounts of what happened, before finally admitting that DU had been used.
DU … probably unnecessary for fuel tankers!
The 30mm DU ammunition used in both incidents was fired by A-10 aircraft, a platform notorious for the fact that the pilot cannot select between its DU and high explosive incendiary (HEI) ammunition once in flight. A-10s have been active in operations against Islamic State (IS) over Syria and Iraq since 2014, although this is the first time that DU’s use has been identified in the conflict.
ICBUW analysed the likely targets involved in the incidents, and was initially puzzled that they appeared to be fuel tankers, rather than armoured vehicles. The A-10’s controversial DU ammunition is justified and promoted on the basis of its perceived advantage against armoured vehicles.
However, analysis of its use in the Balkans and Iraq clearly shows that if the political or operational decision is made to deploy the aircraft armed with its standard ‘combat mix’ of DU and HEI ammunition, A-10s will attack a far wider range of targets of opportunity. It is standard practice for combat mix to be available for A-10 deployments in active conflict zones, even if it ultimately isn’t used.
In the case of Syria, a decision appears to have been made during planning for the two operations against the fuel convoys that DU was needed, to ensure what a CENTCOM spokesperson said was a: “higher probability of destruction for targets.”
The first strike on November 16 would see 1,490 DU rounds used – equating to 432kg of DU; the second, on November 22 saw 3,775 rounds used – some 1,095kg of DU. Bombs, rockets and missiles were also used in the two strikes which, according to CENTCOM, destroyed 116 and 283 fuel tankers respectively.
The same CENTCOM spokesperson later explained to the Washington Post that: “U.S. forces wanted to ensure that trucks would be rendered completely inoperable“, and that DU, rather than HEI rounds were the best way to achieve that. While DU rounds would doubtless have the desired effect against fuel tankers it is highly questionable that HEI wouldn’t also have achieved these aims.
Ironically enough, General Dynamics, one of the manufacturers of the A-10’s 30mm ammunition family states that the HEI round: “Provides fragmentation and incendiary effects for use against personnel, trucks, ammunition storage, and many other targets.”
DU may not yet be banned – but it is deeply stigmatised
The use of DU weapons, while not explicitly banned by a treaty, has been deeply stigmatised since at least the turn of the century, if not earlier.
Therefore for military planners, it was not just a calculation over the efficacy or otherwise of the A-10’s DU ammunition, but also a matter of international public perception, particularly as they were, and are, acting as part of a coalition of nations, many of whom have made their opposition to the weapons clear on a number of occasions.
For a conflict as politicised as Syria, it seems only logical that public perception and scrutiny must also have factored into the US’s calculus. The media and public’s response to the latest Syria revelations indicate that this may have been underestimated, as may the propaganda coup disclosure would provide for IS, and for Russia and its media outlets.
In a statement circulated by the Tass press agency this week, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said of the US’s recent and historical use of DU: “Amid the anti-Syrian and anti-Russian propaganda campaign and in the context of successful operations by the Syrian armed forces with support from Russia’s aerospace group against terrorists and militants in Aleppo, such facts of recent history are ignored by Western mass media.”
It was a moot point that the news had broken a week after Russia’s state nuclear supplier Rosatom announced that it would be supplying the DU ammunition for Russia’s new Armata tank.
As to whether the US intends to use DU again in Syria, or indeed in Iraq – in spite of the latter’s 2014 call for a global treaty ban on the weapons, CENTCOM appears to have now returned to the policy position it had prior to promising not to use DU in early 2015, with its spokesperson refusing to “rule out“ its future use.
Those coalition partners who don’t support DU use, or that view it as an easy propaganda win for IS and Russia, should use their influence with the US to urge restraint. Meanwhile CENTCOM should clarify its DU policy for the operation, particularly over whether it will use DU on Iraqi territory, or restrict its use to Syria.
What will happen to the contaminated sites?
Whether you take domestic or international radioactive waste management standards as a guide, the recommendations of international organisations, or the past practice of states affected by DU contamination, the consensus is that post-conflict measures need to be implemented to mitigate the risks that contamination can pose to human health and the environment.
The first priority is to identify contaminated sites. This can be challenging under normal conditions as the presence of DU can usually only be verified through a ground survey. This has often been complicated by the fact that state users of DU, such as the US, have been historically reluctant to share strike data and coordinates with international organisations or national authorities.
In the case of the two Syrian strikes, the number of vehicles destroyed, the video footage and their rough locations could prove sufficient for them to be geolocated from satellite images before any ground survey is undertaken.
Once identified, the sites should be marked and isolated. For example Serbia’s military proved adept at identifying, marking and fencing A-10 strike sites from the conflict in 1999. For Syria, the affected areas remain under the control of IS at the time of writing, and it seems unlikely that marking and fencing can be expected under the circumstances.
The risks posed by DU are typically specific to the location, its land use and the pathways through which people may be exposed. For the Balkans and Iraq, a limited number of DU-affected sites were assessed by UN agencies such as UNEP and the IAEA, with recommendations provided to the national authorities on subsequent monitoring and clearance work.
And what about the next time … ?
The outcome of the Syrian conflict will strongly influence the likelihood of whether a formal UN-led post-conflict assessment funded by the international community takes place; should Assad remain in power, an assessment of this type seems extremely unlikely.
Assuming that the Syrian government regains control of the affected sites from IS, the burden of clearance will fall on them. Although CENTCOM told the Washington Post that: “the locations where they were used in November 2015 have been marked for clean-up in the future“, this is ultimately meaningless in the context of DU, where there are currently no formal obligations on either user or affected state to conduct clearance operations.
Should Syria end up with a pro-Western regime, perhaps one day there might be support for some clearance programmes; in all likelihood just some surface clearance of DU fragments in the context of explosive remnants of war removal: nothing to address the contaminated soils at the sites.
Should Syria end up with a pro-Russian regime, then perhaps Moscow will live up to its public opposition to DU munitions and provide the technical and financial assistance required. But what will be left if and when this happens?
If Iraq is anything to go by, the remains of the 400 or so oil tankers may have been cut up, dragged off and recycled for scrap by then – exposing workers to DU particulate at every stage of the process.
Whoever thought of voluntary restraint?
When it ends, the environment is unlikely to be a priority for anyone, be they donors or the new authorities, and it is Syria’s communities and environment that will pay the cost. Obligations for the post-conflict management of DU contamination are urgently required – but thus far are not something the international community has sought to pursue.
But it’s not just a matter of clearance obligations – it is also a matter of restraint. It is one thing to fire DU for the sake of a tenuous military advantage. It is quite another to do so when the chances that the toxic residues of uranium munitions will ever be dealt with appropriately are so remote.
Doug Weir Coordinates the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, ICBUW campaigns for a ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and weapon systems and for monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for communities affected by their use. @ICBUW