An editorial today from the New York Times raises the issue of the cost of war to US taxpayers and the radically undemocratic processes by which the US is committed to ongoing planetary warfare in the 21st century. The Times:
The Pentagon disclosed last week that America’s ever-shifting new war in the Middle East has cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars since it began in August. Yet Congress has not bothered to hold a vote to authorize the Obama administration’s decision to get into another war. …
As of Oct. 16, the air campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, had cost $580 million, according to the Pentagon. The military is paying for the bombing sorties using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, a flexible fund established for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the Afghan war drawing to a close this year, the Obama administration had sought to cut that fund from the nearly $85 billion appropriated for 2014 to $59 billion for 2015. But because lawmakers were not able to pass a budget in time, the fund will continue at last year’s level under a continuing resolution that ends in December and is likely to be extended until the spring.
Authorizing a new defense budget would force lawmakers to take stock of the military action that was initially billed as a limited defensive measure before the White House said that it was likely to last for years.
Note the familiar patterns. The war is issued and executed out of the President’s office, with no input or oversight from Congress, the War Powers Resolution notwithstanding. It begins by an assertion that the military action is temporary, brief, and urgently needed (no time for debate in Congress or public discussion). Once the action has begun, it is then announced that in fact, we are committed to a long-term, expensive military effort, without any clear timeline or definition of success, or even a clearly-defined enemy to defeat. Here again is the Times, making all the right points:
The Pentagon says the bombing campaign has dealt the Islamic State setbacks in the battlefield. But the group remains strong and continues to make inroads in key parts of Syria and Iraq. Military officials have said curiously little in recent weeks about Khorasan, a militant group they described during the early stages of the airstrikes in Syria as posing an imminent threat to the United States. The vague and at times contradictory information the government has provided about that group, and the broader strategy, shows a distressing level of improvisation.
The Times however fails to note its own role in propagandizing the US public and its utter lack of skepticism toward state officials when they make announcements about fake terrorist groups in order to drive emotional pro-war responses from the US public. Rather than expressing frank skepticism at the evidence-free assertions by the US state that the public was in sudden and imminent danger from a brand-new terrorist group that no one had ever heard of (outside US intelligence circles), the Times reported on the (fabricated) group with paragraphs like these:
The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., said on Thursday that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”
Some American officials and national security experts said the intense focus on the Islamic State had distorted the picture of the terrorism threat that has emerged from the chaos of Syria’s civil war, and that the more immediate threats still come from traditional terror groups like Khorasan and the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s designated affiliate in Syria.
American intelligence officials believe that the Kuwaiti, known sometimes as Muhsin al-Fadhli, had been sent from Pakistan by Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s leader, to take over a cell that could one day use Syria as a base for attacks in Europe and possibly the United States.
Unlike other jihadist groups that have come to prominence in recent years, the cell that Mr. Fadhli came to lead — known within intelligence and law enforcement agencies as the Khorasan Group — avoided the spotlight. It put out no slick Internet magazines and did not boast of its plans on Twitter.
The group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden: The first time President Obama publicly mentioned the group was on Tuesday, when he announced he had ordered an airstrike against it to disrupt what American officials said was a terror plot aimed at the West.
The Times ought to have given equal voice to extreme skeptics of these claims, which appeared to less gullible analysts to be a transparent attempt to manipulate public opinion into supporting a war–something we’ve seen plenty of examples of in recent decades. Given the constant examples of the State Department lying and dissembling about war issues in the most egregious fashion, from the Gulf of Tonkin and bombing of Cambodia to the Iran-Contra Affair to the WMD claims about Iraq (the latter of which was strongly propelled by the Times itself), the US public and media has had stark lessons on the value of unrelenting skepticism when it comes to state claims about war. Why then the continued gullibility and complicity with the state in its propaganda efforts?