Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Myth of Sanitary War

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 1, 2009

toonbombbigThere is a myth circulating in the mainstream media that Israel’s missiles are finding their targets with surgical precision.

The lie entails comparing something like the 250-pound GBU-39 “smart bomb” to a surgeon’s knife. A small side-note: the United States Congress approved the sale of this bomb to Israel. Actually, they approved the sale of 1,000 of these bombs to Israel. Second side-note: Your tax dollars bought the bombs.

So-called “rational adults” argue that this horrible, destructive device, which has enough explosive power to decimate six feet of reinforced concrete, is exactly the same as the precision guaranteed between a doctor’s steady hand, a blade, and a patient’s flesh.

It’s generous to call this myth stupid. It’s probably fairer to call it dishonest. Of course a bomb can’t be smart, or precise, primarily because of its very nature as a bomb – a tool of mass destruction. This is like the difference between if I punch you in the face or I slam you with a wrecking ball. You may get up after I deck you, but the wrecking ball will turn you into a human stain. I may also knock over a few buildings whilst trying to thwart you because a giant tool of destruction doesn’t offer any precision. That’s also the difference between a ground invasion and aerial bombing. The whole idea of using a bomb or a missile instead of 100,000 ground troops is to cause maximum damage with minimal casualties on the side of the bomb-dropping or missile-firing country.

That’s why we’re seeing all of these terrible images coming out of Gaza of bloodied children, slain doctors, and hundreds of young men, who may or may not have been fighting for Hamas. “Smart bombs” and “smart missiles” did this damage because a huge explosion causes unplanned consequences. Shrapnel goes flying. Other buildings topple from the impact. The wrong buildings are bombed. Some bombs don’t detonate until much later when a curious child pokes it, thinking it’s a toy.

The myth of sanitary war isn’t reserved just for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is used in most western-backed offenses. This lie extends past “smart bombs” and addresses the very parameters of war itself. In our interconnected world, the lines of good guy and bad guy are blurred.

America sends billions of dollars of military aid to Israel, and has almost single-handedly built Israel’s arsenal that is now massacring Gaza’s residents. Meanwhile, Hamas uses Katyusha rockets built in China.

In a way, the war in Gaza is a microcosm of a stand-off between the superpowers. Separate ideologies sparked the proxy war, of course. America viciously (and unquestioningly) defends its pro-Western ally, and therefore supplies the old girl as she attempts to “defend” herself, and China’s interests are profit-oriented.

Still, it’s difficult to make the argument that this is a sanitary war when a quarter of the casualties are Palestinian civilians and the bombs, missiles, and rockets themselves are supplied by foreign superpowers.

Israel does herself a disservice by engaging in offenses that will guarantee the deaths of many innocent civilians. Sanitary war is impossible, and just as America lied that its “smart bombs” would spare innocent Afghanis and Iraqis, so Israel lies that her precision missiles will spare innocent Palestinians.

The Military-Industrial-Media Complex

Posted in media, politics by allisonkilkenny on November 30, 2008

Photo Illustration by The New York Times
Photo Illustration by The New York Times

New York Times

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

He had made similar arguments before he was hired by Defense Solutions, but this time he went further. In his testimony to Congress, General McCaffrey criticized a Pentagon plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the United States by a competitor of Defense Solutions. He called the plan “not in the right ballpark” and urged Congress to instead equip Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles.

“We’ve got Iraqi army battalions driving around in Toyota trucks,” he said, echoing an argument made to General Petraeus in the Defense Solutions briefing packet.

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey.

General McCaffrey, 66, has long been a force in Washington’s power elite. A consummate networker, he cultivated politicians and journalists of all stripes as drug czar in the Clinton cabinet, and his ties run deep to a new generation of generals, some of whom he taught at West Point or commanded in the Persian Gulf war, when he rose to fame leading the “left hook” assault on Iraqi forces.

But it was 9/11 that thrust General McCaffrey to the forefront of the national security debate. In the years since he has made nearly 1,000 appearances on NBC and its cable sisters, delivering crisp sound bites in a blunt, hyperbolic style. He commands up to $25,000 for speeches, his commentary regularly turns up in The Wall Street Journal, and he has been quoted or cited in thousands of news articles, including dozens in The New York Times.

His influence is such that President Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties have invited him for war consultations. His access is such that, despite a contentious relationship with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon has arranged numerous trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and other hotspots solely for his benefit.

At the same time, General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism.