Obama (finally) confirms drone strikes in Pakistan

Barack Obama has confirmed for the first time that US drones have been used to target individuals in Pakistan, the Telegraph reports.

In a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube, Obama discussed for the first time the covert drone program that has dramatically escalated under the Obama administration. Previously the administration refused to discuss the strikes publicly.

Talking down the estimated civilian casualties as a result of the strikes, Obama said: “I want to make sure the people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we’re very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”

The New America Foundation think tank in Washington says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years, while the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates between 2,386 and 3,015 people have been killed including between 391 and 780 civilians and around 175 children killed. It is not known whether Obama is accepting these civilian death counts as not being a “huge number” or whether his own administration has much lower estimated death counts. Either way, human rights campaigners have expressed deep concern over increased use of drone strikes.

Obama has increased drone strikes since he came into presidency. The Telegraph has a video of Obama discussing the drone strikes for the first time.

Obama rebuked by House of Representatives over Libya, whilst Congress challenges his authority

People look at destroyed tanks belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Reuters)

US President Obama has been facing mounting criticism for the US role in the Libya… what? War? Conflict? Bombing? Mission? ‘Operation’? You see, Obama has recently been keen to stress that the Libya… engagement is not a war amid rebukes from Congress who have been challenging his authority. Now the House of Representatives has stepped in, also rebuking Obama and refusing to authorise the US ‘mission’.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives delivered a symbolic vote on friday to reject a resolution to authorise US involvement in the Libya war. I’m going to call it a war, because I feel calling the military action anything else shapes and desensitises our response to it. Bombs are being dropped, buildings are being destroyed, lives are being lost. To call such violent action an ‘operation’ or a ‘mission’ is an affront to those whose lives are being lost, whatever side they are fighting for. It makes us forget the reality of the situation; this is not some sanitised, smooth military operation. It involves real harm and loss of life, even if those that are losing their lives are classed as “the enemy”. As Jonathon Schell writes:

“American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.”

So anyway. I’m going to call the NATO military intervention in Libya a war, because I believe it to be so. Obama has a rejected this worldview, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The House of Representatives refused to give President Obama the authority to continue US participation in the NATO-led war against Libya, but rejected a call to cut off money for the conflict. In this sense, the House refusal is a largely symbolic gesture. Obama has said he does not need additional congressional approval, as US forces are simply supporting NATO. However, the House has shown its disproval for the ongoing war against Libya, reflecting the disenchantment in the US over the ongoing conflicts.

The House voted 295 to 123 against the resolution to authorise the war. About 70 of the president’s Democratic party joined the Republicans to vote it down. This is the first time since the 1999 Bosnian conflict that either the House or the Senate has voted against a military operation. The House ignored Hillary Clinton’s pleas against voting it down.

“The president has operated in what we now know is called the zone of twilight as to whether or not he even needs our approval,” Republican Representative Tom Rooney of Florida said. “So what are we left with?”

House speaker John Boehner said: “I support the removal of the Libyan regime. I support the president’s authority as commander-in-chief, but when the president chooses to challenge the powers of the Congress, I, as speaker of the House, will defend the constitutional authority of the legislature.”

It is clear there is growing unrest in the US against the Obama administration’s involvement in the US war. It is also evident that the ‘excuse’ of, “oh, well, we’re only supporting NATO” is not going to stick; opponents of the US involvement are, perhaps, becoming riled at the growing culture whereby the Obama administration is becoming increasingly unaccountable for its actions in conflicts.

Republican congressman Tom Rooney, who sits on the armed services committee, said: “The last thing that we want as Americans is for some president, whether it’s this president or some future president, to be able to pick fights around the world without any debate from another branch of government.”

Whether it’s the self-perpetuating “War on Terror” or NATO-involvement, the Obama administration is increasingly avoiding accountability for its conflicts and engagements. Few Republicans or Democrats would wish to be seen to be against the “War on Terror”, which began in ‘self-defence’ (right?), though opponents of the unaccountability are beginning to draw the line; the Libyan war is, rightly or wrongly, aimed at unseating a ‘dictator’ from power rather than aiming to defend US soil… but then again, I have this strange feeling of deja vu…

Libya is not a war, says Obama

A bus burns on a road leading to the outskirts of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Sunday, March 20, 2011. The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya's air force. (AP)

As I mentioned earlier, President Obama has already been facing criticism from Congress. He has defended his right to take war to Libya without the approval of Congress, after Republican leaders challenged his authority. How? In his administration’s eyes, the issue is one of semantics. The US participation in the NATO-led bombings in Libya do not, in his eyes, amount to a full-blown war.

As the Guardian reported, “this week the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, wrote to Obama telling him that, under the 1973 war powers act, the president was obliged to seek congressional approval for the Libyan venture before Friday.

“The White House replied by saying the law, which says there must be a vote in the legislature within 90 days of the president taking the US to war, did not apply”.

Congress warned Obama that refusal to comply with a congressional request to seek authorisation for military action in Libya appeared to violate the war powers act.

“The combination of [White House] actions has left many members of Congress, as well as the American people, frustrated by the lack of clarity over the administration’s strategic policies, by a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of the Congress, and by a refusal to comply with the basic tenets of the War Powers Resolution,” Boehner, the speaker of the House, stated in a letter to the president.

The White House responded to the warning with a 38-page report to Congress, describing the Libya operation not as war, but a mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. As stated earlier, the administration considers the war as an operation, a mission, a military ‘intervention’, shall we say, rather than considering the bombings as an act of war. And why do they not consider the bombings as an act of war? Because US troops are not directly under fire. The Obama administration only considers a conflict as being a ‘war’ when there is US soldiers at risk.

“US operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve US ground troops,” the 38-page report said.

Boehner dismissed the White House position on Thursday. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test in my view that we’re not in the midst of hostilities,” he said. “It’s been four weeks since the president has talked to the American people about this mission. It’s time for the president to outline for the American people why we are there, what the mission is, and what our goals are.”

In an article published in the Guardian,  denounced the White House’s report, stating: “In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favour of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die. When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.”

This is very worrying thinking from the leaders of the United States of America. Would it be naive to suggest that this worldview may represent a new age of warfare? An age of unaccountability? As Schell writes, “In the old scheme of things, an attack on a country was an act of war, no matter who launched it or what happened next. Now, the Obama administration claims that if the adversary cannot fight back, there is no war.”

In the age of the predator drone, when war can truly be waged with no damage or sacrifice, government’s can claim that bombing a country (before, a clear act of war) is simply an operation, a mission, designed to bring about a set agenda with minimum civilian casualties. Of course, civilian casualties are inevitable, but the less the better, right? When war can be waged without a soldier’s boot on foreign soil, does that end the meaning of the word, “war”?

In an act of double-think that George Orwell would be proud, War is not War – War is Peace. War is not war when there are no “active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor [when] they involve US ground troops”. But surely this means that it is in the best interests of the adversaries of the US, the ‘enemy’ that the US is (at the time) engaged with, to ‘actively exchange fire’ with US drones/planes? For then, the adversaries are suddenly turning the one-sided conflict into a war – where they are then afforded the ‘rules’ of warfare, and the US is suddenly subjected to International Law and the like? They are, essentially, suddenly held accountable for their actions, like some child that has been caught out?

Schell concurs: “It follows that adversaries of the United States have a new motive for, if not equaling us, then at least doing us some damage. Only then will they be accorded the legal protections (such as they are) of authorised war. Without that, they are at the mercy of the whim of the president.”

“The War Powers Resolution permits the president to initiate military operations only when the nation is directly attacked, when there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces”. The Obama administration, however, justifies its actions in the Libyan intervention precisely on the grounds that there is no threat to the invading forces, much less the territories of the United States.”

It is, perhaps, a sign of things to come. Much of the media outlets have been picking up on the government’s use of language; the subtle semantic changes that government’s implement into their vocabulary. Much like in Orwell’s 1984, governments realise the power of language and carefully shape and construct their verbiage for their benefit, be it influencing public opinion or escaping the nuances of their own laws. Those who construct the laws evidently and innately hold the power to escape the law – either overtly, by changing the very law itself, or covertly, by slipping through loop-holes and the like. By deciding that the Libyan war is actually a ‘mission’ or ‘operation’, the Obama administration has seemingly escaped accountability and the force of the law.

Schell continues: “In a curious way, then, a desire to avoid challenge to existing law has forced assault on the dictionary. For the Obama administration to go ahead with a war lacking any form of Congressional authorisation, it had to challenge either law or the common meaning of words. Either the law or language had to give.”

“It chose language.”

And as we enter an age of predator drones, “War on Terror” and a newfound distaste for ‘evil dictators’ residing in the Middle East, are we also entering an age where the self-proclaimed “protagonists” of the world (the US, the UK, NATO, and the like) are becoming unaccountable for their actions? Are we entering an age where war ceases to exist, merely because language is changing? Wars become conflicts; conflicts become operations; operations become missions; missions become peace.

Barack Obama: Nobel Peace Winner. War President.

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

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“I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank” (Obama, 2007)

Hope. Change. Peace.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign focused on the principles that changes were needed, and if he were given the chance, it would be possible under his leadership. He promised a ‘change’ from the Bush-era politics, an end to the Middle Eastern wars, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The emphasis was on hope. The emotive theme was peace. His inspirational rhetoric echoed around the world. The focus was not on the fact that he was the first black president of the USA, but rather that he was so vastly different from the militaristic George W. Bush. Whereas Bush inspired anger, even ridicule towards the end of his office, Obama inspired hope in millions simply through his rhetoric. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a gesture that would never have been given to his predecessor.

Yet beneath all the spin, the PR tactics and the powerfully emotive rhetoric encompassing such  words as “hope” and “change”, Obama’s policies are not so dissimilar to those that the Bush-era enacted. Some even claim that Obama may even be worse. He is certainly more charming, intelligent and emotive than Bush ever was, and this may be why he is able to captivate people’s hearts so. His eloquence with words and his calm, rational demeanor can potentially be very disarming; and if his policies are not so dissimilar to his predecessor’s, then his ‘promises’ for change are simply empty rhetoric, possibly designed to provide a smokescreen for what is essentially a continuation of the Bush-era politics that many Americans began to despise. Continue reading

Obama jokes about Predator drone strikes

Hellfire missile explosion. Quote from site: 1...

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Hellfire Missile Explosion

Just who is the real Barack Obama? The Nobel-peace-price-winning President ordered air strikes inside Pakistan just three days after being sworn in. During his first nine months he authorised as many strikes as George W Bush did in his final three years of office. And 2010 saw the number of drone strikes rise to 115 in that year alone, equal to a drone strike every three days. According to New America Foundation, one in four of those killed by drones has been an innocent. However, the Brookings Institute estimates are much higher – a civilian-to-militant ratio of 10:1. Just remember this fact: the US is not even at war with Pakistan.

Despite authorising the ongoing civilian casualties and horrific air strikes by unmanned Predator and Reaper drones, Obama took time out last year to enjoy a dinner attended by annoying teenage pop “band” the Jonas Brothers. Speaking at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last May, Obama took the opportunity to joke about the recent drone strikes. Seeing the Jonas Brothers in the audience, Obama referred to his daughters, saying: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but, boys, don’t get any ideas”. A small titter arises from the crowd. Obama should have left the ‘joke’ here. Instead he carries on: “Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking?” The crowd laughs, the dinner continues. But how can the Nobel peace prize winning President so casually joke about the attacks on innocent Pakistani citizens, attacks which he authorised, attacks which he has stepped-up since coming into office?

Since he came into power, Obama has expanded and escalated covert CIA programmes of “targeted killings” inside Pakistan. The programme, started by the Bush administration in 2004, uses Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles to bomb targets in Pakistan, often culminating in the deaths of innocent civilians. Merely the names alone should set off alarm bells: what sort of Nobel peace prize winner authorises Hellfire missiles to rain down on a country that is not at war? The drone strikes on Pakistan have been criticised by many, including the UK’s former air chief marshal in Iraq, Sir Brian Burridge, who describes the strikes by unmanned drones as a “virtueless war”. The remote-controlled aircraft are controlled from thousands of miles away – away from the violence, the slaughter, and the cold reality. Meanwhile, the next generation is being trained to use these drones through the use of video-games such as Call of Duty – modern warfare games that are all about the “killstreaks”. This is not me being cynical or satirical – games like CoD really are, in their own way, mimicking reality. Take a look at this clip from the game CoD: Modern Warfare 2. The clip is over 7 minutes long so you don’t have to watch the whole thing. Just take a couple of minutes to have a look. When you get a high-enough “killstreak” in the game, you get the option of utilising air strikes and calling in helicopters for “support”. This is as close to Predator/Reaper drones as any 14 year old kid can get, until (sorry – unless) they join the army at a later age:

Pakistani civilians are being killed by remote-controlled aircraft which don’t know the difference between man, woman or child. They don’t know the difference between “terrorist” or farmer, and the ones controlling the drones are so far removed from the “war-zone” that they cannot differentiate between friend or foe. The “virtual” reality overcomes the true reality and it just becomes another part of the game, another kill to add to the killstreak.

Obama should apologise for his tasteless joke and show some respect for the countless innocents who have lost their lives and their families through the strikes he has authorised inside Pakistan. Or perhaps he should just hand back his Nobel peace prize. It is clear that they gave it to the wrong guy.

Top European Polluters Attempt to Influence US Elections

Seal of the United States Senate.

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October 25th 2010:

Some of Europe’s biggest industrial polluters are being accused of “climate sabotage on a global scale”, according to an investigation by Climate Action Network Europe.

These wealthy companies have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the political campaigns of US Senate candidates who oppose action against climate change in what appears to be a co-ordinated attempt to influence election results.

The group, which includes BP, BASF and Bayer, comprises some of Europe’s top industrial emitters of carbon dioxide, yet they are almost exclusively supporting US candidates who deny the existence of global warming, oppose emissions reductions and Barack Obama’s energy agenda, Continue reading