End the 9/11 War

It’s easy to forget the world’s sympathy for the US and victims of Sept. 11, 2001. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was photographed donating blood. Cuba offered use of its airspace and medical facilities. “We’re All Americans Now,” was the banner headline on the Paris daily Le Monde.

In Iran, huge crowds attended candlelit vigils, 60,000 spectators observed a minute’s silence at Tehran’s soccer stadium and Iranian officials cooperated with the US in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It seemed like there was an opportunity for US diplomacy in the Middle East.

But President George W. Bush missed the opportunity to call on American people to commit themselves to serious energy conservation, which would reduce our dependence on oil-producing Arab states. He also missed the opportunity to demand the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, he urged the US public to go shopping and he surprised Iranian leaders when, in his 2002 State of the Union speech, he named Iran as part of the “axis of evil” just a month after the two countries had worked together to form a new Afghan government.

The world understood when United States forces invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban fundamentalists who had provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization. But as American special forces and Afghanistan allies sought to close in on bin Laden in the mountain redoubt of Tora Bora, US troops and resources were diverted from Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion of Iraq and bin Laden was allowed to escape across the mountains into the frontier of Pakistan.

World sympathy for the US evaporated as Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pursued the neocon agenda to gain control of Iraq’s oilfields under the pretext of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan who is a close observer of the Islamic world, commented at JuanCole.com this past Sept. 11 (http://bit.ly/n3zs5B) that al Qaeda was grossly overestimated in the wake of 9/11. “It was a relatively small terrorist group that spent less than half a million dollars on the operation. It should have been dealt with as a police matter, not as the enemy in a trillion-dollar ‘war’ conducted by the Pentagon.”

Bin Laden hoped the attacks would either draw the US into a long and fruitless guerrilla war in the Middle East or persuade the US that imperial micromanagement of the Middle East was not worth the cost. Bush helped al Qaeda’s recruiting with the Iraq adventure that bogged down into insurgency and civil war.

But the assumptions of bin Laden and his associates have fallen by the wayside in the Arab world, Cole wrote. “First, it has been shown that dictators such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia can be overthrown by peaceful crowd action, emulating Gandhi and Martin Luther King. ...

“Second, it has been demonstrated that the leading edge in political change in the Arab world is relatively secular youth who support labor unions and dignity for working people – i.e. that the most effective revolutionaries are a kind of Arab New Left, not small cells of fundamentalist terrorists. ...

“Third, it has been shown that the United States and Western Europe can be constrained to support the overthrow of even pro-Western dictators if the masses persistently come out and demand democratic change. That is, it is not necessary to attack the US militarily in order to achieve political transition in pro-American regimes such as that of Mubarak. ...”

Now President Obama, after supervising the tracking down and elimination of bin Laden, has an opportunity to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. The masterminds of al-Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11 are mostly dead or incarcerated and their heirs have been reduced to irrelevancy by the democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.

We agree with Cole’s conclusion: “The US took a turn to the far right ten years ago, toward a praetorian state of perpetual war, a society where workers were forestalled from unionizing, a society where the government routinely spied on phone records and emails, a society where warrantless surveillance became routine, a society where basic rights such as habeas corpus were placed in doubt, a society that hid from itself its own methods of empire – torture, disappearance, bombing raids on civilian cities with no shred of international legal justification.”

“Some critics trace the debt and budget crisis to the Bush wars, but in a $14.5-trillion-a-year economy, the $1 trillion spent on the wars over a decade was not decisive. The real cost of the wars of aggression was a decline in the standing of the US abroad, a gutting of the UN Charter and international legal norms, and a de facto repeal of civil liberties at home. The American people, however, are resilient and strong. The American system of government is flexible. If we are supine and abject, our children will not be. Already, federal government intrusion into our lives is being questioned on the right and the left alike. With hard work and a bit of luck, perhaps over the course of a generation, we can get our Bill of Rights back. And if government officials drag their feet too much in returning our inalienable rights to us, the Egyptian and Tunisian youth have already shown the way forward.”

Postal Service Must Be Preserved

The Postmaster General has proposed drastic measures to cut costs in an attempt to close deficits in the US Postal Service. Among other things, he proposes not only to close thousands of rural post offices and stop Saturday delivery, but also to lay off 120,00 postal employees and remove the remaining workers from federal health and retirement plans, which would break the terms of a contract reached this past May, claiming that otherwise the post office will run out of money. But the American Postal Workers Union (apwu.org) says the main reason the Postal Service is in financial trouble is that Congress in 2006 required that the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and to it within a 10-year window.

Under those terms, the Postal Service must send the Treasury $5.5 billion each Sept. 30 to pay for retirement health benefits for future employees who haven’t been born yet. The Postal Service has overfunded the retirement funds by more than $50 billion, APWU President Cliff Guffey told a Senate committee Sept. 6.

HR 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), would allow the USPS to use the billions of dollars it already has made in pension overpayments to meet its financial obligations. That would address the financial crisis without cutting pay, reducing benefits, eliminating collective bargaining rights, or slashing service. However, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is blocking consideration of HR 1351 and is promoting his own bill, HR 2309, which would set up a “solvency authority” that could unilaterally cut pay and benefits and authorize layoffs. It also would create a board to order $2 billion worth of post office closures over two years.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), like many lawmakers from rural states, vigorously opposes ending Saturday delivery, which would trim only 2% from the agency’s budget. Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee overseeing the Postal Service, said the cutback would be tough on people in small towns who receive prescriptions and newspapers by mail, the New York Times reported (9/5). “The postmaster general has focused on several approaches that I believe will be counterproductive,” she said. “They risk producing a death spiral where the postal service reduces service and drives away more customers.”

We agree. Email and other electronic transmissions have greatly reduced the volume of first-class mail, and that has undercut Postal Service revenues, but there is still a need for universal postal service that allows everything from old-fashioned letters and bills to newspapers, other periodicals and catalogs to be delivered promptly to every address in the nation. Some efficiencies may be achieved, and other revenue sources may be explored, but if the United States has to subsidize the Postal Service to maintain current service levels, so be it. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011


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