Category Archives: Debate

The business of war


The Man Who Made Millions off the Afghan War

America’s war in Afghanistan, which is now in its fifteenth year, presents a mystery: how could so much money, power, and good will have achieved so little? Congress has appropriated almost eight hundred billion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan; a hundred and thirteen billion has gone to reconstruction, more than was spent on the Marshall Plan, in postwar Europe.

One perspective… forgiveness

How To Forgive Your Torturer

How To Forgive Your Torturer 7/3/2014 1:25:00 PM By Ariel Dorfman Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch. What a way to celebrate Torture Awareness Month! According to an Amnesty International Poll released in May, 45 percent of Americans believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable” in order to “gain information that may protect the public.”



The real winners in post 9/11 America?

Failure begets an angry electorate, contributing to the populist appeal of candidates like Sanders and Trump. Since 9/11, despite years of helping orchestrate trillions of dollars worth of strategic missteps, leaders of the political-military-industrial complex in Washington continue to enrich themselves without shame and with little accountability. Perhaps one of the populist candidates will hold America’s government-funded gilded class up as a subject for the electorate to consider in November.

To be sure, there are many politicians and leaders who earn every bit of their pay; and there are subordinates in the security forces who serve with a sacrifice few in the private sector are willing to make. But if the claim is correct — that our capital has become part of what is driving income inequality in America — then it’s time to take a hard look at the governing system in D.C., and make the right adjustments so that the business of America works for everyone.

— Marcus

How Wartime Washington Lives in Luxury

In no place in America are the abrupt changes in the nation’s security posture so keenly reflected in real estate and lifestyle than the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In the decade after 9/11, it has grown into a sprawling, pretentious representation of the federal government’s growth, vices and prosperity, encompassing the wealthiest counties, the best schools, and some of the highest rates of income inequality in the country.




Pardon the torturers?

“What? Do what?” …I can almost hear the chorus of disbelief humming over the electrons. The National Catholic Reporter puts forward the modest proposal below. It’s an intriguing idea, actually: President Obama could do this on his way out of office.

The political realities of our age mean that it will likely be impossible to hold accountable our foolish leaders who concocted the torture policies. A senate report is not accountability. If we have no political will to punish, a pardon at least allows American leaders who say they oppose torture to send a strong, legally relevant message of repudiation.

— Marcus

Prosecution or pardon of torturers?

In her confirmation hearing, Loretta Lynch, the nominee for attorney general, stated mater-of-factly that waterboarding is torture. Some of the senators on the Judiciary Committee holding the hearing disagree with her, but they gave her no argument. They asked where she stood, and she said waterboarding is torture.


One more book on diplomacy

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”

— Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby

Diplomacy (Touchstone Book)

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Though a controversial figure, Mr. Kissinger’s observations are intriguing and relevant in an age that has witnessed America squander trillions idealistically attempting to democratize two minor states, without considering the possibility that this effort could erode regional stability, or that it might not serve our national interests.

It is as if we Americans had in our wealth (or the wealth of some of us, at least) become a Gatsby nation led by unaccountable elites who create trouble and sow chaos, then retreat to the security of a well-paid gig — think tank, lobbying firm, academic leadership — leaving the mess for the military and diplomatic corps to clean up. Nations around the world endure our careless majesty in the same way ordinary Americans look upon the lives of these rich and powerful people: with envy, bafflement and a little bit of contempt.

Given the mistakes of recent past, it is welcoming to see Sec. Kerry’s inroads in Iran and Cuba as efforts that, while ambitious, nonetheless directly serve our interests, a diplomacy Kissinger would have favored. Critically, these efforts could lead to successes that restore the faith of Americans in their political class, while assuring the rest of world that we are returning to a time when we think before we act.

— Marcus

American soldiers must not be punished for standing up for our values

If not for fighting for our values, our ways, and the rights and liberties our nation cherishes, then what exactly is the purpose of serving in the United States military? America must not allow cultural awareness to become moral relativism. Where reform is needed, it must be made. And If we don’t have the stomach for it, then we ought not to send our forces to regions that need change.

A century ago, military officer and reformist president Mustafa Atatürk outlawed social traditions that inhibited Turkey’s modernization. In choosing Western values over Eastern traditions he did not destroy Turkish culture, but saved it. Similarly, over a thousand years ago, Westerners (Northern Europeans) adopted a religion rooted in Middle Eastern traditions; it had a progressive, civilizing influence over existing norms.

To the point, if we must force something on Afghans — because that’s what a military does: force things to happen — for God’s sake let it be a sanction against the ugly tradition of child sex slavery (see article below).

— Marcus

Green Beret Who Hit Afghan Child Rapist Should Be Reinstated, Lawmakers Say

Lawmakers are calling on the Pentagon to fully reinstate a decorated United States Army sergeant whose career status is under review after he hit an American-backed Afghan militia officer for raping a boy. The Special Forces member, Sgt.



Yes, close GTMO

The reasons are many, but chief among them, for me, is what the prison symbolizes: abuse, illegality, and the politicization of justice.

To be sure, extremists who attack free and open societies like America deserve tough punishment, but if we want to keep our societies free and open, we must honor our values when we carry out that punishment. The gulag-like institution of GTMO has as of this writing yet to effectively try and sentence 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad — he lives while his victims fade into history — but when we honor our laws the system works: The Justice Department effectively tried and sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death in 2015.  Likewise, in the aftermath of World War II, American civil prosecutors led the Nuremburg trials that brought swift justice to Nazi war criminals.

Some politicians continue to cynically use GTMO to manipulate voters. This is foolish. When President Obama ran for office eight years ago on a platform to close the institution, voters, many of them conservative, sent a clear message of agreement, electing him in a landslide. In a tough battle for a second term — against a popular conservative who opposed closing GTMOObama continued his efforts to close the prison, and won again. Promoting torture and gulags will always inspire some, but is not a winning strategy in the long term.

GTMO was a mistake. It remains a symbol of failure. It’s time to correct course and close it down, and show the world that America learns from her mistakes — and intends to reassert her role as a world leader in promoting and respecting human rights. Human Rights First presents the case in detail:

Close Guantanamo

The continued detention of prisoners without charge at Guantanamo undermines our national security and is a recruiting bonanza for our enemies. We’ve joined forces with a group of retired generals and admirals; together we are pressing President Obama to deliver on his promise to shut down the prison.


— Marcus

So do summary executions, secret police, and gulags…

Pathological narcissist, blowhard, and hair-club-for-men member Donald Trump said today that torture works, and that waterboarding is fine and that we should in fact go further.

To be sure, some kind of truth comes out under the tortured stress of simulated drowning. In that sense, yes, waterboarding works — but so do summary executions, secret police, and gulags: sane human beings fear instruments of extreme malice and will say whatever it takes to avoid them. This is one of many problems with torture: the information it produces is not reliable. Ask Senator John McCain, who has been waterboarded.

If you’ll allow me to be profane: Donald Trump is an asshole. Let’s pray America will find a leader unlike him, a man or woman of sober character, who can return us to a time when we were proud that we did not torture. This is the real way that we can make America great again.

— Marcus

Donald Trump: ‘Torture Works,’ But Waterboarding Not Tough Enough

Donald Trump, the Republican candidate currently leading the pack in South Carolina, told a crowd Wednesday morning that “waterboarding is fine” but “not nearly tough enough.” This was not the first time Trump has advocated in favor of the controversial enhanced interrogation tactic.



Why I will defend James Mitchell but never defend torture

Few in the West believe “following orders” is a defense against criminal behavior. Germany still arrests and prosecutes elderly former Auschwitz guards to hold them accountable for crimes committed during The Third Reich, so important is that notion. Likewise, in the United States Army we teach that following orders is not an excuse for criminal behavior. Yet at the same time, as with all military forces, we teach our soldiers to maim, destroy and kill, actions that are criminal under any other circumstances than warfare. And while we are told we can’t follow illegal orders, we must follow ones that nevertheless create hell for our enemies and often result in the loss of innocent life. This is the moral burden of military service; we soldiers endure it.

As I blogged about before, James Mitchell, if we believe his statements, was moved to tears when he was tasked to repeat the torture of KSM, and so we should be careful about how we judge this man. I said that soldiers, and I would add that even sophisticated ones with PhDs in psychology, are not conditioned to have the long-term vision we demand of our political and policy leaders, but to follow and to fight. We may be asked to adhere to the Geneva conventions, but we are tasked to shoot to kill.

I’d like to further this point by noting that Mitchell was a psychologist and SERE trainer, not a professional interrogator or lawman, and was being offered a fortune to do to a cabal of mass-murderers what he was already being paid far less to do to American soldiers. He wasn’t selected for his interrogation skills, but his skills at waterboarding. Should Mitchell have refused? Yes, damn right, and I wish he would have. But that’s a hindsight view; it doesn’t reflect the circumstances and tenor of the time. It’s a testament to Mitchell’s character that he came forward a few years ago to clarify his role in torture. He should follow by donating the excessive money he made to a good cause.

Plainly said, while I do believe the circumstances are mitigating, and that the focus should be on the administration members who concocted the policy, I also think Mr. Mitchell and his partner Bruce Jessen, both being retired Air Force, should have questioned the legality of the program. I think they had that duty, that burden. The money involved (80 million plus, I’ve read) is especially troublesome. Unlike some veterans, they aren’t living hand to mouth, or homeless, but comfortably with Federal Government pensions and the rich financial reward, if the numbers are to be believed, of the enhanced interrogation contract.

Somewhat related to this discussion, an article below from NYRB warns us that psychology is not a discipline that expects its experts to be supreme moralists. The article mentions Mitchell and Jessen as examples. I would add that the case is also the same for soldiers.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Roman Emperor, warrior, and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, as it illustrates the way I believe our leaders should approach this difficult subject:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change,
for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues
in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The Psychologists Take Power

It is only recently that the claims of psychologists to moral expertise have come to be taken seriously. Contributing to their new aura of authority has been their association with neuroscience, with its claims to illuminate the distinct neural pathways taken by our thoughts and judgments.

— Marcus