Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was supposed to steer the Pentagon away from a decade of war, including bringing US troops home from Afghanistan and paving the way for a reduction in the Pentagon budget. Instead, the Obama administration has opted for remaining in Afghanistan, continuing the disastrous drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, and dragging our nation into another round of military involvement in Iraq, as well as Syria. The ISIL crises has also been used as a justification for not cutting the Pentagon budget, as required by sequestration.

The issue facing this nation is not who replaces Hagel, but what policy decisions we want to Pentagon to implement.

  1. Troops out of Afghanistan: The public has long soured on US military involvement in Afghanistan. President Obama’s recent executive decision to keep the troops there to confront the Taliban is taking us down the wrong path. After 13 years of occupation, it’s time for the Afghan people to control their own nation.
  1. No US military intervention in Iraq/Syria: The Obama administration’s move to engage militarily in Iraq and Syria is also the wrong – and dangerous – path. US intervention, including over 6600 bombings to date, has already become a recruiting tool for ISIS and has strengthened Syrian resident Assad. And with over 3,000 US troops in Iraq in dangerous missions, President Obama’s promise of "no troops on the ground" is indeed hollow. ISIL must be confronted through political solutions, such as renewed talks between Assad and the Free Syrian Army, more pressure in Saudi Arabia to stop funding extremism, greater efforts by Turkey to stop the flow of recruits and weapons into Syria, and negotiated cooperation from Iran and Russia.
  1. Stop the drone wars: President Obama’s reliance on drone warfare in Pakistan has turned large portions of the population against the United States. It is the Pakistani government, not the US, that must counter the Taliban. In Yemen, the administration’s drone war has put the US in the midst of what has become a bloody sectarian conflict. And US drone strikes have served to increase the number of Yemenis joining Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to seek revenge.
  1. Cut and audit Pentagon spending: With other issues clamoring for attention and funds – from healthcare and schools to infrastructure and green energy – we need to stop the massively bloated Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can’t account for billions of dollars each year, literally, and is unable to pass an audit. It’s time to demand that the Pentagon rein in its rampant waste, cut its oversized budget, and become accountable to the taxpayers by passing an audit.

The talk about resetting President Obama’s security team is misplaced; we should be focusing instead on resetting his bellicose policies. Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation should be a time for the nation to step back and reexamine its violent approach to extremism, which has led to an expansion of terrorist groups, and inflated military spending. Let’s put more emphasis on the State Department and political solutions instead of continuing failed wars and starting new ones. We owe it to the youth of our nation who have never lived without war.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

The money should stagger you. Journalist James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, a revelatory new book about the scammers, counterterrorism grifters, careerist bureaucrats, torture con artists, and on-the-make privatizers of our post-9/11 national security state, suggests that the best figure for money spent on Washington’s war on terror, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, is four trillion dollars. If you add in the bills still to come for the care of American soldiers damaged in that global war, the figure is undoubtedly significantly higher.  In the process, an array of warrior corporations were mobilized to go into battle alongside the Pentagon and the country’s intelligence and homeland security outfits. This, in turn, transformed the global struggle into a highly privatized affair and resulted, as Risen vividly documents, in “one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history.” Halliburton offshoot KBR, for instance, took remarkable advantage of the opportunity and became “the largest single Pentagon contractor of the entire war,” more or less monopolizing the Iraq war zone from 2003 to 2011 and “receiving a combined total of $39.5 billion in contracts.”

So our four trillion dollar-plus investment gave rise to a crew of war profiteers that Risen dubs “the oligarchs of 9/11” and who are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.  And how has it gone for the rest of us?  If you remember, the goal of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (or, in one of the worst acronyms of the new century, GWOT) was initially to wipe out terror outfits across the planet. At the time, enemy number one, al-Qaeda, was the most modest of organizations with thousands of followers in Afghanistan and scattered groups of supporters elsewhere.  Thirteen years and all those dollars later, Islamic jihadist outfits that qualify as al-Qaeda branches, wannabes, look-alikes, or offshoots have run rampant. Undoubtedly, far more foreign jihadis – an estimated 15,000 – have traveled to Syria alone to fight for the Islamic State and its new “caliphate” than existed globally in 2001.

Some recent figures from the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace give us a basis for thinking about what’s happened in these years.  In 2013 alone, deaths related to “terrorism” – that is, civil/sectarian conflict in areas significantly destabilized directly or indirectly by U.S. military action (mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria) – rose by a soaring 61%.  The number of countries that saw more than 50 such fatalities (the U.S. not among them) expanded from 15 to 24 in the same period.  So raise your glass to GWOT.  If nothing else, it’s managed to ensure its own profitable, privatized future for years to come.

But here’s a question: After 13 years of the war on terror, with terror running rampant, isn’t a name change in order?  A simple transformation of a single preposition would bring that name into greater sync with reality: the war for terror.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s just published book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

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Why was I reminded of Vietnam on Saturday when Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq to “get a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq, receive briefings, and get better sense of how the campaign is progressing” against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL?

For years as the Vietnam quagmire deepened, U.S. political and military leaders flew off to Vietnam and were treated to a snow job by Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander there. Many would come back glowing about how the war was “progressing.”

Dempsey might have been better served if someone had shown him Patrick Cockburn’s article in the Independent entitled “War with Isis: Islamic militants have an army of 200,000, claims senior Kurdish leader.”

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, told Cockburn that “I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilize Arab young men in the territory they have taken.”

Hussein estimated that Isis rules about one-third of Iraq and one-third of Syria with a population from 10 million to 12 million over an area of 250,000 square kilometers, roughly the size Great Britain, giving the jihadists a large pool of potential fighters to recruit.

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The US war against ISIS couldn’t be going much worse. ISIS continues to gain in Iraq, despite soaring US ground deployments into the nation, and the Syria air war has backfired so bad its wiped out most of the US allies, and brought al-Qaeda, once an ISIS rival, into a partnership with them.

The administration has tried alliances, they’ve tried escalations, they’re tried everything. Now, they’ve fallen back to name-calling, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey mocking ISIS as a “bunch of midgets.”

Dempsey claimed the war was starting to turn in America’s favor, despite all indications to the contrary, though he conceded that the war is still going to take “several years.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was also eager to give the appearance of confidence, however unwarranted, in his own comments, insisting he is “not intimidated” by ISIS and that the US will continue to fight them irrespective of the execution of American hostages.

The desperation to portray ISIS as an unworthy opponent is palpable, and makes some sense in that it would keep people from watching the day-to-day operations of the war too closely. It also gives future officials the opportunity to argue for escalation on the grounds that they “underestimated” the ISIS threat, a card President Obama has already played in his own escalations. Either way, the feigned confidence is bizarre with the war going so badly on so many fronts.

How the U.S. Department of Justice Makes Murder Respectable, Kills the Innocent and Jails their Defenders

Political language can be used, George Orwell said in 1946, “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In order to justify its global assassination program, the Obama administration has had to stretch words beyond their natural breaking points. For instance, any male 14 years or older found dead in a drone strike zone is a “combatant” unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving him innocent. We are also informed that the constitutional guarantee of “due process” does not imply that the government must precede an execution with a trial. I think the one word most degraded and twisted these days, to the goriest ends, is the word “imminent.”

Just what constitutes an “imminent” threat? Our government has long taken bold advantage of the American public’s willingness to support lavish spending on armaments and to accept civilian casualties in military adventures abroad and depletion of domestic programs at home, when told these are necessary responses to deflect precisely such threats. The government has vastly expanded the meaning of the word “imminent.” This new definition is crucial to the US drone program, designed for projecting lethal force throughout the world. It provides a legal and moral pretext for the annihilation of people far away who pose no real threat to us at all.

The use of armed remotely controlled drones as the United States’ favored weapon in its “war on terror” is increasing exponentially in recent years, raising many disturbing questions. Wielding 500 pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, Predator and Reaper drones are not the precise and surgical instruments of war so effusively praised by President Obama for “narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among.” It is widely acknowledged that the majority of those killed in drone attacks are unintended, collateral victims. The deaths of the drones’ intended targets and how they are chosen should be no less troubling.

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